The city of
Athens (Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athênai, modern
pronunciation Athínai) during the classical period of Ancient Greece
(508–322 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
Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC
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.
1 Rise to power (508–448 BC)
Athenian hegemony (448–430 BC)
Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC)
Corinthian War and the Second
Athenian League (395–355 BC)
Macedon (355–322 BC)
6.2 The Long Walls
6.3 The Acropolis (upper city)
Agora (lower city)
6.9 Public buildings
8 See also
Rise to power (508–448 BC)
Main articles: Ionian Revolt, Persian Wars, and First Peloponnesian
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
families, amongst them Cleisthenes' family, the Alchmaeonids. Upon
their exile, they went to Delphi, and Herodotus says they bribed
the Pithia 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 it is
important to consider Cleisthenes' motivation for using the people to
gain power, as without their support, he would have been defeated, and
Athenian democracy may be tinted by the fact its creation served
greatly the man who created it. The reforms of
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)
Athenian coin, 5th century BC. British Museum.
Prior to the rise of Athens, Sparta, a city-state with a militaristic
culture, considered itself the leader of the Greeks, and enforced a
hegemony. 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
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
Leonidas led 7,000 men to hold the narrow passageway of
Thermopylae against the 100,000–250,000 army of Xerxes, during which
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. It is interesting to note that 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
Athenian hegemony (448–430 BC)
Main article: Age of Pericles
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
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
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
Pericles was his deputy. When
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.
Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC)
Main article: Peloponnesian War
Athenian coup of 411 BC
The modern National Academy in Athens, with
Athena on their
Plato seated in front.
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.
Corinthian War and the Second
Athenian League (395–355 BC)
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
Athens to establish a Second
Athenian League. Finally
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.
Macedon (355–322 BC)
Further information: Alexander the Great, Antipatrid dynasty, and
By mid century, however, the northern kingdom of
Macedon was becoming
Athenian affairs, despite the warnings of the last great
statesman of independent Athens, Demosthenes. In 338 BC the armies of
Philip II defeated
Athens at the Battle of Chaeronea, effectively
Athens and other 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
Antipater dissolved the
Athenian government and
established a plutocratic system in 322 BC (see
Lamian War and
Athens remained a wealthy city with a brilliant
cultural life, but ceased to be an independent power.
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, concluding 200 years of Macedonian supremacy.
Map of ancient
Athens showing the Acropolis in middle, the
the northwest, and the city walls.
Athens was in Attica, about 30 stadia from the sea, on the southwest
slope of Mount Lycabettus, between the small rivers Cephissus to the
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
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, properly so called, divided into The Upper City or
Acropolis, and The Lower City, surrounded with walls by Themistocles.
The port city of Piraeus, also surrounded with walls by Themistocles
and connected to the city with the Long Walls, built under
The Long Walls
Map of the environs of
Athens showing Piraeus, Phalerum, and the Long
Long Walls consisted of two walls leading to Piraeus, 40 stadia
long (4.5 miles, 7 km), running parallel to each other, with a
narrow passage between them. In addition, there was 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
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 (upper city)
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
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
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 Acropolis imagined in an 1846 painting by Leo von Klenze
Agora (lower city)
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:
On the West side: Dipylon, the most frequented gate of the city,
leading from the inner
Kerameikos to the outer Kerameikos, and to the
Academy. The Sacred Gate, where the sacred road to
Eleusis began. The
Knight's Gate, probably between the Hill of the Nymphs and the Pnyx.
The Piraean Gate, between the
Pnyx and the Mouseion, leading to the
carriage road between the
Long Walls to the Piraeus. The Melitian
Gate, so called because it led to the deme Melite, within the city.
On the South side: The Gate of the Dead in the neighbourhood of the
Mouseion. The Itonian Gate, near the Ilissos, where the road to
On the East side: The Gate of Diochares, leading to the Lyceum. The
Diomean Gate, leading to
Cynosarges and the deme Diomea.
On the North side: The Acharnian Gate, leading to the deme Acharnai.
The Inner Kerameikos, or "Potter's Quarter," in the west of the city,
extending north as far as the Dipylon gate, by which it was separated
from the outer Kerameikos; the
Kerameikos contained the Agora, or
"market-place," the only one in the city, lying northwest of the
Acropolis, and north of the Areopagus.
The deme Melite, in the west of the city, south of the inner
The deme Skambonidai, in the northern part of the city, east of the
The Kollytos, in the southern part of the city, south and southwest of
Koele, a district in the southwest of the city.
Limnai, a district east of Milete and Kollytos, between the Acropolis
and the Ilissos.
Diomea, a district in the east of the city, near the gate of the same
name and the Cynosarges.
