This research project investigated the question when and how the agora developed into a marketplace and what influence it had on the oikonomia as such. The working hypothesis was that the market and the increasing use of coins (also politically conditioned) largely determined the literary discourse on oikonomia.
Alongside the oikos, the agora was another important place for oikonomia in the Greek polis, although not at first. Until the 5th century BCE, the agora served primarily political functions. In Homer the word is already used to indicate the people’s assembly. For Hesiod it is the place of court. Since archaic times the agora has also served as a space for the cults of gods and heroes as well as for agons and festivals. It is not known whether the place had already begun to serve an economic function as a marketplace in the archaic polis, and surprisingly little research has been done on this subject to date. It is only beginning in the mid 5th century that literary evidence on this subject begins to accumulate, mainly in the writings of Herodotus and the comedies of Aristophanes. There is some evidence that the economic role of the agora, particularly in the Athens of that period, was an innovation that raised many new questions. In Herodotus (I.153), the role of the agora as a place to buy and sell is presented as something typically Greek; the Persians, by contrast, needed no marketplaces at all. In Aristophanes, e.g. in “The Acharnians”, but especially “The Knights”, the agora figures as the place where contentious political, social, economic and ethical problems intermingled and came to light: the democracy of the demagogues, the despised classes of kapeloi and banausoi, the monetary economy (so strange and disagreeable to the rural citizenry) and the disintegration of dike and nomos, especially under the influence of the sophists. Following the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war, food in Athens was predominantly supplied in the agora, in contrast to the traditional economy of a rural oikos; a special term was even coined for this phenomenon: attike oikonomia (Ps.-Arist., Oik. 1344 b 33ff.).