The city of Athens (Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athênai [a.tʰɛ̂ː.nai̯]; Modern Greek: Αθήναι Athine [a.ˈθi.ne̞] or, more commonly and in singular, Αθήνα Athina [a.'θi.na]) during the classical period of Ancient Greece (480–323 BC) was the major urban center of the notable polis (city-state) of the same name, located in Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Isagoras. This system remained remarkably stable, and with a few brief interruptions remained in place for 180 years, until 322 BC (aftermath of Lamian War). The peak of Athenian hegemony was achieved in the 440s to 430s BC, known as the Age of Pericles.
In the classical period, Athens was a center for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Akademia and Aristotle's Lyceum, Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Plato, Pericles, Aristophanes, Sophocles, and many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization, and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then-known European continent.
|508 BC–86 BC|
Owl of Athena, patron of Athens
Delian League ("Athenian Empire") shown in yellow, Athenian territory shown in red, situation in 431 BC, before the Peloponnesian War.
|Common languages||Attic Greek|
|Religion||Ancient Greek religion|
• 449–429 BC
|Historical era||Classical antiquity|
|478–404 BC (404–403 BC Thirty tyrants)|
Hippias, son of Peisistratus, had ruled Athens jointly with his brother, Hipparchus, from the death of Peisistratus c527. Following the assassination of Hipparchus c514, Hippias took on sole rule, and in response to the loss of his brother, became a worse leader and increasingly disliked. Hippias exiled 700 of the Athenian noble families, amongst them Cleisthenes' family, the Alchmaeonids. Upon their exile, they went to Delphi, and Herodotus says they bribed the Pythia to always tell visiting Spartans that they should invade Attica and overthrow Hippias. This, supposedly, worked after a number of times, and Cleomenes led a Spartan force to overthrow Hippias, which succeeded, and instated an oligarchy. Cleisthenes disliked the Spartan rule, along with many other Athenians, and so made his own bid for power. The result of this was democracy in Athens, but considering Cleisthenes' motivation for using the people to gain power, as without their support, he would have been defeated, and so Athenian democracy may be tinted by the fact its creation served greatly the man who created it. The reforms of Cleisthenes replaced the traditional four Ionic "tribes" (phyle) with ten new ones, named after legendary heroes of Greece and having no class basis, which acted as electorates. Each tribe was in turn divided into three trittyes (one from the coast; one from the city and one from the inland divisions), while each trittys had one or more demes (see deme) – depending on their population – which became the basis of local government. The tribes each selected fifty members by lot for the Boule, the council which governed Athens on a day-to-day basis. The public opinion of voters could be influenced by the political satires written by the comic poets and performed in the city theaters. The Assembly or Ecclesia was open to all full citizens and was both a legislature and a supreme court, except in murder cases and religious matters, which became the only remaining functions of the Areopagus. Most offices were filled by lot, although the ten strategoi (generals) were elected.
The silver mines of Laurion contributed significantly to the development of Athens in the 5th century BC, when the Athenians learned to prospect, treat, and refine the ore and used the proceeds to build a massive fleet, at the instigation of Themistocles.
In 499 BC Athens sent troops to aid the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, who were rebelling against the Persian Empire (see Ionian Revolt). This provoked two Persian invasions of Greece, both of which were repelled under the leadership of the soldier-statesmen Miltiades and Themistocles (see Persian Wars). In 490 the Athenians, led by Miltiades, prevented the first invasion of the Persians, guided by king Darius I, at the Battle of Marathon. In 480 the Persians returned under a new ruler, Xerxes I. The Hellenic League led by the Spartan King Leonidas led 7,000 men to hold the narrow passageway of Thermopylae against the 100,000–250,000 army of Xerxes, during which time Leonidas and 300 other Spartan elites were killed. Simultaneously the Athenians led an indecisive naval battle off Artemisium. However, this delaying action was not enough to discourage the Persian advance which soon marched through Boeotia, setting up Thebes as their base of operations, and entered southern Greece. This forced the Athenians to evacuate Athens, which was taken by the Persians, and seek the protection of their fleet. Subsequently, the Athenians and their allies, led by Themistocles, defeated the Persian navy at sea in the Battle of Salamis. Xerxes had built himself a throne on the coast in order to see the Greeks defeated. Instead, the Persians were routed. Sparta's hegemony was passing to Athens, and it was Athens that took the war to Asia Minor. These victories enabled it to bring most of the Aegean and many other parts of Greece together in the Delian League, an Athenian-dominated alliance.
