The south side of the Classical Agora housed a number of buildings which show that the city of Athens was actively involved in the practical organization and control of commercial and financial activities. One the earliest of these buildings is ‘South Stoa I’ (how the Classical Athenians called the building is not known).
South Stoa I was built ca. 430-420 BC and consisted of a 80 m long colonnaded porch. Unlike other stoas, which simply consisted of a porch with one row of columns along the façade, this stoa had a double colonnade with 16 rooms along the back wall. The columns on the exterior were in the Doric order. The Stoa was made with relatively modest building materials. The upper part of the walls, for instance, simply consisted of unbaked mudbricks, some of which have miraculously escaped later destruction and weathering and can still be seen.
The more than 240 coins that were found in and around the Stoa suggest it had a commercial function, perhaps as a public market. One of the rooms contained an inscription that mentions ‘metronomoi’ – ‘inspectors of weights and measures’ whose task it was to prevent salesmen from cheating their customers. The city of Athens had official weights and measures, one set of which was probably kept in the Stoa. These consisted of lead and bronze bars with symbols and an official stamp. For dry and liquid food stuffs (grain, nuts, oil, wine etc.) there were standardized terracotta and occasionally bronze containers, also with official inscriptions (examples in the Agora Museum). A 2nd century BC inscription describes the procedure:
“Sellers of Persian nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pine-nuts, chestnuts, Egyptian beans, dates and any other dried fruits normally sold with these, also lupines, olives, and pine kernels shall use a measure of the capacity of three half-choinikes of grain leveled off, selling them heaped up in this choinix which shall be five fingers deep and have a lip one finger wide. … If anyone sell in a smaller container, the appropriate authority shall immediately sell the contents by auction, pay the money to the public bank, and destroy the container.”
The form of the 16 rooms in the back of ‘South Stoa I’ provides further information on the function of the building: that of dining rooms for the associated officials. The doorways of these rooms are not in the center, something which was probably done to allow a large number of dining couches to be placed along the walls. One room, moreover, preserves the kind of raised border that is usually found in ancient dining rooms and which would keep the wooden legs of the couches from getting wet when the room was cleaned.
South Stoa I was dismantled in 150 BC to make place for ‘South Stoa II’, which formed part of a larger complex, but probably with a similar commercial function as ‘South Stoa I’.
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