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Athenian Agora - The South West Enclosure: Helaia or Aiakeion

In the southwest corner of the Agora are the foundations of a large rectangular encolsure (27 x 31 m), which may have been a law court or, according to others, a sanctuary. It was built around 550 BC and remained in use into Roman times.

SW enclosureThe building must initially have been open to the sky as internal supports to carry a roof or ceramic tiles were missing. Law courts were composed of 201, 501, or even 1501 jurors and they would have needed a large space. Some of the law courts in ancient Athens are known from literary sources to have met in the open air, especially those dealing with homicide. A person who was guilty of such a crime was considered polluted and should not be under the same roof as the unpolluted. A function as law court is therefore possible.

Another possible identification is that of a sanctuary, although signs of an altar or votive offerings have never been found. However, the Classical author Herodotus mentioned the existence in the Agora of a sanctuary to the hero Ajax, the so-called Aiakeion. No other building seems to qualify. Moreover, a 4th century BC inscription from the Agora records a law concerning taxes on barley and wheat imported from the islands of Lemnos, Imbros and Skyros. The law prescribes the collection of a little over 8 % of these grains and their storing in the ‘Aiakeion’. In addition, the law obliges the city of Athens to provide this sanctuary with a roof, indicating that until then it had been open to the sky.

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