Athens. The city lies approximately in the middle of the largest plain of
the region, at a distance of 6-7 km from the shore of the Saronic gulf. Except
for the S edge, which is open to the sea, the plain is enclosed on all sides by
a wall of mountains, Hymettos, Pentele, Parnes, and Aigaleos. At first the city
was established on the rock of the Acropolis, but in time it spread out all around
to a distance of not greater than 1 km, over terrain that was level except for
the SW quarter, which was hilly and included the hills of the Muses, of the Pnyx,
of the Nymphs, and of the Areopagus. The Eridanos River cut through the city at
the N, the Ilissos at the E, and to the W at a distance of 3 km flowed the Kephisos.
The earliest inhabitants settled on the Acropolis and in the surrounding area in Neolithic times. From then on and up to the time of Theseus the most ancient city included, besides the Acropolis, a large area to the S of it. In that first period the city seems to have had no particular distinction, but to have developed equally with the other kingdoms of Attica. The great expansion of Athens is due to Theseus, who brought about the unification of all the small kingdoms and founded the city state of Athens. In memory of this unification, called the Synoecism, a special festival, the Synoikia, was inaugurated and at the same time, the Panathenaia, in honor of the patron of the city, the goddess Athena.
Tradition has it that during the Dorian invasion the city was saved by the self-sacrifice of King Kodros, who brought about his own death at the hands of the enemy so as to carry out an oracle according to which the city would be saved by the death of the king. The Athenians, in honor of his great sacrifice, ended the custom of kingship since they believed there could be no worthy successor to Kodros. During all the long Geometric period (1050-700 B.C.) the city of Athens continued to increase, new settlements were founded, and the city kept growing towards its peak and highest prosperity. In Athens as in other cities of Greece, aristocratic government succeeded to monarchy. At first the principal magistrate (archon) kept control for a period of ten years. Even after the archonship was made a yearly office, beginning in 683-682 B.C., the aristocracy continued to have great strength since it owned the greater part of the land and held all political power in its hands. The eupatrid, Kylon, exploiting the dissatisfaction of the farmers and other citizens, attempted a revolution in 636 or 632 with the aim of becoming tyrant, but the attempt failed.
The Athenians continued their struggles, demanding basically the franchise and the recording of the laws. In 624 B.C. Draco drew up a new system of law and codified the ancient, predominantly criminal, body of laws. But the citizens were still not content and unrest continued until the beginning of the 6th c. B.C. In 594 B.C. the warring parties agreed on the choice of Solon, a man trusted by all, to reform the state and the laws. The emergence of Solon ended a stage in the history of Athens. He was particularly honored by the Athenians for his advice concerning the acquisition of Salamis, and the consequent reduction of the power of Megara. Another success of his was the final union of Eleusis with Athens, and the astonishing increase in the might and authority and influence of Athens. After his election as archon in 594-593 B.C. Solon established a new body of law with radical changes. He brought about the abolition of agrarian debts, the liberation of those enslaved because of debt, and the foundation of the Heliaia and other popular courts. At the same time he established a new council of 400, the boule, composed of 100 members from each of Athens' four tribes, and achieved the inclusion of the Thetes, the lowest, neglected rank of citizens, into the ekklesia of the people.
In spite of all this development of the state, inner peace was not secured, and in 561 B.C. Peisistratos set up a tyranny. Although he retained the basic elements of Solon's law code he instituted his own ideas as well. The tyranny of Peisistratos and his successors lasted until 510 B.C. Through the whole period, in spite of the Athenians' dissatisfaction, a series of measures improved the city's progress through notable advances in spiritual, artistic, architectural, and commercial matters. In 508 B.C., Kleisthenes made a series of radical changes which resulted in the establishment of the Athenian democracy. The most important of these was the division of the population into 10 tribes. With the new division, the membership of the boule was increased to 500, 50 from each tribe. The boule prepared drafts of the laws which were debated and ratified by the ekklesia, which had become the sovereign body. With all these innovations the Athenians reached such a peak of spirit and idealism that their few repulsed the great Persian assault, and so brought about the victories of Marathon (490 B.C.) and later of Salamis (480 B.C.). Immediately after the victory the provident Themistokles had a new wall built around the ruined city, and he completed the fortification of the Peiraeus which he had chiefly been responsible for initiating when he was archon in 493-492 B.C. because he understood its particular importance for the development of Athenian naval power. The completion of his plan was brought about shortly afterwards with the building of the Long Walls.
Fortification was not the only concern of the Athenians. In 478 B.C. Kimon instituted the first Athenian Confederacy and the Athenian state was revealed as a great power. At the same time, about mid 5th c. B.C., under Perikles and a staff of inspired artists, the masterworks of the classical age were created on the Acropolis, in the lower city, and in the principal demes of Attica. These, along with philosophy, letters, and other kinds of intellectual manifestations, created the Golden Age. The catastrophic disasters of the Peloponnesian War and the cruelties exhibited during both phases of it, exhausted the city and its people.
The appearance of the Macedonians and the defeat of the Athenians in the battle of Chaironeia in 338 B.C. brought about a great reaction in the Athenians, since they realized they had lost the leadership of the Greek world. Athens experienced a temporary revival of influence during the administration of the orator Lykourgos (338-326 B.C.). The Lamian War in 322 B.C. brought new disaster to Athens since its unexpected result was a change of regime, installation of a Macedonian garrison, and the destruction of the commercial fleet. The appearance of Roman conquerors also brought disastrous consequences to Athens. In 86 B.C. the Athenians revolted to obtain their freedom, but the conquest of the city by Sulla was the result. The walls of the city and of Peiraeus were demolished by the victorious Roman general who sought in this way the diminution of Athens' power.
In the Imperial period the city enjoyed a certain amount of freedom and was enriched with grandiose new buildings and temples. But in A.D. 267, in spite of Valerian's fortification of the city, Athens suffered a fearful devastation by the Herulians. In the 5th c. A.D. much energy was put into the reconstruction of the city, which for all its vicissitudes remained an important intellectual center. The philosophical schools, which were known throughout the Greek world, practiced until A.D. 529 when a strict order issued by Justinian closed their doors. The closing of the schools put an end to the city's community spirit and to its ancient glory, but it continued as the capital of an eparchy in the great Byzantine Empire until 1204. There followed the occupation of the city by the Franks until 1456 and then the Turkish occupation until 1821, when, after a harsh struggle, the Greeks gained their freedom. The city of Athens in 1833 was proclaimed capital of the new Greek state.
The work of uncovering the monuments of the ancient city began in 1834 with the dismantling of all their mediaeval additions. At the same time excavations began, which in 1860 took on a systematic character. The excavations, together with the preserved literary evidence, particularly the description of the city's monuments by Pausanias in the 2d c. A.D., allow identification of the monuments and a virtually complete description of Athenian topography.
