In the early 4th century BC, Plato founded the first Academy, a school of philosophy located in Athens close to the place of worship of the hero Academus. This school continued to function until 529 AD, when its operation was banned by imperial decree. This is the first Academy where knowledge was recognized and nurtured and it is the model after which the modern day Academies of Sciences were conceived.
The present day Academy of Athens was founded by the Resolution of the Constituent Assembly of March 18, 1926, as ratified and modified by Law 4398/1929. The essence of this law and its basic stipulations are still pertinent today. Subsequent laws, decrees and resolutions have extended or supplemented the original goals and services of the Academy and have provided solutions to problems that have arisen in the course of time. The aim of the Academy, as stated in its founding charter, is to encourage the promotion of sciences, letters and fine arts, of learning in general and to act as an advisory body to the Government and other institutions, by submitting expert studies and proposals on matters that fall within its spheres of responsibility.
A Greek entrepreneur from Vienna, Simon Sinas, donated the funds for the construction of the magnificent building situated at 28 Panepistimiou Street. The construction of the building was finished in 1887 long before the founding of the institution. When the Academy was eventually founded, this building became its headquarters. The functioning of the Academy has been rendered possible thanks to state subsidies, endowments, donations, grants and scholarships provided by numerous individuals and by the Greek State. The Academy continues to receive generous donations that are essential to enable it to continue its work.
The Academy of Athens has the legal status of a Legal Entity of Public Law and is supervised by the Ministry of National Education. Its operation is governed by its Founding Charter 4398/1929, which ratified the Constitutional Decree of March 18th 1926 concerning the Regulations of the Academy of Athens.
All regular members are elected by absolute majority of the Plenary after the announcement of a chair to be filled in is made and the new member is elected from among the candidates by secret ballot. Presently there are 47 Regular Members; 26 Foreign Members; and 152 Corresponding Members. The majority of candidates for academic life both in research centers and Universities are younger than 40 years. The proportion of women members to total membership: 5%. The proportion of women researchers in research centers of the Academy is 55%, while the proportion or women professor in academic societies is 50%.
The Academy of Athens is divided into three Classes : The Class of Natural Sciences (Class A), the Class of Letters and Fine Arts (Class B) and the Class of Moral and Political Sciences (Class C). The Class of Natural Sciences includes the fields of Mathematics, Physics, Medicine and Applied Sciences; the Class of Letters and Fine Arts includes the fields of Philology, Literature, History, Arts and Archaeology; and the Class of Moral and Political Sciences includes the fields of Theology, Philosophy, Law, Political Sciences, Economics and Social Sciences. Each Class meets according to matters requiring discussions or resolutions at least once a month.
Plenary meetings are held every Thursday from October 1 to June 15. The meetings begin with a public session and then continue in private. Public sessions are devoted to the presentation of original communications and of reports of members of the Academy and of other contributors. The communications of external contributors, however, are to be presented only by members of the institution. The private sessions are devoted to academic issues, the election of new members, administrative issues, and the like.
The Academy of Athens is an independent and self-governing institution. Its supreme administrative authority is a nine-member Senate. This consists of the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary General, the Secretary for Publications, the Secretary of the Plenary, the immediate past President, and the Presidents of the three Departments, The President and the Secretary General represent the Academy before third parties. The President convenes the Senate and the Plenary. The Secretary General oversees the administration and the general activities of the institution. The Senate meets at least once a month.
The activities of the Academy are accomplished through a great variety of means: special reports, discussions and presentations; specialized publications, studies and projects; operation of research laboratories and workgroups; conducting pure and applied scientific research, archaeological excavations, field research missions and conferences; competitions, awards and scholarships and other forms of material aid and moral tokens of recognition etc. The Academy possesses a rich central library and several Departmental libraries, and archival collections. The Academy runs 14 Research Centres, seven Research Offices and has four affiliated Foundations.
The main publications of the Academy are the Proceedings of the Academy of Athens (1926), the Treatises of the Academy of Athens (1930), the Monuments of Greek History (1932); the Greek Library (1950); the Miscellaneous independent publications (1943); the publications of the Research Centers and Offices of the Academy; the publications of the E. and C. Ouranis Foundation, and the publications of the Research Committee.
The funds of the Academy consist of an annual Government subsidy for covering the running expenses of the Research Centres of the Academy. 15% from the total funds of Academy comes from bequests, dividends of shares, and other independent sources. The Academy also receives gifts and bequests, from whose proceeds some awards prizes for scientific or scholarly work, and scholarships for students, are funded.
The Academy holds competitions medals (golden, silver, copper) and awards prizes and other distinctions. The highest award bestowed by the Academy of Athens is the Medal of Honour. It is awarded every four years on a rota system to a Greek scientist, literary personality, musician, composer, painter, architect or sculptor for excellence in his or her particular scientific, cultural or artistic field. In addition, the Academy is also involved in important social activities, such as awarding annual rewards for outstanding acts of altruism and self-sacrifice, for excellence in science, letters and social life.
The Academy participates in a wide range of intellectual, cultural and social events: its varied activities include the official representation of Greece at international conferences and the organisation of field research missions.
Under its founding law, the Academy of Athens is the official representative of Greece at the International Union of Academies and at the International Council of Scientific Unions. The Academy corresponds with these bodies on behalf of Greece and appoints the Greek delegates to the general and Departmental assemblies of these two international bodies, as well as, to other international and European scientific unions affiliated to them such as IAP, ALLEA, EASAC and IAMP.