The Prytaneion was in essence the administrative seat of the Republic of Athens because the prytaneis had full control over military, political and financial matters. They even had the right to express criticism of the newly elected officials. They received ambassadors from other cities, studied the reports of the strategoi (military leaders), assigned contracts for public works and organised the sales of property seized from penalized citizens. The weights and measures of the state were kept in the Prytaneion; another duty exercised by the prytaneis was to keep close check on the measures of weight used in the market to prevent profiteering. They also had the power to arrest dishonest tax collectors and to take judicial decisions to impose fines of up to 500 drachmas. But the most significant task of the prytaneis was to prepare the bills to be passed; first the bills went to the Boule for drafting and then to the Assembly of the Deme for final approval.
The enormous weight attached by the Athenians to the duties of the prytaneis can be seen in Socrates’ defence, in which the philosopher cited his earlier refusal to pass a death sentence, by withdrawing from the Tholos while he was serving his term as prytanis during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. In this way, Socrates believed that he had performed an act of resistance to oppressive power, even though he knew that his punishment for refusing to perform his duty would be exemplary. He himself proposed, with a large measure of irony, that the most appropriate sentence for the charges against him would be to oblige him to eat forever in the Prytaneion, near the citizens who already enjoyed this privilege.
The Tholos with its characteristic round shape was built after 470 BC. It had a simple entrance to the east and its ceramic tiled roof was supported by six poros stone columns, the bases of three of which have been found. The floor was earthen and the thick walls were built of stone. On the north side of the building was a small room that served as a kitchen; next to it traces have been found of a makeshift roasting pit. During the Roman years, the Tholos acquired an a outer gate, the floor was paved with marble slabs and the initial pyramidal roof-with a shape that made the Athenians call the building “skias”, i.e. sunshade -was replaced by a flatter one. Whatever remains on this site today is from the Roman era.
Elections to annual offices were held by a draw, and there had to be at least two candidates for each office. The usual system was to use as many black and white pebbles as there were candidates. As the name of a citizen was drawn from one container, the vote fell into the other. White meant election, black rejection. Among the various artefacts found in the region were small square clay tiles, cut in such a way that two pieces could be put together to make one complete piece; these might be evidence of another manner of election.
Any request by a citizen for settlement of a private matter of debt to the state had to be in writing and had to be checked by three secretaries elected by the Boule. There were also secondary state officials to ensure full transparency in the handling of public funds.
Apart from being a legislative body, the Boule also had executive powers. It could decide to call an emergency meeting of Athenians to ostracise a politician who showed dictatorial tendencies. If such an action was decided upon, an open space in the Agora was enclosed on the predetermined day, leaving ten openings to be used as entrances, one for each tribe. The citizens would present themselves at the entrance corresponding to their tribe and would hand over the potsherd (ostrako) on which they had written the name of the public person they believed to be dangerous. Then they would enter the fenced area where they remained until the end of the voting. The used potsherds were considered to be worthless after they had been counted, and for this reason, many of them were found under the main road through the Agora where they had been dumped as an under layer for the dirt road.