Administration and Bureaucracy

The economy of Athens was supervised by numerous boards of officials in charge of the mint, the marketplace, weights and measures, and the grain and water supplies. Most of these officials held office in or near the Agora, where so much of the city's commercial activity took place.

One function of the Tholos was to serve as a repository for official weights and measures under the supervision of the inspectors, the metronomoi. According to ancient sources, sets of official weights and measures were kept in Athens as well as at Piraeus and Eleusis.

Many small weights, mostly of lead but also of bronze, have been found in and around the Agora. Some may belong to the primary sets kept permanently in the Tholos, but many are probably duplicates made for issue to officials and perhaps shopkeepers. They have been found scattered over a wide area, as if they had been used in the market or shops.

Set of official weights, about 500 B.C. Stater. 0. 063 m. X 0.064 m.; quarter: 0.039 m. X 0.039 m.; sixth: 0.033 m. X 0.034 m. Athens, Agora Museum B 495, 492, 497. This set of official bronze weights, found near the Tholos, dates to the early years of the democracy. Each weight carries not only an inscription giving the name of the weight but also a symbol in high relief, which served both as a visual key to the particular unit or fraction and for the benefit of the illiterate. The stater has a knucklebone as symbol and weighs 795 grams. The quarter, with a shield, weighs 190 grams. The sixth, with the turtle, weighs 126 grams. The weights are close, but not exact, fractions of the stater. The weights are also inscribed with the phrase demosion Athenaion, "public (property) of the Athenians."

Official measures come in clay and bronze and were used both for dry goods (nuts, grain) and for liquids (wine, oil). Dry measures normally had a cylindrical or mug-like form; liquid measures, much less abundant, were in the shapes of jugs, amphoras, or other vessels. Clay measures were found concentrated around the Tholos.

Bronze public measure, about 400 B.C. H.: 0. 09 m. Athens, Agora Museum B 1082. This example of a dry measure bears an inscription on the upper collar stating that it is the official measure of the Athenians. The cylindrical shape is well adapted both for emptying and leveling off. This example holds about 1/4 pint.
Clay public measure, second half of the 4th century B.C. H.: 0.132 m. Athens, Agora Museum P 3559. The cylindrical dry measure is inscribed demosion, indicating that it is official. Validating stamps that guarantee the capacity of the measure appear between the letters of the inscription: the head of Athena and a double-bodied owl. The capacity of this measure is about 1 1/2 quarts.

Large deposits of silver from mines at Laureion in South Attica provided Athens with abundant coinage admired for its purity and used throughout the Mediterranean. The coin type was appropriate to Athens and easily recognizable: on one side the helmeted head of Athena, patroness of the city, on the other side her sacred symbols, the owl and olive sprig. These figures were used for centuries with only the slightest changes. The coins were struck in a wide variety of multiples or fractions of the basic unit, the drachma, which was roughly a day's wage. This silver coinage, which probably began in the 6th century B.C., continued to be minted for some 500 years.

ilver and bronze coins of Athens, 5th-3rd centuries B.C. Athens, Agora Museum. The coins show the head of Athena, goddess and patroness of Athens, and the owl, her sacred bird:
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).