Pericles – an Athenian general, politician and orator – distinguished himself above the other personalities of the era, men who excelled in politics, philosophy, architecture, sculpture, history and literature. He fostered arts and literature and gave to Athens a splendor which would never return throughout its history. He executed a large number of public works projects and improved the life of the citizens. Hence, he gave his name to the Athenian Golden Age. Silver mined in Laurium in southeastern Attica contributed greatly to the prosperity of this "Golden" Age of Athens.
During the time of the ascendancy of Ephialtes as leader of the democratic faction, Pericles was his deputy. When Ephialtes was assassinated by personal enemies, Pericles stepped in and was elected general, or strategos, in 445 BC; a post he held continuously until his death in 429 BC, always by election of the Athenian Assembly. The Parthenon, a lavishly decorated temple to the goddess Athena, was constructed under the administration of Pericles.
Resentment by other cities at the hegemony of Athens led to the Peloponnesian War in 431, which pitted Athens and her increasingly rebellious sea empire against a coalition of land-based states led by Sparta. The conflict marked the end of Athenian command of the sea. The war between Athens and the city-state Sparta ended with an Athenian defeat after Sparta started its own navy.
Athenian democracy was briefly overthrown by the coup of 411, brought about because of its poor handling of the war, but it was quickly restored. The war ended with the complete defeat of Athens in 404. Since the defeat was largely blamed on democratic politicians such as Cleon and Cleophon, there was a brief reaction against democracy, aided by the Spartan army (the rule of the Thirty Tyrants). In 403, democracy was restored by Thrasybulus and an amnesty declared.
Sparta's former allies soon turned against her due to her imperialist policies, and Athens's former enemies, Thebes and Corinth, became her allies. Argos, Thebes and Corinth, allied with Athens, fought against Sparta in the decisive Corinthian War of 395–387 BC. Opposition to Sparta enabled Athens to establish a Second Athenian League. Finally Thebes defeated Sparta in 371 in the Battle of Leuctra. However, other Greek cities, including Athens, turned against Thebes, and its dominance was brought to an end at the Battle of Mantinea (362 BC) with the death of its leader, the military genius Epaminondas.
By mid century, however, the northern Greek kingdom of Macedon was becoming dominant in Athenian affairs. In 338 BC the armies of Philip II defeated Athens at the Battle of Chaeronea, effectively limiting Athenian independence. During the winter of 338 BC /337 BC Macedonia, Athens and other Greek states became part of the League of Corinth. Further, the conquests of his son, Alexander the Great, widened Greek horizons and made the traditional Greek city state obsolete. Antipater dissolved the Athenian government and established a plutocratic system in 322 BC (see Lamian War and Demetrius Phalereus).
In the 2nd century BC, following the Battle of Corinth (146 BC), Greece was absorbed into the Roman Republic as part of the Achaea Province. Athens remained a wealthy city with a brilliant cultural life, but after the Siege of Athens and Piraeus (87–86 BC) by Sulla ceased to be an independent power.
Athens was in Attica, about 30 stadia from the sea, on the southwest slope of Mount Lycabettus, between the small rivers Cephissus to the west, Ilissos to the south, and the Eridanos to the north, the latter of which flowed through the town. The walled city measured about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) in diameter, although at its peak the city had suburbs extending well beyond these walls. The Acropolis was just south of the centre of this walled area. The city was burnt by Xerxes in 480 BC, but was soon rebuilt under the administration of Themistocles, and was adorned with public buildings by Cimon and especially by Pericles, in whose time (461–429 BC) it reached its greatest splendour. Its beauty was chiefly due to its public buildings, for the private houses were mostly insignificant, and its streets badly laid out. Towards the end of the Peloponnesian War, it contained more than 10,000 houses, which at a rate of 12 inhabitants to a house would give a population of 120,000, though some writers make the inhabitants as many as 180,000. Athens consisted of two distinct parts:
The city was surrounded by defensive walls from the Bronze Age and they were rebuilt and extended over the centuries.
In addition the Long Walls consisted of two parallel walls leading to Piraeus, 40 stadia long (4.5 miles, 7 km), running parallel to each other, with a narrow passage between them and, furthermore, a wall to Phalerum on the east, 35 stadia long (4 miles, 6.5 km). There were therefore three long walls in all; but the name Long Walls seems to have been confined to the two leading to the Piraeus, while the one leading to Phalerum was called the Phalerian Wall. The entire circuit of the walls was 174.5 stadia (nearly 22 miles, 35 km), of which 43 stadia (5.5 miles, 9 km) belonged to the city, 75 stadia (9.5 miles, 15 km) to the long walls, and 56.5 stadia (7 miles, 11 km) to Piraeus, Munichia, and Phalerum.