In the second half of the 13th c. B.C. the so-called Pelargikon, or Pelasgian wall, was erected on the peak of the Acropolis hill. The city seems not to have been surrounded by a wall until the beginning of the 6th c. B.C. The first circuit wall, which is mentioned by Thucydides (1.89.3) must have been built by Solon, or more probably by Peisistratos. Unfortunately, no traces of this wall have yet been discovered.
After the destruction of the city by the Persians in 480-479 B.C., the so-called Themistoklean wall was built, which enclosed an area said to be much greater than that contained by the older wall. Within this new wall were included the Eridanos and the Olympieion, as well as the whole extent of the Pnyx, from the Hill of the Muses to that of the Nymphs. The gates, in order from the W side of the wall were: the Demian (executioner's) Gate; the Peiraeus Gate; the Sacred Gate; the Thriasian Gate (Dipylon); the Eria (funeral) Gate; the Acharnian Gate; the North Gate; the Gate of Diochares; the Hippades (cavalry) Gate; the Diomeian Gate; the Itonian Gate; the Halade (seaward) Gate; the South Gate. The Themistoklean wall was destroyed by the Lakedaimonians in 404 B.C. and was rebuilt by Konon in 394 B.C. In about mid 4th c. B.C., around the whole lower section of the city, from the base of the Hill of the Nymphs to that of the Hill of the Muses, a second wall, the proteichisma, was built outside the main one, and a deep ditch dug in front of that. At the same time a cross wall was built along the spine of the Pnyx hill, between the two peaks, by which the city was diminished in size.
After Sulla broke down the wall in 86 B.C. the city remained unwalled until the time of Valerian (A.D. 253-260). He rebuilt the wall and included in it as well the new city which had been built by Hadrian. For greater security he changed the Acropolis into a fort, as it had been before. After the great Herulian destruction of A.D. 267 a small circuit was built to the N of the Acropolis, known as the Late Roman wall. The outer ancient circuit, which appears to have been preserved and which was repaired in Justinian's time, was in use through the whole Byzantine period until A.D. 1204.
A few remains of the Mycenaean period and considerable remnants of the Pelargikon remain on the top of the hill from prehistoric times. No remains of the Geometric period have been discovered. The first shrines must be dated at the earliest to the 8th c. B.C. In 566 B.C., the year when Peisistratos instituted the festival and games of the Great Panathenaia, the highest section of the Mycenaean tower in front of the entrance to the Acropolis was taken down and the first altar was consecrated there to Athena Nike. At the same time a straight ramp was built up the hill to help the procession in its ascent and the first temples were built inside the Acropolis: the Hekatompedon in 570-566 on the site where the Parthenon was later erected, the Old Temple of Athena in 529-520 whose foundations have been preserved, and a number of smaller buildings.
In the period from 490 to 480 B.C. the Acropolis was still surrounded by the Pelargikon wall, but this had lost its defensive role. In 485 B.C. a new propylon had replaced the old entrance, and near the Altar of Athena Nike a small poros temple was built. The Hekatompedon was torn down and in its place the first marble Parthenon was begun. This was in a half-finished state when the Acropolis was razed by the Persians in 480 B.C. A new program for rebuilding the temples and other buildings which had been destroyed was started in 448 B.C. after the signing of Kallias' Peace Treaty with the Persians at Susa. Among the first works on the Acropolis was the construction of strong retaining walls, partly to level the area, but chiefly to enlarge the area of the Acropolis. Then followed monuments which still remain today in a remarkable state of preservation: the Parthenon in 447-438 B.C., the Propylaia in 437-432, the Erechtheion in 421-406, the Temple of Brauronian Artemis, the Chalkotheke, and other small temples and altars.
In Hellenistic and Roman times only minor buildings were constructed on the Acropolis. Immediately after 27 B.C. the Erechtheion was repaired and a circular temple of Rome and Augustus was built to the E of the Parthenon. The temples of the Acropolis remained virtually untouched through the whole mediaeval period, save for their conversion to Christian churches. Their destruction and demolition began in the middle of the 17th c. A.D. and continued until the Greek War of Independence.
Around the Acropolis
In the whole area around the Acropolis remains and sherds from the Neolithic through the Late Geometric periods are found. From the 7th, but chiefly from the 6th c. B.C. through the Roman period, all along the Peripatos road which surrounds the Acropolis numerous shrines and other buildings were constructed. In 465 B.C. the Klepsydra fountain was built and at some time after the Persian wars the cult of Pan was instituted in a small cave above it, next door to a cave in which Apollo Hypoakraios had been worshiped since an early period. East of it, in the cave of Aglauros, a fountain had been built in Mycenaean times, which communicated directly to the Acropolis by means of a stair. Even after the destruction of the fountain, the stair was still used by the Arrephoroi to get down to the neighboring Shrine of Aphrodite and Eros. On the S slope of the Acropolis were the Odeion of Perikles and W of it on the ruins of the old Theater of Dionysos Eleuthereus, the new theater, which was finally completed under Lykourgos (338-326 B.C.). At the highest point behind the theater the monument of Thrasyllos was built in 321-320 B.C., while to the S of the scene building was the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleutheros, including a stoa and two temples. The cult of Asklepios was founded in 419-418 B.C. to the W of the theater, with a sanctuary incorporating numerous buildings. Later a stoa was built in front of it by Eumenes II (197-159 B.C.). Above the E end of this was the monument of Nikias (320-319) and at the other end, the Odeion of Herodes Atticus which was built soon after A.D. 160. The Shrine of the Nymphs was uncovered in front of the odeion. Sherds found in it dated from about the middle of the 7th c. B.C.
Besides the Peripatos, the street of the Tripods surrounded the Acropolis. This started at the Prytaneion and ended in front of the propylon of the Shrine of Dionysos Eleuthereus. Along this were numerous choregic monuments, of which many bases have been found, and one of which, the monument of Lysikrates (335-334 B.C.), is nearly intact. The Prytaneion was in the Agora of Theseus, where the street of the Tripods branches off from the Panathenaic Way. Near this spot the Eleusinion was built around the middle of the 6th c. B.C.
The open-air jury court of the same name was probably held on the top of the rocky Areopagus Hill. Around the hill were found many Mycenaean and Geometric graves, and the remains of buildings dating from the Classical to the Late Roman period. Near the SW corner of the Agora an Oval House of the 8th c. B.C. and the Triangular Shrine of the Classical period were excavated. To the W of the Areopagus Hill at a distance of 300 m was found the Temple of Artemis Aristoboule, and among the houses on the S slope of the hill the Amyneion was uncovered as well as the Shrine probably of Herakles Alexikakos, over which the Baccheion was built in Roman times. There are also the remains of a fountain and another small temple.
