The ancient agora (Acts 16)

In antiquity the agora (marketplace) was the social, political and administrative centre of the ity. Two such marketplaces are mentioned in Acts. In the Roman  colony of Philippi, after Paul cast out a demon from a slave girl, her owners dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities in the agora (Acts 16:19). Later, while in Athens, Pauls reasoned daily with philosophers in that city’s agora (Acts 17:17-18). These Hellenic marketplaces would have been gathering places for the dissemination of ideas and commerce, worship and the official business of the city authorities.

The ancient Athenian agora, lying at the foot of, and to the northwest of, the Acropolis, was impressive. Before the sixth century B.C. the space was used as a cemetery and domestic area during different periods. At the beginning of the sixth century, assemblies were held and dances performed on this site. Pisistratus erected a nine-spouted fountain and palace there, as well as a stadium for the Panathenaic games. The Panathenaic Way passed through the agora; its remains are still visible. When Athens became a democracy in the late sixth century B.C., a court was built in the agora, followed by several other public buildings on the western side of the area. Throughout the history of the marketplace, temples to various gods were erected, the most well preserved being the Temple of Hephaestus, built in the late fifth century B.C. The military headquarters was located there, as well as a prison. During the second century B.C. King Attalus of Pergamon constructed a stoa (an open, roofed colonnade) on the site with shops on one end. Today this ancient stoa is home to a museum dedicated to archaeological finds from the agora.

The Romans added more buildings and repaired those that had been damaged by war. A new marketplace, known as the Forum of Caesar and Augustus (popularly called the Roman Agora), was built to the east of the ancient one, and the two were connected by a treet behind the Stoa of Attalus. The Roman Agora had a more commercial function. Interestingly, the water clock known as the Tower of the Winds (built during the first century A.D.) still stands. Other buildings from the first century A.D. include public lavatories and what was possibly the headquarters for law enforcement. Both the ancient and the Roman agoras would have been places of bustling activity during Paul’s day.

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