The Agora in Ancient Greece

Central to every Greek city and town was the agora, a marketplace and meeting place. It was a large, usually rectangular space surrounded by buildings. Platforms, altars and statues of gods, sportsmen and political figures could also be found there. The stoa, which formed an edge of the agora, was a long building with columns. Shops were located in the stoa. More expensive items could be bought here.

In some cities, local councils met in nearby buildings; other buildings were used to store public records and important political documents. Public spectators could watch criminals being placed on trial in the agora.

Men and slaves usually did the shopping, with slaves and donkeys carrying the purchases; wealthier women may have visited to buy perfumes, jewellery and expensive cloth.

Farmers came with their produce. In the large empty space of the agora, stallholders set up their sun shaded tables and sold such items as meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, eggs, honey, wine, olive oil and animals (e.g. donkeys, horses, hens). Fresh meat and fish were displayed on marble slabs that kept the food cool. "Fast food" was also sold to hungry and thirsty shoppers. Slaves were placed on display and bought and sold.

Merchants also bought and sold exotic foreign items in the agora. Ivory and gems came from Egypt, elephants from India, silk from China, wool from countries surrounding Greece, purple dye from the eastern countries, grain from areas around the Black Sea.

Craftsmen had stalls, shops or workshops in or near the agora. Here they sold their goods or took orders. Sandles could be measured and made, barbers would trim hair and beards. Money changers and bankers would also conduct their business here.

Men seeking employment would mix with employers looking for labourers. Some of those seeking work could be professionals or tradesmen, or they could have no skills.

In the shady parts of the agora, family and friends could meet for a chat, while business people could make deals. Citizens could join in, or listen to, discussions about community and political issues. They may have watched musical and theatrical entertainments.

Women and slaves could use a public fountain in the agora to collect their daily supply of water in pots.

Busy and bustling, the agora was a vital area for a community.