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prytaneion

town hall of a Greek city-state, normally housing the chief magistrate and the common altar or hearth of the community. Ambassadors, distinguished foreigners, and citizens who had done signal service were entertained there. Prytanea are attested at Sigeum in the Troas from the 6th century BC and at various dates in Cyzicus, Erythrae, Priene, Ephesus, Epidamnus, Rhodes, and Olympia. In Athens one sign of the unification (synoecism) of Attica by Theseus was the creation of a single prytaneum, which became the seat of the chief archon. The prytaneum was dedicated to Hestia, goddess of the hearth, and within the building a perpetual fire burned, but it was not otherwise sacred. Prytanea were built according to many widely varied ground plans. According to some contemporary sources, when colonizers established a new Greek colony, they brought with them a brand from the prytaneum at Athens, from which the fire in the new colony's prytaneum was kindled.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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