The agora (a term inadequately translatable as “market-place”) is an essential feature of the Gehennese city. The agora is the place of business both public and private, containing the booths of merchants and vendors, and surrounded with shrines and the offices and official residences of public officials. It is also a place for public assemblies for all purposes. The forum is the natural place for meetings and rendezvous, and the place to drift to in idle moments in hope of finding congenial company. It is in every way the heart of the Gehennese town and city.

Before the Archaic Period and in small communities the forum is the sole public place of a settlement. As well as containing the market, it serves for public assemblies, religious services, and theatrical performances, rôles for which the theatre is specialised in more-developed communities. It also acts as ‘village green’, where the militia can drill, the ephebes can train, and where the young men can assemble for games. The gymnasium will later specialise for these functions.

In developed communities, with their gymnasiums and theatres, and with, perhaps, their temples secluded in the citadel, the agora is no less busy. It is thronged with merchants and vendors, and surrounded by offices for the public officials who formerly worked from their homes. It is still used for some public assemblies, particularly in emergencies, as a mustering-point for the militia, and for the most important religious observances, those at which the whole population is expected.

The early agora is simply an open space at or near the centre of the town. It must be well-drained, and is often near the main fountain. The forum must be fairly level, although a slope at one side is advantageous for the audience at public assemblies and performances. The agora is readily transformed into a market by the erection of booths.

By the Archaic Period public buildings have begun to accumulate in and around the agora. There is no definite pattern, either in where in the forum these buildings are placed, nor in whether particular buildings end up in the forum or in the citadel. Every city is different in particulars. The nearest thing to a universal is the stoa. Stoas, either free-standing or opening onto rooms of various purposes, are common in forums, lending shelter from the sun and rain to all the people in the agora, regardless of their purpose in being there.

Agoras in the Classical Period are like their precursors except for being more cluttered and constrained. Despite the departure of athletics to the gymnasium, and of drama, religious ceremonies, and some public assemblies to the theatre, the agoras have not been able to keep up with the growth of the cities. Most cities have have to build extra agoras, or to move their agoras to more-spacious locations. In a few cases certain types of goods and businesses are shifted off to a new agora, completing the segregation of business by type within the agora.
The new agora is likely to have been carefully planned, to be regular in shape, and to be completely surrounded by peristyle stoas of uniform architecture.

A few cities banish commerce to a new agora, and reserve the old for shrines, monuments, public assemblies, government offices, and certain privileged businesses such as schools. This continues the trend of assigning different types of business to their own separate places in the agora, but in many ways breaks the essential spirit of the agora.

By the Decadent Period many forums have been completely surrounded by stoas, have formal entrances, and have streets around them. These become less the public heart of the community, and more limited to the rôle of market-place.

The regulation to the forum is an important part of civic administration, and cities appoint magistrates to govern the agora. Often these are specialised in different aspects of the agora, and form a formal hierarchy. The chief such magistracy is a prestigious post indeed.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.