State Religion: The Archon Basileus
There was no attempt in Classical Athens to separate church and state. Altars and shrines were intermingled with the public areas and buildings of the city. A single magistrate, the archon Basileus or king archon, was responsible for both religious matters and the laws; appointed by lot, he served for a year. Aristotle describes his varied duties as follows:
The basileus is first responsible for the Mysteries, in conjunction with the overseers elected by the people ... also for the Dionysia at the Lenaion, which involves a procession and contest. . . . He also organizes all the torch races and one might say that he administers all the traditional sacrifices. Public lawsuits fall to him on charges of impiety and when a man is involved in a dispute with someone over a priesthood. He holds the adjudications for clans and for priests in all their disputes on religious matters. Also all private suits for homicide fall to him. (Athenian Constitution 57)
The king archon held office in the Royal Stoa, a small colonnaded building along the west side of the Agora square. It was built at about the same time as the Kleisthenic reforms, in about 500 B.C. In addition to housing the king archon, the stoa served also to display the laws of Athens. In the late 5th century B.C. the Athenians inscribed their constitution on stones and set them up inside and in front of the Royal Stoa so any Athenian could come and read the laws of the city.
In addition, several ancient texts refer to the great unworked stone (lithos) found in place in front of the building (19.3), which was used by the king archon when, as chief of the religious magistrates, he administered their oath of office: "They took the oath near the Royal Stoa, on the stone on which were the parts of the (sacrificial) victims, swearing that they would guard the laws" (Pollux 8.86) and "the Council took a joint oath to ratify the laws of Solon, and each of the thesmothetes swore separately at the stone in the Agord' (Plutarch, Life of Solon 25.2).
The stoa was the setting for events that led to the trial and death of Sokrates in 399 B.C. The philosopher was tried for impiety, for importing new gods into the city, and for corrupting the youth of Athens. These were religious matters and as such fell under the jurisdiction of the king archon. Preliminary arguments were held in the Royal Stoa, as we learn from Plato, quoting Sokrates: "Now I must present myself at the Stoa of the Basileus to answer the indictment which Meletos has brought against me" (Theatetos 201D)