The first Agora of the city, known as the Ancient Agora, was founded by Theseus, and is located on the NW slope of the Acropolis. The Agora of Solon, which was known from the outset simply as the Agora or Kerameikos was placed to the N of the Areopagus in an open, level spot where the prehistoric and Geometric cemetery of the city had been. The new Agora consisted of a large rectangular area, 200 x 250 m, whose four sides were bordered by buildings. The chief buildings, from the mid 6th c. B.C. to approximately 480 B.C. were as follows: on the W side, in order, the Royal Stoa, the Sanctuary of Zeus Eleutherios, the Temple of Apollo Patroos, the Temple of the Mother of the Gods, the Old Bouleuterion, and the Prytaneion. On the S side were the Court of the Heliaia and the Southeast Fountain-house. Another very ancient sanctuary was the Leokorion at the NW corner of the Agora and the Altar of the Twelve Gods (521-520 B.C.) which was used as the starting point for milestones. Inside the Agora square a section of the Panathenaic Way was used, from 566 B.C. on, as a race track, called the Dromos, for the gymnastic and horse racing contests, while the area called the orchestra in the middle of the square was for the musical and dramatic contests of the Panathenaic festival.
From the destruction of the city in 480-479 B.C. by the Persians to the end of the 4th c. B.C., the old buildings were repaired and new ones built as well. On the W side were built the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios in 430 B.C., the Temple of Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria, a new Temple of Apollo Patroos, the new Bouleuterion around the end of the 5th c., the Tholos in 465 B.C. and the Strategeion. Around the middle of the 4th c. B.C. the monument to the Eponymous Heroes was built, and on top of the Agora hill (Kolonos Agoraios) the Temple of Hephaistos (449-444 B.C.) which has remained virtually intact until now. On the S side of the Agora ca. the end of the 5th c. B.C. the Southwest Fountain-house, the South Stoa I, and the mint (Argyrokopeion) were built. On the E side was the square peristyle, built over the ruins of a law court in the beginning of the 4th c. B.C. Finally, on the N side were a number of buildings of the 5th c. whose purpose is unknown, and in the unexcavated section of this side must be the Stoa of the Herms and the Stoa Poikile. In Hellenistic times a large building of unknown purpose was built on the Agora hill, to the N of the Temple of Hephaistos. North of this, at the base of the hill was a Temple of Aphrodite Ourania and from 177-176 B.C. the Altar of Aphrodite Ourania, the Demos, and the Graces.
Around the middle of the 2d c. B.C. considerable changes were made in the Agora square, which now took on a regular form on account of the building of large stoas and other buildings around it. On the W side the Metroon was built on the site of the old Bouleuterion, on the S side the South Stoa II; the whole of the E side was taken up by the Stoa of Attalos (159-138 B.C.) which was rebuilt in 1956. In front and in the middle of this was the monument of the donor and in front of that the bema (speaker's platform) of the Agora. In the square, the so-called Middle Stoa, which divided the Agora in two sections, was built parallel to the South Stoa II, 32 m away. In a few years the S section 50 formed was bounded at the E by the E building.
In Roman times the Agora was enriched with new buildings and monuments. To the N of the Middle Stoa the Odeion of Agrippa was built around 15 B.C., while in the other section of the square several temples were built from parts of older Attic temples that had been destroyed by Sulla in 86 B.C. Thus, the Temple of Ares which had been built in the deme of Acharne in 440-436 B.C. was dismantled and moved to the NW corner of the Agora in 12 B.C. and there re-erected. Other temples were built with the architectural members of the Temple of Demeter from Thorikos and of the Temple of Athena from Sounion. Later on, around A.D. 100, the Library of Pantainos was built to the S of the Stoa of Attalos and around the middle of the 2d c. A.D., the NE Stoa. A colossal Nymphaion took the place of the mint building, and in Hadrian's period a large basilica was built next to the Stoa of Attalos in the N side of the Agora, with a circular fountain in front of it.
Besides the Agora area where the political and religious life of the city went on, there was also a large stretch of public land to the E of the Stoa of Attalos where there were markets and public buildings such as the Andronikos of Kyrrhos (Tower of the Winds) from the middle of the 1st c. B.C., the so-called Agoranomeion, the Roman Agora (29-9 B.C.), the library of Hadrian and the common Shrine of All the Gods which was also built in the time of Hadrian. Somewhere in this vicinity, to the E of the Roman Agora, must be the Diogeneion and the Gymnasium of Ptolemy. According to the literary evidence the Theseion ought to be close by, probably just S of the Roman Agora, in a place corresponding to the very center of the city.
Almost all of the Agora buildings were destroyed in A.D. 267 by the Herulians. In A.D. 400 the Gymnasium of the Giants and other smaller buildings filled the Agora Square.
The densest district of the city was the Koile quarter on the heights of the Pnyx hill. On the N slope of the hill was the first theater-shaped area, built around the end of the 6th c. B.C. for the meetings of the popular assembly. The second phase of the Pnyx is dated to 404-403 B.C. and the third to 330-326 B.C. To this last period belongs the great square above the Bema of the Pnyx, which was bounded to the S by two large stoas. The Heliotropion of the astronomer Meton (433-432 B.C.) is believed to have been situated in the center of this square, and next to the Bema the Shrine of Zeus Hypsistos and the Altar of Zeus Agoraios which was moved to the Agora in the time of Augustus. After the building of the Diateichisma the Koile quarter was deserted and the whole area was used as a cemetery throughout Hellenistic and Roman times. In A.D. 114-16 a funerary monument to C. Julius Antiochus Philopappos was built by the Athenians on the top of the Hill of the Muses.
The Ilissos District
To the S of the Acropolis, in the area between the Hill of the Muses and the Ilissos river, numerous prehistoric remains have been found. These finds confirm not only the location, but also the extent of the most ancient city, just as Thucydides (2.15.3-6) delineated it, on the S side of the Acropolis. It is precisely in this area that the very ancient shrines are to be found: the Olympieion, the Pythion, and the Shrine of Dionysos in the Marshes, along with the Kallirrhoe spring and the Enneakrounos fountain.
According to Pausanias (1.18.8) the first temple to Olympian Zeus was erected by Deukalion. Over this Peisistratos the Younger laid the foundations of a large poros Doric temple but never finished it. This temple was to have had not only the same dimensions but also the same general appearance as the Hellenistic-Roman temple. In 174 B.C. Antiochos Epiphanes started the construction of a marble Corinthian temple which was finished in A.D. 131-132 under Hadrian. At the same time a great peribolos wall was built around the temple and in its NW corner is still preserved the gate in honor of Hadrian which set the boundary between the old city and the new one founded by Hadrian.
Within the Themistoklean wall and to the S of the Olympieion the following buildings have been discovered: the poros Temple of Apollo Delphinios (450 B.C.) which, according to tradition, was built on the site of a very ancient temple, the court of the Delphinion which is dated to 500 B.C., the Temple of Kronos and Rhea from the period of the Antonines, and the Panhellenion (A.D. 131/2). Next to the wall of the city, but outside it, should be the site of the Pythion, according to a number of relevant inscriptions which have been discovered. A small stoa SW of the Olympieion dating to the mid 6th c. B.C. must be identified as the court of the Palladion. To the S of it the discovery of an ancient boundary stone in situ confirms the site of the Shrine of Kodros, Neleus, and Basile, and associated with this and in front of it (according to the inscription IG I2 94), the Sanctuary of Dionysos in the Marshes.
