The area of the Agora, except for a religious, administrative and political center, remained primarily the location where the citizens gathered for commercial, professional and entertainment reasons. It is quite difficult to restore the busy atmosphere of the Agora. From the early morning, villagers with their animals and their vegetables came to settle to the makeshift benches in the open area of the Agora. Later on, during the Hellenistic period, the villagers were hosted in the stores which were in the back of the great Stoes. When the city had to offer hospitality to thousand of refugees from Attica, who had escaped the Lacedemonians (431 B.C.), the poverty drove many women to also turn to commerce, selling vegetables, herbs, bread or needlework.
The αργυραμοιβοί were necessary for the conduct of commercial activities. Sitting at small tables and equipped with scales and their experience, confirmed that the coins circulating in the Agora were not fake and instantly exchanged them for what they were worth in Athens currency.
Athens took pride in the invention of commercial faith and the establishment of the first network of bankers in the early 4th century. Originally, the bankers were slaves or freedmen. Nevertheless, due to their colossal fortunes they made, quickly made their way up the social ladder.
In the adjacent buildings, the Athenian state kept the necessary tools for the exercise of a total control over the financial and commercial activities that usually take place in the Agora. The official measures that applied in the city were explicitly determined by the state and it any deviation was strictly forbidden. During the excavations, various copper and clay objects, where usually the word ΔΕΜΟΣΙΟΣ (PUBLIC) is inscribed, were found to be volume measurement units. The officials that were assigned with guarding the dry and liquid measures were the metronomoi (Controllers of Measures). Ten of them were elected each year by drawing a lot, 5 for the city and 5 for Pireaus. The official dry and liquid measures were manufactured by a public slave and copies were kept in the city as well as in Pireaus.
Hundreds of copper coins have been found in the so-called South Stoa I, a rather humble construction of the 5th century which was preserved until the mid-hellenistic period and it is believed to have housed, since the 4th century, the famous αργυραμοιβούς and bankers. At least since 222/221 B.C., it should have been housing the Metronomoi, as is testified by the fact that the inscription mentioning the procedures for the dry and liquid measures left from the outgoing Metronomoi to their successors, was found in that location.
The excavations in the area of the Agora have shown the great spectrum of commercial activities which took place in the city of Athens. After 460 B.C., when the great commercial power turned to the capital of an empire, merchants from around the world came to its port, Pireaus, from where they transferred their merchandise to the Agora.
Apart from the clearly commercial activities, the Agora was also a location for the supply of services: shoemakers, like the famous Simon, friend of Socrates, was there. Simon’s house was excavated in the southeast corner in the Agora. Also housed there were all types of businesses, such as hairdressers and perfumeries. The shops and the workshops were a place of gathering and of exchange of news between the citizens, people of the same tribe or places of gathering of the tribes themselves. Inevitably, the Agora was also the location where one could also find brothels and pubs.
It was characteristic of Athens, as early as the Iron Age (900 B.C.), to have a great amount of ceramic, copper and marble workshops. The garbage from these workshops has been brought to light by the excavations and has offered valuable information for these facilities (ovens, storage areas, burying of garbage) as well as for the longevity of these particular businesses in the Agora. Indeed, after every great disaster, the public buildings that were not used any more where immediately occupied by small industries.
The roman period brought an end to the fervent commercial and industrial activity in the Agora. According to the roman standards, these activities where transferred to the adjacent roman Agora, while the colossal construction activity which took place at the beginning of the 1st century and the mid 2nd century, covered the entire open space in the center of the Agora, drastically changing the landscape in the city center. Symbolically, the city authorities continued to operate in the buildings which had been designated to this purpose centuries ago. Nevertheless, the decision these authorities made did not concern the entire world but only a small provincial town within the gigantic Roman Empire.