Agrai, a district south of Diomea.
The Areopagus, the "Hill of Ares," west of the Acropolis, which gave
its name to the celebrated council that held its sittings there, was
accessible on the south side by a flight of steps cut out of the rock.
The Hill of the Nymphs, northwest of the Areopagus.
The Pnyx, a semicircular hill, southwest of the Areopagus, where the
ekklesia (assemblies) of the people were held in earlier times, for
afterwards the people usually met in the Theatre of Dionysus.
The Mouseion, "the Hill of the Muses," south of the
Pnyx and the
Among the more important streets, there were:
The Piraean Street, which led from the Piraean gate to the Agora.
The Panathenaic Way, which led from the Dipylon gate to the Acropolis
via the Agora, along which a solemn procession was made during the
The Street of the Tripods, on the east side of the Acropolis.
Temple of Hephaestus
Temple of Hephaestus in modern-day Athens
Temples. Of these the most important was the Olympieion, or Temple of
Olympian Zeus, southeast of the Acropolis, near the
Ilissos and the
fountain Callirrhoë, which was long unfinished, and was first
completed by Hadrian. The Temple of Hephaestus, located to the west of
the Agora. The Temple of Ares, to the north of the Agora. Metroon, or
temple of the mother of the gods, on the west side of the Agora.
Besides these, there was a vast number of other temples in all parts
of the city.
Bouleuterion (Senate House), at the west side of the Agora.
The Tholos, a round building close to the Bouleuterion, built c. 470
BC by Cimon, which served as the Prytaneion, in which the Prytaneis
took their meals and offered their sacrifices.
Agora at Athens
Stoae, or Colonnades, supported by pillars, and used as places of
resort in the heat of the day, of which there were several in Athens.
Agora there were: the
Stoa Basileios, the court of the
King-Archon, on the west side of the Agora; the
Stoa Eleutherios, or
Colonnade of Zeus Eleutherios, on the west side of the Agora; the Stoa
Poikile, so called because it was adorned with fresco painting of the
Battle of Marathon
Battle of Marathon by Polygnotus, on the north side of the Agora.
Artist's impression of the Theatre of Dionysus
Theatres. The Theatre of Dionysus, on the southeast slope of the
Acropolis, was the great theatre of the state. Besides this there were
Odeons, for contests in vocal and instrumental music, an ancient one
near the fountain Callirrhoë, and a second built by Pericles, close
to the theatre of Dionysius, on the southeast slope of the Acropolis.
The large odeon surviving today, the
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Odeon of Herodes Atticus was
built in Roman times.
Panathenaic Stadium, south of the Ilissos, in the district Agrai,
where the athletic portion of the
Panathenaic Games were held.
Argyrocopeum (mint) appears to have been in or adjoining the
chapel (heroon) of a hero named Stephanephorus.
The Outer Kerameikos, northwest of the city, was the finest suburb of
Athens; here were buried the Athenians who had fallen in war, and at
the further end of it was the Academy, 6 stadia from the city.
Cynosarges, east of the city, across the Ilissos, reached from the
Diomea gate, a gymnasium sacred to Heracles, where the Cynic
Lyceum, east of the city, a gymnasium sacred to
Apollo Lyceus, where
Main articles: Age of Pericles,
Ancient Greek philosophy, Athenian
festivals, and Greek theatre
The Karyatides statues of the
Erechtheion on its Acropolis.
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
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].")
Academy of Plato
Women in Classical Athens
Democracy and knowledge: innovation and learning in classical Athens
by Josiah Ober p. 40 ISBN 0-691-13347-6 (2008)
^ "Plato's Academy". Hellenic Ministry of Culture. www.culture.gr.
Archived from the original on 2007-03-21. Retrieved 2007-03-28.
^ CNN & Associated Press (1997-01-16). "Greece uncovers 'holy
grail' of Greek archeology". CNN.com. Archived from the original on
April 4, 2005. Retrieved 2007-03-28.
History in depth The Democratic Experiment". BBC. Retrieved
^ Encarta: Ancient Greece. Retrieved on 26 January 2007. Archived
^ Translated Robin Waterfield,
Herodotus (1998). The Histories. Oxford
^ Henderson, J. (1993) Comic Hero versus Political Elite pp.307–19
in Sommerstein, A.H; S. Halliwell; J. Henderson; B. Zimmerman, eds.
(1993). Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis. Bari: Levante Editori.
^ Camp, John. The Archaeology of Athens. Yale University Press.
^ Xenophon, Mem. iii. 6.14
^ Thucydides, 2.41.1
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Coordinates: 37°58′N 23°43′E / 37.97°N 23.72°E