On the other bank of the Ilissos, near the Church of St. Photini, is the site of Kynosarges, where the ruins of the Gymnasium, built in A.D. 134 by Hadrian, were found. The little mid 5th c. B.C. Ionic temple of the Ilissos now vanished should be attributed to Artemis Agrotera, and the ruins which have been discovered next to the Ilisos, to the Metroon in the Fields. Somewhat to the N, in the hollow between the hills by the Ilissos river, the first stadium was built by Lykourgos. On the same site Herodes Atticus built the new Stadium in A.D. 143-44. This was restored in 1896 for the holding of the first Olympic Games. North of this was the site of the Shrine of Herakles Pankrates, and between the Ilissos and the E side of the city was the Gymnasium of the Lykeion and the Gardens of Theophrastos.
In the area of the Kerameikos a part of the Themistoklean wall has been uncovered, and two gates, the Dipylon and the Sacred Gates. Within the wall was the Inner Kerameikos. From the Dipylon Gate the Panathenaic Way began, which then cut through the Agora and ended at the Propylaia of the Acropolis. Along this road on both sides were stoas and numerous monuments which are mentioned by Pausanias (1.2.4-5). Parts of the stoas near the Agora have been found, and about at the middle of the road the site of the Monument of Euboulides was discovered. The ruins of three successive buildings uncovered between the Sacred Gate and the Dipylon are the remains of the Pompeion. The oldest dates to about 400 B.C., the second to mid 2d c. A.D., and the third to the 4th c. A.D.
Outside the walls, in the Outer Kerameikos was the main city cemetery. The earliest graves dated to the Submycenaean and Protogeometric periods, but burials in this area, which lies along the banks of the Eridanos River, continued until Late Roman Imperial times. Besides the graves of private persons, this cemetery also held public graves in the so-called state burial ground, where notable Athenians and those killed in war were buried. The private graves were ranged along the Sacred Way, which started at the Sacred Gate and went to Eleusis. They also lined the road to Peiraeus. The peribolos of the Temple of Tritopatres was located at the junction of these roads. The public graves were on both sides of the 39 m wide road that led from the Dipylon Gate to the Academy of Plato. On the left side of the road, at a distance of 250 m from the Dipylon was the site of the Temple of Artemis Ariste and Kalliste. Pausanias (1.29.4) lists the graves of notable men and men fallen in war from this point to the entrance of the Academy.
The entrance to the Academy was about 1500 m from the Dipylon Gate, and had various shrines and altars around it, but none of their sites has been determined. The Gymnasium of the Academy was founded by Peisistratos and was surrounded by a wall under Hipparchos. A large gymnasium dating to the end of the Hellenistic period and a square peristyle of the 4th c. B.C. have been uncovered in the Academy grounds.
Archaeological Areas and Museums
The larger section of the ancient city with private dwellings lies under the modern city of Athens, but most of the monuments which have been preserved or uncovered through excavation are set aside as Archaeological Zones. These are: the Acropolis and the area around it, the Areopagus, the Pnyx, the Agora, the Library of Hadrian, the Roman Agora, the Kerameikos, the Academy, and the area of the Olympieion. Finds from the excavations are kept mainly in the National Archaeological Museum, but there are three other local museums: on the Acropolis, in the Agora, and in the Kerameikos. To these must be added two storehouses where chance finds from the whole city are stored temporarily, and the Byzantine Museum where all the finds from the mediaeval city are collected.
J. Travlos, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
The chief city of Attica. The long southeastern triangle
of the northern peninsula of Greece, which terminates in the abrupt promontory
of Sunium (mod. Cavo Colonnais), has its most interesting and important division,
topographically as well as historically, on the western side, facing the Saronic
Gulf. Here, at a point midway between Sunium and the promontory that faces Salamis,
the low Cape Zoster terminates the Anhydros range, a lower continuation of Hymettus.
The long continuous ridge of Anhydros and Hymettus (1027 metres at its greatest
height) extends, in a slightly northeasterly direction, towards the range of
Pentele (Pentele), the ancient Brilessos (Brilessos) or Pentelicon (Pentelikon
sc. oros, Lat. Mons Pentelicus), from which it is separated by the pass through
which the modern railway runs southeasterly towards the ancient mines of Laurium,
near Sunium. The Pentelicus range (1086.6 metres high) extends northwest and
southeast, and forms with Hymettus and Anhydros a well-nigh continuous dividing-wall
between the eastern plain of Attica, the Mesogaea (Mesogaia), and the middle
plain; while the plain of Marathon in the northeast is approachable from the
Mesogaea only by a narrow way between Pentelicus and the sea towards Euboea,
and from the middle plain by two difficult mountain ways between Pentelicus
and Parnes. This last range (1412 metres high) lies to the northwest of Pentelicus
and extends nearly east and west. Passable only by way of Decelea (mod. Tatoi)
in the east and Phyle in the west, it effectually cuts off Attica from Boeotia.
In its furthest extent towards the west, where it continues in the Cithaeron
range, it divides the western Attic plain, the Eleusinian, from Boeotia. The
middle Attic plain is separated from the Eleusinian by a lower mountain mass,
Aegaleos (Aigaleos) or Corydallos (Korudallos) (467 metres high), which, leaving
easy way between itself and Parnes, continues southwest, broken midway by the
pass of Daphne, till it terminates in "the rocky brow which looks o'er
sea-born Salamis." Within these natural ramparts lies that which we may
call par excellence the Attic plain, a great V-shaped recess open towards the
sea. Its more important internal features, which, taken in connection with its
enclosed character on the one hand and its free access to the sea on the other,
rendered it an ideal theatre for the development of a Greek state, we must now
examine in detail.
From the offshoots of Parnes and Pentelicus in the northeast rises the most considerable waterway of the plain--the Cephissus, which afforded in ancient as in modern times a perennial source of irrigation for the fields of the Attic farmer. As it approaches the sea, below the heights of the city, it seems to have been met by another stream from the east--the Ilissus, which, rising from Hymettus, is in modern times, owing to the denudation of its parent mountain, a much more insignificant stream than in ancient times, hardly more than a dry bed in summer. Hence the difficulty of determining its entire course. The Eridanus mentioned by ancient authors seems to have been a stream from the delicious and wholesome fountain of Kaisariane (Kaisariane, anc. Kullou pera), southeast of the sources of the Ilissus, into which the stream emptied east of the city.
