The Council and the Magistrates

Like selection for military service, allotment to the Council was organized according to the division by tribes; 50 members from each tribe acted as a unit in the Council and held the presidency (prytany) of the Council for one of its 10 prytanies, with a third of their number constantly on duty and in residence in the Tholos, the round building next to the Council House (Bouleuterion) (14, 15).

14. Civic buildings on the west side of the Agora, from the southeast.
15. Model of the public buildings on the west side of the Agora. Tholos (blue), Council House (green), Metroon (orange), Temple of Apollo (yellow), and the Stoa of Zeus (red).

The Tholos, where some responsible officials were present night and day, was the heart of the city. Various aspects of the housekeeping necessitated by the use of a public building as an official residence are attested by the excavations. An inscription found nearby honors a committee appointed to renew bedding for having done its job well. Shopping lists of provisions and utensils scratched on potsherds were found in the neighborhood. Remains of a kitchen built out on the north side of the building were found, and roundabout were many of the cups and vessels used by the men on duty. Some of them were marked as public property (16).

Citizen Citizen
16. Drinking cup from the Tholos, ca. 480–460 B.C. The ligature on the bottom (delta epsilon) stands for DE[MOSION]: “public property.”
17. Record of sale of confiscated property, 414/3 B.C.

In addition to preparing legislation for the Assembly, the Council checked the qualifications of newly allotted officials, tried magistrates accused of mismanaging funds, inspected cavalry and ships, and worked with various boards. One of these was the Lessors of Public Contracts (Poletai), who were charged with leasing mines and other public property and who arranged for the sale of confiscated estates. Each board of Poletai made a record on stone of its work (17). When the estates of Alkibiades and other profaners of the Mysteries were confiscated in 415 B.C., the Poletai recorded the sale of all items, which included everything from lands and a variety of produce to numbers of slaves and all sorts of household furnishings. The Poletai listed the items, with the price in front of each. In front of the price appears another figure, the sales tax, which averaged 1%.

18. Allotment tokens, 450–430 B.C.

The Council also supervised the election of the generals, one from each of the 10 tribes, who were the chief executive officers of the administration, replacing in this function the archons, whose power decreased in the early fifth century when they began to be chosen by lot. (The most important duties left to the archons were judicial, as will be seen below.) For election nothing more was needed than a show of hands, which leaves no material trace. For allotment to office, on the other hand, the machinery was sometimes simply a jar from which white and black beans could be drawn, but sometimes the large stone “machines” (kleroteria) also used in the lawcourts. Still another possible means of allotment is suggested by the small clay plaques, divided into two parts by a unique jigsaw cut through the tribe name (18). Their official nature is made certain by the presence of tribe and deme names and by the fabric, which is the same as that used for official measures of capacity. On one side the abbreviation of the tribe name can be read by the parts of the letters on each half. On the other side a deme name above was to be joined, by means of the tribe name and the jigsaw cut, to “pol” (abbreviation of the name of an office) on the lower half.

The primary function of the Council was the drafting of bills to be passed as decrees by the Assembly. Oftentimes provision was made in the decree itself for a copy to be carved on stone and set up in an appropriate place. The originals, presumably written on papyrus or parchment, were deposited in the so-called Old Council House (Old Bouleuterion), which probably housed the shrine of the Mother of the Gods and the state archives. In the Hellenistic period the Metroon complex (14, 15) replaced the Old Council House and took over both its functions. In the small temple immediately to the north, dedicated to Apollo Patroos, citizens were registered.

19. Inscribed treaty with the city of Hermione, ca. 450 B.C.

Perhaps most notable of the decrees recorded on stone are treaties and other international agreements (19). These and other inscriptions give information not found in the ancient historians. Other decrees honor citizens of other states who put themselves at the service of Athenians abroad. A typical decree of this sort praises Mikalion “as a benefactor of the Athenian people and a man who always shows himself eager to give to private individuals whatever they need. With good fortune it has seemed best to the People to praise Mikalion son of Philon of Alexandria and to crown him with a golden crown in accord with the law because of his virtue and good will toward the Athenians.”

Many decrees honor persons or groups for work well done. In this way the groups of 50 from each tribe who took their turn in the presidency (prytany) of the Council are often honored: “It seemed best to the Boule to praise the prytaneis of the tribe Pandionis for their piety to the gods and to praise their treasurer Philon son of Hegelochos of Paiania . . . and to crown him.”

In rare instances a special board of lawmakers (nomothetai) was created to draft laws of unusual significance, such as the Law against Tyranny described on the next page.

Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).