The Acropolis, also called Cecropia from its reputed founder, Cecrops, was a steep rock in the middle of the city, about 50 meters high, 350 meters long, and 150 meters wide; its sides were naturally scarped on all sides except the west end. It was originally surrounded by an ancient Cyclopean wall said to have been built by the Pelasgians. At the time of the Peloponnesian war only the north part of this wall remained, and this portion was still called the Pelasgic Wall; while the south part which had been rebuilt by Cimon, was called the Cimonian Wall. On the west end of the Acropolis, where access is alone practicable, were the magnificent Propylaea, "the Entrances," built by Pericles, before the right wing of which was the small Temple of Athena Nike. The summit of the Acropolis was covered with temples, statues of bronze and marble, and various other works of art. Of the temples, the grandest was the Parthenon, sacred to the "Virgin" goddess Athena; and north of the Parthenon was the magnificent Erechtheion, containing three separate temples, one to Athena Polias, or the "Protectress of the State," the Erechtheion proper, or sanctuary of Erechtheus, and the Pandroseion, or sanctuary of Pandrosos, the daughter of Cecrops. Between the Parthenon and Erechtheion was the colossal Statue of Athena Promachos, or the "Fighter in the Front," whose helmet and spear was the first object on the Acropolis visible from the sea.
The lower city was built in the plain around the Acropolis, but this plain also contained several hills, especially in the southwest part. On the west side the walls embraced the Hill of the Nymphs and the Pnyx, and to the southeast they ran along beside the Ilissos.
There were many gates, among the more important there were:
Among the more important streets, there were:
The period from the end of the Persian Wars to the Macedonian conquest marked the zenith of Athens as a center of literature, philosophy (see Greek philosophy) and the arts (see Greek theatre). Some of the most important figures of Western cultural and intellectual history lived in Athens during this period: the dramatists Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides and Sophocles, the philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, the historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, the poet Simonides and the sculptor Phidias. The leading statesman of this period was Pericles, who used the tribute paid by the members of the Delian League to build the Parthenon and other great monuments of classical Athens. The city became, in Pericles's words, an education for Hellas (usually quoted as "the school of Hellas [Greece].")
Anaxagoras (; Greek: Ἀναξαγόρας, Anaxagoras, "lord of the assembly"; c. 510 – c. 428 BC) was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae at a time when Asia Minor was under the control of the Persian Empire, Anaxagoras came to Athens. According to Diogenes Laërtius and Plutarch, in later life he was charged with impiety and went into exile in Lampsacus; the charges may have been political, owing to his association with Pericles, if they were not fabricated by later ancient biographers.Responding to the claims of Parmenides on the impossibility of change, Anaxagoras described the world as a mixture of primary imperishable ingredients, where material variation was never caused by an absolute presence of a particular ingredient, but rather by its relative preponderance over the other ingredients; in his words, "each one is... most manifestly those things of which there are the most in it". He introduced the concept of Nous (Cosmic Mind) as an ordering force, which moved and separated out the original mixture, which was homogeneous, or nearly so.
He also gave a number of novel scientific accounts of natural phenomena. He produced a correct explanation for eclipses and described the sun as a fiery mass larger than the Peloponnese, as well as attempting to explain rainbows and meteors.Aristippus
Aristippus of Cyrene (; Greek: Ἀρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος; c. 435 – c. 356 BCE) was the founder of the Cyrenaic school of Philosophy. He was a pupil of Socrates, but adopted a very different philosophical outlook, teaching that the goal of life was to seek pleasure by circumstances to oneself and by maintaining proper control over both adversity and prosperity. His outlook came to be called "ethical hedonism." Among his pupils was his daughter Arete.