Between the Cephissus and the Ilissus, about midway of the plain, a short range of hills, formed like the other heights of the plain of bluish-gray limestone and bearing to-day the name Tourkovoun. (Tourkobouni, "Turk Mountain," anc. perh. Anchesmos) (339 metres high), terminates at the southwest in the bold separate peak of Lycabettus (277 metres high), from the pyramidal summit of which, crowned by a chapel of St. George, one commands the most splendid view of the Attic plain, the gulf with its islands, and the Peloponnesian mountains beyond. Some 1000 paces to the southwest of this height, too sharp and steep for habitation, rises a double group of hills of about half the height of Lycabettus. The first and highest of these is the famous Acropolis, the citadel of Athens (156 metres high). Under its western brow lies the lower rock of the Areopagus (Areios pagos, "Mars' Hill") (115 metres high). From northwest to south of this extends the group of the Museum (Mouseion, "Muses' Hill"), the Pnyx, and the "Nymphs' Hill" (so called from an inscription), separated by depressions. The highest point is at the southeast extremity of the group, in the summit of the Museum (147 metres high), crowned by the monument of the Syrian Antiochus Philopappus. This triple group of hills seems to have been called collectively in ancient times Pnyx (Pnux, "conglomeration"). Lycabettus, the Acropolis, and the Pnyx were manifestly formed by the action of water, which, forcing its way east and west, left the hard bluegray limestone projecting in three great protuberances, "like bones of a wasted body," as Plato says.
Between four and five English miles southwest of the Acropolis we find as outpost on the sea the rocky peninsula of Acte or Munichia, which, originally an island, like Salamis, was gradually united to the plain by the soil washed from above. North of it lies the secure landlocked harbour of Piraeus (Peiraieus); east, the larger open roadstead of Phalerum (Phaleron), the earlier port of Athens, into which the Cephissus and Ilissus drain, and which is terminated on the southeast by Cape Colias (Kolias akra).
If we examine the soil of the plain from the sea inland, we find that the sandy coast is succeeded by a swampy alluvial strip, the Halipedon (Halipedon, "salt-plain" or"sea-plain"). This again gives place to the plain proper, which, though "light of soil" and requiring diligent cultivation, is yet the natural home of the olive, and is not ill adapted to the growth of wheat and vegetables. The stony foot-hills above the plain (Phelleus) were terraced and utilized for the cultivation of the vine; while the fragrant mountain-plants, particularly of purple Hymettus, furnished pasturage not only for sheep, but for the bees that have made Attic honey proverbial. The fig-tree, too, was made to flourish so well in the plain that Attic figs were as famous as the oil and honey from the same region.
To these resources we must add the abundance of potter's-clay, and the wealth of material for the architect and the sculptor afforded by the quarries of Pentelicus, Hymettus, and Eleusis, as well as by those of the hills of the city and the heights of Piraeus.
In his efforts to wring from the soil its uttermost, the farmer was aided by a climate exceptionally favourable. In the Attic year there are, on the average, not more than thirty-five days on which the sun does not show itself; and though the north winds from snowy Parnes render the winter cold most penetrating, their steady breath by day during the greater part of the year, alternating with the equally steady sea-breeze by night, combined with a wonderful purity and dryness of air, gave to Attica--and still gives to her, though in a less degree--a climate at once physically and mentally exhilarating. Justly, then, might "the children of Erechtheus" be called "blessed of old, and children of the happy gods,""lightly walking through brightest and clearest air," where the goddess of all fertility "irrigated the soil from the streams of ever-flowing Cephissus, and breathed over them temperate breezes."
We turn now to the development of the little city which grew up in the midst of this exceptional environment.
As in the case of other ancient Grecian settlements, so in that of Athens we find an avoidance of immediate proximity to the sea, such as would have been obtained by a settlement on the height of the Piraeus. The natural centre for the development of a town neither remote from the sea nor yet immediately accessible from it--such, too, as to be commanded by a natural asylum in the event of hostile inroads--is afforded, in the case of Athens, by the group of hills below Lycabettus. Not only do we find here a central and isolated position in a plain set apart from the rest of the world by nature, but also, within a narrow compass, arable land with a water-supply, the material for the primitive artisan, and an airy and wholesome position for habitation upon a foundation of native rock, thus leaving the cultivable area unencumbered.
It is not of special moment to us, in tracing the material development of the little community which has done more than any other towards the promotion of civilization, whether we give to the earliest inhabitants any other name than Athenians. The term Pelasgian itself needs interpretation; and, so far as any precise knowledge goes, we might as well regard these early occupants of the "land unsacked" as quite as truly an outgrowth of "the ground itself" as their symbolic cicada. It is evident from the mere consideration of their environment that we must accept the view of Thucydides, that Attica was exceptionally stable in population, and trace, so far as possible, the gradual accretions upon the primitive nucleus, by whatever name we choose to designate it.
The earliest and most permanent traces of human habitation to be found at Athens are the foundations of houses cut in the rock of the group of hills designated by the general name of Pnyx. These are extensive enough to warrant the belief that this region, which in historical times lay waste for the most part, was the seat of a thriving town, according to the conditions of that primitive period. Whether the remarkable rock-cuttings and the semicircular Pelasgic wall upon the hill called par excellence Pnyx be the monuments of a prehistoric worship of the primeval god of the sunny sky of Greece as well as of its stormier phenomena, Zeus Hypsistos, or whether we are to see here, as has been the prevailing fashion, the place of the Athenian popular assembly (that which under the former supposition is the altar becoming under the latter the famous bema, from which the orators "shook th' arsenal and fulmin'd over Greece"), to any one who has been upon the ground the extreme antiquity of these imposing works is at once obvious. To the early period under discussion seem to belong also the rock-hewn chambers, one of which is traditionally known as the "Prison of Socrates"--an impossible designation.
We cannot suppose that the inhabitants of this first rock-city, or Cranaa (Kranaa), concerned themselves with the sea, if at all, beyond the demands of their daily existence, which would hardly lead them beyond fishery. It was only enterprising accretions from without that could utilize and develop the entire resources of nature.
Further traces of the early city are to be found in the ancient names, which, attached to the several districts in and about the later city, maintained themselves, not only in the mouth of the people, but in public records, through the entire history of Athens. Among the most certainly distinguishable of these primitive divisions (demoi) is that known, as far back as we can trace, as Ceramicus (Kerameikos), so called from the potter's-clay which here furnished abundant material for one of the earliest of human industries. This region stretches northward from the rocky brow of the Areopagus. Melite (Melite) seems to have lain to the south of Ceramicus, and to have embraced the Hill of the Nymphs as well as the Areopagus. Collytus (Kol-lutos) stretched to the northeast of the Acropolis, bordering on the west not only upon Ceramicus, but also upon Melite, as seems proved by a mention of a boundary-stone in Strabo. Diomea (Diomeia) may be placed next to Collytus, and between the Acropolis and Lycabettus. Ceriadae (Keiriadai), within the border of which, just below the precipice of the Nymphs' Hill, lay the depression, formed partly by nature, partly by quarrying, called the Barathrum (Barathron), adjoined Melite on the west; while Coele (Koile), consonant with its name, occupied the gully between the Hill of the Nymphs and the bed of the Ilissus. The core of these ancient districts is the rock-city in Melite. To the north of Ceramicus, and, apparently, at all times outside the city limits, lay Colonos Hippios, called from its hill (kolonos).
