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Athenian Agora - The Stoa Basileios (Royal Stoa)

the roayal stoaSituated at the northwest corner of the Agora, this Archaic stoa (‘colonnaded porch’) is not open to the public, but can be seen both from the west (behind and above the later Stoa of Zeus) and from Adraniou Street, outside the gate of the Agora.

The Royal Stoa is rectangular building, 18 x 7.5 m, with eight Doric columns along the façade and four inside. Late in the 5th century BC two small porches were added on each end. The Royal Stoa served as the headquarters of the ‘Archon Basileios’ or ‘King Archon’, the second of the three most important ‘archons’ (state officials) in Archaic Athens. The other two were the Archon (the ‘head of state’) and the Polemarchos (the ‘war leader’, for military matters).

The King Archon was responsible for the city’s religious affairs. His tasks included the organization of the traditional sacrifices, of religious festivals such as those for Demeter and Dionysos, and the overseeing of law suits that involved accusations of impiety, disputes over priesthoods and private cases of homicide.

In 399 BC the philosopher Socrates had to present himself at the Royal Stoa because he was indicted for ‘impiety, for introducing new gods to the city and for corrupting the youth of Athens’. The trial of Socrates was to take place in one of the law courts and his execution in the State Prison. A large limestone block, almost 1 x 3 meters in size, in front of the Royal Stoa may have been the ‘lithos’ or ‘stone’ that is mentioned by various ancient authors as the place where the magistrates of the city took their oaths of loyalty.

According to Aristotle (4th century BC) the laws of Solon were set up in the building as well. Excavations behind the Royal Stoa have yielded large quantities of broken cooking pots, drinking cups and animal bone, probably refuse from the dinner parties held by the Archon and his associates. Many of the cups were marked with the letters ΔΕ for ‘demosion’ or ‘public property’. Stone seats found near the building may have been used by the King Archon and his guests to view processions and performances held in the open area in front of the Stoa. The identification of the building as ‘Royal Stoa’ is secured by the description of Pausanias (2nd century AD) and by the presence of two inscriptions that commemorate the setting up of statues in the stoa by different ‘King Archons’.

The Royal Stoa was repaired after the Persian sack of 480/79 BC and continued in use into the Roman period. It even survived the Herulian attack of 267 AD.

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