Boundary Stones and House of Simon the Cobbler

Inscribed marble posts were used to mark the entrances to the Agora wherever a street led into the open square. Two have been found in situ, inscribed with the simple text "I am the boundary of the Agora," in letters that should date somewhere around 500 B.C. (Figs. 23, 24). The limits of the square had to be well marked for two reasons. First, people who were underage or who had been convicted of certain crimes (e.g., mistreatment of parents, failure to show up for military duty, impiety) were not allowed into the Agora. Second, markers were needed to define what was public land, to prevent encroachment by private buildings.

Figure 23. Agora boundary stone found east of the Tholos, ca. 500 B.C.
Figure 24. Agora boundary stone found deep under the Middle Stoa. Text, letter-forms, and tooling all indicate it is part of the same series as that in Figure 23, except all the letters and words run backward (retrograde), from right to left.

One such building, found just behind the northern boundary stone (horos, in Greek), produced bone eyelets and iron hobnails, suggesting that a cobbler worked here in the 5th century B.C., while a fragmentary drinking cup found nearby preserved the incised name of Simon (Figs. 25, 26). Diogenes Laertius records that Sokrates, when he wished to meet with those pupils too young to enter the Agora, would meet them at the shop of Simon the cobbler, which lay near the square. The evidence is circumstantial, but we may well have here the remains of one of Sokrates’ informal classrooms.

Figure 25. The remains of the house of Simon the cobbler, 5th century B.C., built against the Agora boundary stone (bottom left).
Figure 26. Material found at the house of Simon the cobbler: bone eyelets, iron hobnails, and the base of a cup inscribed with Simon’s name.
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).