While the ancient city thus maintained itself in the little inland district just described, those influences were beginning to make themselves felt from the coast which were to govern the destiny of the future state. The Phoenician traders appear to have established their customary trading-posts at an early date not merely on Salamis (which has preserved its Phoenician name), but also on the coast opposite and on the heights of the Piraeus and Phalerum. Ancient rock-cuttings in the citadel of Piraeus seem to attest early settlement there. It was, indeed, such a position as we know, not only from Thucydides, but also from various material remains, to have been most likely to be chosen by these early navigators of the Mediterranean, and mediators between Orient and Occident. To this source, a mixed Oriental coast-settlement in which Ph?nicians played the leading part, appears to be due the addition of Aphrodite and Heracles (Astarte and Melkart) to the primitive native worship of Zeus and the Nymphs, "daughters of aegisholding Zeus,"whose cult attached to springs and water-courses. The ritual of these two foreign deities, as carried on in the historical period, certainly points to a very early introduction of their worship. As to the primitive worship of Zeus, reference has already been made to what may, not improbably, be deemed his primeval sanctuary on the Pnyx; concerning a second early seat of his worship, not far removed, we are better informed. Southeast of the Acropolis, above the fountain Callirrhoe and the bed of the Ilissus, was shown in ancient times an opening in the rock into which, according to the legend, the last vestiges of Deucalion's flood had sunk. Here Deucalion was said to have "built the ancient sanctuary of Olympian Zeus," whose worship remained fixed at this spot through all the subsequent history of the city. Cleft rock and spring are fit emblems of the worship of Zeus and his daughters at this spot by the primeval Cranai.
The gradual influences of the influx into Attica, both overland from the north and oversea from the west, may be traced in the gods added to the Athenian pantheon. The Minyan Artemis, the Pelasgic Hermes, the Thracian Ares who gave his name to the Areopagus, Hephaestus the handicraftsman's god, gradually encroached upon the domain of the older cults; while Poseidon gained a seat at Phalerum, and later disputed, according to the legend, the possession of the land with Athene, the intellectual development of the old Oriental mother-goddess, who retained her guardianship of the olive-tree even after she had resigned her care of the fields to Eleusinian Demeter.
The incursions from the north and from the sea, which gradually brought in these new divinities, forced the growing state of the Cranai to take up a securer position on the rock of the Acropolis, which, falling off precipitously on all sides except the west, readily lent itself to the fortifications which the early inhabitants of Greece knew so well how to build, and which we can understand now that the ruins of Tiryns and Mycenae, as well as the Acropolis itself, have been submitted to careful excavation and study. Here, on the top of the rock, which was levelled and provided with retaining-walls, as well as with a surrounding fortification, was established the ancient Polis (Polis, a term long retained as the official designation of the Acropolis), the seat of the worship of Zeus Polieus. Here, on the north side, where we now see the ruins of the later Erechtheum, were the old sanctuary of the local daemon Erechtheus and the palace of the royal race of the Cecropid and Erechtheid kings, the foundations of which, as well as of private dwellings of the same epoch, have been traced. Up to this palace led from the north a stairway, unearthed in the recent excavations, and in the enclosure west of the present Erechtheum was the sacred olive-tree, the gift of Athene, and hard by it the tomb of Cecrops, both under the protection of the old local nymph Pandrosos (Cecropium and Pandroseum). Under the northwest brow of the Acropolis, below the "long rocks" (makrai petrai), was the grotto of Pan; and still farther to the west, within the modern bastion of Odysseus, a spring called Clepsydra (Klepsudra, "she that hides her water"), popularly supposed to pass underground to Phalerum. This spring was and still is approached from above by a remarkable fortified winding stairway cut in the rock. Under the south face of the Acropolis were a cave and spring, with which the worship of the healer Asclepius came to be associated; and in the southwest spur of the sacred rock, whence Aegeus was said to have flung himself down, Athene was established as goddess of victory (Nike), worshipped in an uncouth primitive idol with the sacrifice of a perfect cow, as so beautifully represented on the marble balustrade about the later Ionic temple.
Thus by the sacred olive and the hollow in the rock with its mysterious trident-mark--where the waves could be heard when the south-wind blew-- flourished the old priestly and kingly race, hemmed in not only by the wall of the Polis proper, but also, as it seems, by a lower wall enclosing the skirts of the Acropolis, and called from its nine gates Enneapylon (Enneapulon), the area within which and below the ramparts of the citadel was known as the Pelargicon (to Pelargikon). The main entrance was then, as it has always been perforce, at the west end of the citadel, a fortified way winding up towards the right, the ancient warrior's exposed side, below the bastion of Athene Nike.
The Ionians who immigrated from across the Aegean brought in the Delian Apollo, the god of Ionic colonization and civilization. This new and important factor in the Athenian state established itself south of the Acropolis in what Thucydides regarded as old Athens, in the region called Cydathenaeum (Kudathenaion), extending some 2000 metres around the southeast flank of the Acropolis and up towards Lycabettus. Under the south face of the Acropolis, close to the later Dionysiac Theatre, the northern Dionysus of Eleutherae was established in the Lenaeum, near the sanctuary of the "public" Aphrodite (Aphrodite pandemos). To the south of this seems to have lain the old marketplace, the agora of the Ionic astu. Here was established the first town-hall--the Prytaneum or Basileum--by which, under the auspices of Themis, the "sceptre-bearing" kings administered justice. The solemn court of murder, so soon as the taking of human life came to be recognized as a state offence, was established on the Areopagus, in a cleft beneath which the Eumenides ("the gracious")--as the avengers of blood, the Erinyes, were here called--were solemnly worshipped. The bodies of the executed, as well as purificatory offerings and offscourings, were thrown into the deep recess of the Barathrum. Thus the highest priesthood was associated with the Acropolis, while the king came down to preside in his political function over the Ionic nobility of Cydathenaeum. The Thesean nobles, true to their Ionic instinct, encouraged closer intercourse with the sea, and Cydathenaeum was linked by a high-road to Phalerum, whence they trafficked abroad; whereas the influence of the Tyrian traders seems to have made itself felt upon the Cranaan city of Melite by a way leading up from the Salaminian Strait.
In the meantime the germ of the later city was rapidly maturing in the industrial settlement northwest of the Acropolis in Ceramicus, which seems to have kept pace in its development with the growing opposition of the lower classes to the encroachments and extortions of the Ionic nobility. After the period of ferment followed by the Solonian legislation, at the opening of the sixth century, came the first great period of the Athenian state--the democratic despotism of the Pisistratidae.
