The Prytaneis were the executives of the boule of ancient Athens. The term (like basileus or tyrannos) is probably of pre-Greek origin, possibly cognate to Etruscan (e)pruni.
Origins and organizationWhen Cleisthenes reorganized the Athenian government in 508/7 BCE, he replaced the old Solonian boule, or council, of 400 with a new boule of 500. The old boule consisted of 100 members of each of the four ancestral tribes. Cleisthenes created ten new tribes and made the boule consist of 50 men from each of these tribes. Each group member was an executive of the boule for one-tenth of the year. The executive officers were known as prytaneis (prytanis in the singular) and their term of office as a prytany.
The prytaneis served every day during their prytany. They formally called to meeting the full boule and the ecclesia of Athens, though in practice many meetings were mandatory and evidence suggests that persuasive individuals could enjoin the prytaneis to call or not to call a supplementary meeting. The prytaneis received ambassadors from foreign states and generally conducted the day-to-day business of the state. They ate at public expense in the Tholos, a circular-shaped edifice constructed for them next to the boule house.
Each day, for one 24-hour period, one member of the 50 prytaneis was selected by lot to serve as the foreman (επιστατης). He administered the state seal and the keys to the state treasuries and archives. He was, in effect, the chief executive officer of Athens. No man was allowed to hold this office more than once, and so probably more than half of all adult male Athenians held it, at one time or another.
During meetings of the ecclesia or the boule, the current foreman also chaired these meetings. But in the fourth century, this practice changed and the chairmanship of meetings was taken over by an office specifically created for this task (the προεδροι).
In other citiesPrytanis as a title is used in other ancient Greek cities including Rhodes, Alexandria and other cities along the west coast of Asia Minor. Offices that use this title usually have responsibility for presiding over councils of some kind.
- Hansen, Mogens H. The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles and Ideology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991.
- Rhodes, P. J. The Athenian Boule. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.
prytaneum in Spanish: Pritano
prytaneum in Hungarian: Prütanisz
prytaneum in Dutch: Prytanen
prytaneum in French: Prytane
prytaneum in Russian: Притания