Means ‘presidents’, sing. prytanis. In Athens the boule, after it was reorganized in 508/7 bc by Cleisthenes (2), consisted of 50 men chosen by lot from each of the ten phylai, and each group of 50 served as prytaneis for one‐tenth of the year (see calendar, greek). This period was called a prytany; owing to the vagaries of Athenian methods of reckoning a year, a prytany might be anything from 35 to 39 days. To decide which phylē's group was to be prytaneis next, lots were drawn shortly before the beginning of each prytany except the last by all the groups which had not been prytaneis so far that year.
The prytaneis were on duty every day. They made arrangements for meetings of the boule and ekklesia, received envoys and letters addressed to the state, and conducted other day‐to‐day business. Between 470 and 460 an office, called the tholos because of its circular shape, was built for them next to the bouleuterion on the west side of the Agora. There they dined every day at public expense.
Each day one of the prytaneis was picked by lot to be their chairman (epistatēs). He remained on duty in the tholos for one night and day, with one‐third of the prytaneis. He had charge of the state seal and of the keys of the treasuries and archives. In the 5th cent. he was the chairman at any meeting of the boule or ekklesia held on his day (see socrates—the most famous epistates, and on a famous occasion), but in the 4th cent. this duty was taken over by the proedroi. No one could be chairman more than once, and so a considerable proportion (perhaps half) of the citizens held this position at some time in their lives. The whole system of the prytaneis and their chairman, based on lot and rotation, was a means of involving ordinary citizens in public administration, and thus a fundamental part of Athenian democracy and education.
Subjects: Classical studies