The centre of gravity of the city now shifted to the point at which it remained ever afterwards-- to the centre of the settlement of the Ceramicus, which rapidly outgrew in importance the effete Cydathenaeum. Here was established the altar of the Twelve Gods, from which, as from the golden milestone of Rome, distances were reckoned; and here, too, was the focus of Athenian polupragmosune. On the Acropolis, Pisistratus probably built the temple of Athene Polias, "the old temple," on the site between the later Parthenon and Erechtheum, where its plan has lately been made out. From this period, too, we date the institution of the great Panathenaea and the carrying of the sacred ship from the outer Ceramicus around and into the citadel. Thus did Pisistratus add new glory to the cult of his patron goddess. Upon the terrace above Callirrhoe, Pisistratus began a great temple to Olympian Zeus, but did not carry out his ambitious design. He also built in, or led an aqueduct from, Callirrhoe, which thus became Enneacrunos (Enneakrounos, "the fountain with nine pipes"), and long continued to be, as it had been, the main water supply of the town. The encouragement, if not the introduction, of the Dionysiac worship, which bore such abundant fruit in the succeeding century, seems also to have been an object of especial care to Pisistratus.
Close upon the downfall of the Pisistratidean tyrannis and the struggles of the Clisthenean reform came the Persian wars and the sack of the Acropolis by the barbarians. The remains of the ruined shrines of the pre-Persian period, with curious painted pediments of soft stone, and the statues of Parian marble, executed by artists under the patronage of the Pisistratidae, are among the most precious treasures brought to light by the excavation of the Acropolis.
The wide-reaching schemes of naval empire which sprang from the fertile brain of Themistocles, who fostered the growth of the Athenian navy and first saw the strategic importance of the Piraeus, were destined never to be fully realized. Before the Persian wars, Themistocles had caused the Piraeus to be fully fortified and made a strong naval station, invested with heavy fortress-walls about the citadel of Munichia, and with its harbours (Cantharos, the largest, Munichia, and Zea) narrowed and easily closed. After the devastation of the city, he whose merit it was that he "fastened the city to the Piraeus, the land to the sea," would fain have made the Piraeus the centre of the new city-development--impregnable by land and sea. But the machinations of the Peloponnesians necessitated the hurried fortification of the old site with an effective wall, and thus enabled the conservative party of Aristides and Cimon to carry out their design of maintaining the "wheel-shaped" city about the Acropolis, with a separate porttown and naval station at the Piraeus.
The Themistoclean wall, the successor of older fortifications, passed, as well as can be made out, over the Pnyx hill from the Barathrum to the peak of the Museum, skirted the Ilissus, which lay like a moat without it to the south, curved southeast of the Acropolis, coming around towards the northeast, so as to avoid the foot of Lycabettus, and finally passed from east to west across the plain, taking in the little water-courses from Lycabettus, and finally bending about to the point from which we started. It included Collytus and Diomea, cut Melite in twain, formed an "inner" and an "outer" Ceramicus, and excluded Coele. The dimensions of the space thus enclosed were about 2000 metres east and west by 1500 metres north and south, the Acropolis lying some 500 metres nearer the south side. Of the gates, we note two in Melite--the Melitid Gate (Melitides pulai) and the "Gate of the Horsemen" (Hippades pulai); then the gate on the south leading to Phalerum (Itoniai pulai); the Gate of Diochares (Diocharous pulai) and the Diomean Gate (Diomeis pule) in the east; the Acharnian Gate (Acharnike pule) in the north; and the Dipylon (Dipulon), the most important, between the inner and outer Ceramici, where considerable remains of the ancient foundations are still to be seen. South of the last was the Piraic Gate (Peiraike pule).
To unite the city thus fortified with the Piraeus, the Long Walls were begun, about B.C. 460--a northern, run from the Hill of the Nymphs to Munichia, and a southern, connecting the city with Phalerum. Between these, under Pericles, a second Piraic Wall was built, parallel to the northern, completing the system and linking city and port by a long double fortification--the skele, or "legs."
Without and near the gates, particularly the Dipylon, the dead were interred; and public funerals were solemnized over the ashes of military heroes in the outer Ceramicus. Beautiful remains of the tombs of the period succeeding the Periclean, but bearing abundant traces of the Phidian art, have been fortunately preserved to us near the Dipylon, and form one of the most striking monuments of the ancient city.
To the Cimonian period seems to belong the imposing temple, the best preserved of all Greek buildings of classical times, on the hill overlooking the Ceramicus from the west--the so-called Theseum, not improbably to be named the Heracleum.
On the Acropolis, in connection with a new and extensive plan of walling, levelling, and enlargement of area, preparations seem to have been made by Cimon for an imposing new temple on the site now occupied by the Parthenon. Here not only was the irregular edge of the precipice raised and reinforced by a high wall outside the Pelasgian rampart supporting a deep inner grading, but a heavy foundation was built up from the bed-rock as support for a great temple structure, destined not to be completed according to the original design. On the north side, also, the plateau of the Acropolis was built up and walled, drums of columns and portions of architraves being freely used in the construction of the wall, and architectural fragments, inscribed marble tablets, and even statues employed as grading material. The bastion of Nike was also newly fortified. Though the nature of Cimon's whole undertaking was decorative rather than strategic, it might yet be truly said that the Acropolis was walled by the Pelasgians and Cimon.
Pericles, having at his disposal the treasures of the Attic League, which were transferred to Athens (B.C. 454) and apparently kept in the Opisthodomos--as the "ancient" Pisistratidean temple of the Polias, commonly called from its length the Hecatompedon (Hekatompedon), and apparently rebuilt, at least in part, on its original site, was henceforth termed--reared upon Cimon's foundation the new and magnificent Doric Parthenon (dedicated B.C. 438). The architecture was intrusted to Ictinus and the sculpture to Phidias, whose chryselephantine statue of the Parthenos adorned the room to which alone the term Parthenon ("the virgin's chamber") strictly applied. The Propylaea, a massive ornamental entrance to the Acropolis, in which the Doric and Ionic styles were happily blended, rose under the guidance of the brilliant architect Mnesicles; and, although never completed according to the architect's design, it remained among the greatest wonders of the city.
Of the host of statues of all kinds which fast thronged the Acropolis, particularly during the fifth century--among them the great bronze statue of Athene as champion (promachos), the bronze figure of the Wooden Horse, the heifer of Myron, and many others mentioned by ancient writers--we can take but passing notice. Their number was constantly increasing down to the times of the Roman Empire.
Some time in the period covered by the first Athenian empire the stately little Ionic temple of Athene Nike seems to have been reared upon the southwest bastion of the Acropolis, and surrounded on three sides with the exquisite marble balustrade, fragments of which are still preserved on the Acropolis.
The new Erechtheum, with its famous porch of the Maidens or Caryatides, was in course of construction at the close of the fifth century.
