The Prytaneis (Executive Committee)

The senators administered their meetings themselves. Each tribal contingent in the Boule served in rotation for a period of 35 or 36 days as the Prytaneis, or Executive Committee. During their time in office, the Prytaneis were responsible for day-to-day administration, the schedule, order of business and the like. The Prytaneis had their headquarters in the Tholos, a large round building which lay just adjacent to the Bouleuterion.

The Tholos, about 470-460 B.C. Model by Petros Demetriades and Kostas Papoulias. Athens, Agora Museum. The circular shape of the Tholos is unusual among public buildings in the Agora. The design and construction are simple: the round chamber with an inner radius of 8.45 meters had a doorway on the east and six interior supports. The floor was clay. The building was famous for its roof shaped like a sun hat, which gave it the nickname skias, sunshade. The roof was made of diamond-shaped tiles, but their original arrangement is not known.

During their term of office they were fed at public expense, and the Tholos served also as their dining hall. The meals were probably fairly modest in the beginning: cheese, barley cakes, olives, leeks, and wine, although by the late 5th century the menu also included fish and meat.

Some of the tableware used at these public meals has been recovered from the vicinity of the building. The simple black-glaze cups, bowls, and pitchers have a ligature scratched or painted on them: ΔΕ for demosion (public property), presumably so that the senators would not inadvertently walk off with the official crockery.

Tholos dining ware, about 470-460 B.C. 9.2 Black-glaze kylix (drinking cup). H.: 0. 077 m. Athens, Agora Museum P 5117. 9.3 Small olpe (jug). H.: 0.133m. Athens, Agora Museum P 13429. Both vases are marked with the ligature ΔΕ for demosion (public property). On the black-glaze cup the inscription is incised with a sharp tool through the glaze, while on the jug the letters are painted in glaze. Both vases hold standard measures of liquid, suggesting their connection with the public kitchen and indicating that the democratic principle of a fair share for each was carried out.

It is clear from written sources that the Tholos was used as a dining hall, but it is difficult to find a suitable arrangement for its furniture. Greeks usually ate reclining on couches, but there is no good arrangement whereby fifty couches can be made to fit into the building. It may be that in this instance the senators ate sitting up, on a bench around the inner face of the wall.

Fragment Of a marble relief showing a banquet, 4th century B.C. H.: 0.286 m. Athens, Agora Museum S 834. On the right, a man reclines on a couch behind a table. A woman sits on a stool nearby, with another male figure on the left. The senators must have eaten sitting upright, the pose in which women usually ate, since the size and circular plan of the Tholos would have made it difficult to accommodate the requisite number of couches.

In addition to dining in the Tholos, at least one third of the Prytaneis were expected to be on duty in the building at all times, so at least seventeen senators actually slept there at night. Thus, if some emergency arose either within the city or as a result of news from abroad, there were senators available at all times, ready to deal with it. The Tholos therefore in a sense represents the heart of the Athenian democracy, where common citizens were always on duty.

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