There are indications that he was conflated with his grandson, Aristippus the Younger.Athenian Treasury
The Athenian Treasury (Greek: Θησαυρός των Αθηναίων) at Delphi was constructed by the Athenians to house dedications and votive offerings made by their city and citizens to the sanctuary of Apollo. The entire treasury including its sculptural decoration is built of Parian marble. The date of construction is disputed, and scholarly opinions range from 510 to 480 BCE. It is located directly below the Temple of Apollo along the Sacred Way for all visitors to view the Athenian treasury on the way up to the sanctuary.Pausanias mentions the building in his account of the sanctuary, claiming that it was dedicated from the spoils of the Battle of Marathon, fought in 490 BCE against the Persians. The Battle of Marathon can be seen in some of the images of the metopes which compare their victory to mythology. By using the founder of Athens, Theseus, to show the victories of Athens, the treasury established Athens as one of the most powerful, polis, city-states of Greece. According to archeological records, the Athenian treasury metopes display the earliest known presence of Theseus in a large-scale sculpture. Prior to this treasury, Theseus had been depicted on vase paintings, but never before on architecture. Although Herakles was also depicted in the metopes, the added heroic character showed the Athenian's increasing devotion to Theseus. The pairing of the two heroes was a metaphor alluding to the Battle of Marathon.The metopes show Athenian identity and how they viewed their enemies both foreign or domestic. Several other city-states built treasuries in the panhellenic site of Delphi.
Among other firsts, the Athenian treasury was also the first Panhellenic sanctuary that was dedicated by Athenians.The building was excavated by the French School at Athens, led by Pierre de La Coste-Messelière, and reconstructed from 1903–1906. The structure is still visible in situ, although the metopes are reproductions; the originals are kept in the museum of Delphi.Athenian festivals
The festival calendar of Classical Athens involved the staging of a large number of festivals each year.Bendis
Bendis was a Thracian goddess associated with hunting whom the Athenians identified with Artemis, was introduced into Athens about 430 BC. She was a huntress, like Artemis, but was accompanied by dancing satyrs and maenads on a fifth-century red-figure stemless cup (at Verona).Democritus
Democritus (; Greek: Δημόκριτος, Dēmókritos, meaning "chosen of the people"; c. 460 – c. 370 BC) was an Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe.Democritus was born in Abdera, Thrace, around 460 BC, although there are disagreements about the exact year. His exact contributions are difficult to disentangle from those of his mentor Leucippus, as they are often mentioned together in texts. Their speculation on atoms, taken from Leucippus, bears a passing and partial resemblance to the 19th-century understanding of atomic structure that has led some to regard Democritus as more of a scientist than other Greek philosophers; however, their ideas rested on very different bases.
Largely ignored in ancient Athens, Democritus is said to have been disliked so much by Plato that the latter wished all of his books burned. He was nevertheless well known to his fellow northern-born philosopher Aristotle.
Many consider Democritus to be the "father of modern science". None of his writings have survived; only fragments are known from his vast body of work.Ephialtes
Ephialtes (Greek: Ἐφιάλτης, Ephialtēs) was an ancient Athenian politician and an early leader of the democratic movement there. In the late 460s BC, he oversaw reforms that diminished the power of the Areopagus, a traditional bastion of conservatism, and which are considered by many modern historians to mark the beginning of the "radical democracy" for which Athens would become famous. These powers included the scrutiny and control of office holders, and the judicial functions in state trials. He introduced pay for public officeholders, reduced the property qualifications for holding a public office, and created a new definition of citizenship. Ephialtes, however, would not live to participate in this new form of government for long. In 461 BC, he was assassinated, probably at the instigation of resentful oligarchs, and the political leadership of Athens passed to his deputy, Pericles.Euclid of Megara
Euclid of Megara (; also Euclides, Eucleides; Greek: Εὐκλείδης ὁ Μεγαρεύς; c. 435 – c. 365 BC) was a Greek Socratic philosopher who founded the Megarian school of philosophy. He was a pupil of Socrates in the late 5th century BC, and was present at his death. He held the supreme good to be one, eternal and unchangeable, and denied the existence of anything contrary to the good. Editors and translators in the Middle Ages often confused him with Euclid of Alexandria when discussing the latter's Elements.Eudemus of Rhodes
Eudemus of Rhodes (Greek: Εὔδημος) was an ancient Greek philosopher, considered the first historian of science, who lived from c. 370 BC until c. 300 BC. He was one of Aristotle's most important pupils, editing his teacher's work and making it more easily accessible. Eudemus' nephew, Pasicles, was also credited with editing Aristotle's works.Hellas (personification)
Hellas or Ellada is the personification of the nation of Greece, emanating from the classical period. There was a desire for unification in Greece, and Hellas is the only geographical personification known from that period. She is mentioned frequently in literature but only appears once in the arts of late classical Athens.Kotys
