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date: 21 March 2023



  • Antony Spawforth


  • Greek Material Culture

Prytaneion, symbolic centre of the polis, housing its communal hearth (koinē hestia), eternal flame, and public dining-room where civic hospitality was offered; usually in or off the agora. A facility of ancient origin (the Athenian prytaneion was allegedly founded by Theseus: Thuc. 2. 15), it probably took its name from the post-regal magistracy of the prytaneis, with whom it sometimes remained closely linked (e.g. at Ephesus); in Dorian cities its functions could be housed in the offices of the hierothytai (‘sacrificers’), as on Hellenistic Rhodes and (after Nabis) at Sparta. The privilege of permanent maintenance (sitēsis) in the prytaneion was highly honorific (see Cic. De or. 1. 54. 232) and, in Classical times, sparingly conceded; less honorific was the once-only invitation to a meal (deipnon, xenia). Excavated prytaneia tend to be architecturally modest, as might have been the fare, at least at democratic Athens (see Ath. 4. 137e). See hestia.


  • L. Gernet, Anthropologie de la Grèce ancienne (1978.
  • Eng. trans. The Anthropology of Ancient Greece (1981), ch. 15.
  • S. Miller, The Prytaneion (1978).
  • M. Osborne, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 41 (1981), 153–70.
  • G. Schmalz, Hesperia: Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 75 (2006), 33–81 (site of the Athenian prytaneion?).