Kotys (Ancient Greek: Κότυς) was a prominent Thracian goddess who was worshipped in a festival known as the Cotyttia. She was particularly worshipped among the Edones. The Greeks considered Kotys to be an aspect of Persephone.Metic
In ancient Greece, a metic (Ancient Greek: μέτοικος, métoikos: from μετά, metá, indicating change, and οἶκος, oîkos "dwelling") was a foreign resident of Athens, one who did not have citizen rights in their Greek city-state (polis) of residence.Parrhasius (painter)
Parrhasius of Ephesus (Greek: Παρράσιος) was one of the greatest painters of Ancient Greece.Pherecydes of Leros
Pherecydes of Leros (; Greek: Φερεκύδης ὁ Λέριος; c. 450s BC) was a Greek mythographer and logographer. He came from the island of Leros. Pherecydes spent the greater part of his working life in Athens, and so he was also called Pherecydes of Athens (Greek: Φερεκύδης ὁ Ἀθηναῖος): the encyclopedic Byzantine Suda considers Pherecydes of Athens and of Leros separately.Pherecydes of Leros should not be confused with Pherecydes of Syros, the mid-6th-century philosopher, who was sometimes mentioned as one of the Seven Sages of Greece and was reputed to have been the teacher of Pythagoras.Polygnotus
Polygnotus (Greek: Πολύγνωτος Polygnotos) was an ancient Greek painter from the middle of the 5th century BC.Protagoras
Protagoras (; Greek: Πρωταγόρας; c. 490 BC – c. 420 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with inventing the role of the professional sophist.
Protagoras also is believed to have created a major controversy during ancient times through his statement that, "Man is the measure of all things", interpreted by Plato to mean that there is no absolute truth but that which individuals deem to be the truth.
Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside human influence or perceptions.Scythian archers
The Scythian archers were a hypothesized police force of 5th- and early 4th-century BC Athens that is recorded in some Greek artworks and literature. The force is said to have consisted of 300 armed Scythians (a nomadic people living in the Eurasian Steppe) who were public slaves in Athens. They acted for a group of eleven elected Athenian magistrates "who were responsible for arrests and executions and for some aspects of public order" in the city.Sycophant
Sycophant was a term used in the legal system of Classic Athens but in modern English it refers to someone practicing sycophancy i.e. obedient flattery.
The word sycophant has its origin in the legal system of Classical Athens. Having no police force and only a limited number of officially appointed public prosecutors, most legal cases of the time were brought by private litigants. By the fifth century BC, however, this practice had given rise to abuse by litigants who brought unjustified prosecutions. Such a litigant was called a "sycophant". The word retains the same meaning in Modern Greek, i.e. "slanderer", and French, in which it also can mean "informer"; but in modern English, the meaning of the word has shifted to that of an "insincere flatterer" (see sycophancy).Women in Classical Athens
The study of the lives of women in Classical Athens has been a significant part of classical scholarship since the 1970s. Our knowledge of Athenian women's lives comes from a variety of ancient sources. Much of it is literary evidence, primarily from tragedy, comedy, and oratory; supplemented with archaeological sources such as epigraphy and pottery. All of these sources were created by—and mostly for—men: there is no surviving ancient testimony by Classical Athenian women on their own lives.
Female children in classical Athens were not formally educated; rather, their mothers would have taught them the skills they would need to run a household. They married young, often to much older men. When they married, Athenian women had two main roles: to bear children, and to run the household. The ideal Athenian woman did not go out in public or interact with men she was not related to, though this ideology of seclusion would only have been practical in wealthy families. In most households, women were needed to carry out tasks such as going to the market and drawing water, which required taking time outside the house where interactions with men were possible.
Legally, women's rights were limited. They were barred from political participation, and Athenian women were not permitted to represent themselves in law, though it seems that metic women could. (A metic was a resident alien—free, but without the rights and privileges of citizenship). They were also forbidden from conducting economic transactions worth more than a nominal amount. However, it seems that this restriction was not always obeyed. Especially in poorer families, women would have worked to earn money, and would also have been responsible for household tasks such as cooking and washing clothes. Athenian women had limited capacity to own property, although they could have significant dowries, and could inherit.
The area of civic life in which Athenian women were most free to participate was the religious and ritual sphere. Along with important festivals reserved solely for women, they participated in many mixed-sex ritual activities. Of particular importance was the cult of Athena Polias, whose priestess held considerable influence. Women played an important role in the Panatheneia, the annual festival in honour of Athena. Women also played an important role in domestic religious rituals.
Ancient Athenian statesmen
Ancient Greek and Roman wars