The agora of the inner Ceramicus, bounded on the south by the abrupt brow of the Areopagus, under which stood the statues of the Eponymi, the namesake-heroes of the ten Clisthenean tribes, seems to have been divided by a line of stone Hermae into a northern and a southern half. About the southern half stood various public buildings, the Council-hall (Bouleuterion), the Royal Stoa (Stoa Basileios), the Painted Stoa (Stoa poikile), the Metroon, the temple of Apollo Patroos, as well as the altar of the Twelve Gods and the statues of the democratic heroes Harmodius and Aristogiton. In its wider extent the agora of Ceramicus is bounded on the west by the hill of the so-called Theseum, and on the east by the gate of Athene Archegetis. Its chief existing monument is the later Stoa of Attalus, king of Pergamos. The mention of these public works needs to be complemented by a word in regard to private structures. The dwelling-houses of the city during the period of Athenian greatness stood in striking contrast with the public structures. Built along narrow, irregular, and ill-kept streets, they gave but little indication of the social position or wealth of their occupants. In this respect the old city seems to have been inferior to the Piraeus, which was better laid out and contained more sumptuous private buildings. At all times, however, in both towns, houses and house-furniture were, for the most part, extremely simple, and the bustling open-air life of the male population was not conducive to private luxury.
The Long Walls, destroyed at the close of the Peloponnesian War, were re-erected at the birth of the new Athenian empire, under which, and during the subsequent period of the Hellenistic successors of Alexander, the state received further adornment. Lycurgus completed the great stone theatre within the Lenaeum, overlapping the ancient Orchestra or "dancing-ring,"traces of which are still discernible. The Street of the Tripods, winding about the southeastern foot of the Acropolis, is still marked by the delicate choragic monument of Lysicrates (B.C. 334). The Stoa of Eumenes lies to the west of the great theatre. The eastern side of the market of Ceramicus is marked by the great stone bazaar of Attalus, previously noticed. Building was carried on by Antiochus Epiphanes till his death (in B.C. 164) upon the site of the old sanctuary of Zeus on the Ilissus, where Hadrian finally reared his colossal Corinthian temple, the few remaining columns of which (the stuloi) are one of the most prominent Athenian landmarks. Near it, towards the Acropolis, Hadrian set the gate, still standing, which should separate, according to its inscription, "the Athens of Theseus" from "the Athens of Hadrian." An octagonal tower with waterclock within and weather-vane on the summit, and bearing on its several faces reliefs representing the winds (Horologium or "Tower of the Winds"), was erected by Andronicus Cyrrhestes southeast of the agora, where it still stands. The famous Herodes Atticus built, in honour of his dead wife Regilla, the great Odeum, adjoining the Stoa of Eumenes, under the southwestern slope of the Acropolis. These are among the most prominent monuments of the later Greek and the GraecoRoman period that still attract the visitor to the ancient site.
The subsequent history of the monuments is one of rapine, defacement, and destruction. The traces of the Valerian wall, forming a great loop north of the Acropolis, and the mediaeval and modern fortifications, that have been removed from the approach to the Acropolis, are melancholy witnesses to barbarian invasion, medi?val slavery, and the struggle of reawakening liberty. The archives of the story of the material growth and development of the Athens that has influenced the world had been laid up for a curious posterity long before these structures arose.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
All of the images presented here are from the personal slide collection of Kevin T. Glowacki and Nancy L. Klein of the Department of Classical Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington
Athens is the capital city of Attica,
a province of central Greece,
northeast of the Isthmus of Corinth.
Athens is the most famous of all Ancient Greek cities, not so much by its political
role --though for a while during the Vth century B. C it was the head of an
empire that dominated a large part of the eastern Mediterranean world-- as by
its cultural legacy. It reached the peak of its glory between the Persian wars
and the Peloponesian war (431-404) so much so that this period in history has
become known as the Century of Pericles, by the name of the man who ruled Athens
from 443 till his death in 429. Between the late VIth century B. C. and the
rise of the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great Athens not only invented
democracy, but gave the world such famed artists as the tragedians Aeschylus,
Sophocles and Euripides, the comedian Aristophanes, the historian Thucydides,
the sculptor Phidias, the orators Isocrates and Demosthenes, the writer Xenophon
and the philosophers Socrates and Plato.
Origins and legendary traditions of Athens
Attica seems to have been populated by the first wave of invaders from Thracia (today's Balkans) that came to be known as the Greeks (or Hellenes) toward the beginning of the IInd millenium B. C. and is the only part of mainland Greece where these invaders, calling themselves Ionians, managed to stay when later invaders, such as the Achaeans, the Aeolians and eventually the Dorians who became prominent in Peloponnese, displaced earlier Greek populations. Athenians of classical times were proud of this remote origin and immemorial occupancy of the same land and, for this reason, called themselves autochthonoi, that is, sons of the earth itself that they were inhabiting.
Athens was under the protection of the goddess Athena, the giver of the olive-tree, and Poseidon, the god of the sea. It was keeping alive the memory of its “founding fathers”, legendary kings of old, from Cecrops down to Theseus and Codrus, the last of them. Cecrops, half-man, half-snake, was said to have been born from the soil of Attica. It is under his reign that the gods challenged one another for cities to be honored in. Athens was coveted by both Athena and Poseidon. Poseidon came to Attica and had seawater spring from the Acropolis by stricking the rock with his trident while Athena grew the first olive-tree on its slopes. Cecrops was chosen by Zeus as arbiter between them and opted for Athena, whose gift was more useful to the people. Cecrops' son Erysichthon died young and without children. Cranaus, who succeeded Cecrops after his son Erysichthon had died, was said to be too a “son of the soil”. In his time the city, then mostly limited to the rock of Acropolis, was called Cranaa (meaning “rocky” in Greek) and its people Cranaans. The area then took the name Attica after one of his daughters, named Atthis, when she died before being wed.
Erichthonius was said to be the son born from Hephaestus' desire for Athena: one day Athena had come to his shop to order weapons, he fell in love with her and tried to rape her. In the fight that ensued, some of Hephaestus' semen fell on Athena's leg. The goddess threw it to the ground. From the god's semen thus thrown to her, Gaea (the Earth) bore a child who was named Erichthonius, a name that suggests wool (eri ), or fight (eris), and the earth (chthon), and who was raised by Athena herself in her temple of the Acropolis and became king of Athens after retaking power from Amphictyon. Erichthonius was succeeded by Pandion, the son he had had with his wife, the Naiad Praxithea. Erechtheus, grandson of Erichthonius and son of Pandion, succeded his father on the throne of Athens. Erechtheus had a wife named Praxithea, from whom he had several children: Cecrops, Pandorus, Metion, Thespius, Protogenia, Chtonia, Creusa, Procris, and Orithuia.
While Erechtheus was king of Athens, a war broke out between Athens and Eleusis. Erechtheus consulted the oracle of Delphi for a means to win the war. He was told that he should offer one of his daughters in sacrifice, which he did. As a result of this sacrifice, Erechtheus won the war. Erechtheus was succeeded by his son Cecrops, who married Metadiousa, then by their son Pandion. After Pandion's death, his four sons reclaimed the throne of Athens from the sons of Metion and divided Attica between themselves. Aegeus, the first-born, took the largest share, including Athens. After two successive marriages, Aegeus had not been able to beget a child, despite his introduction in Athens of the cult of Aphrodite Urania, the goddess of childbearing. So, he went to Delphi to ask the oracle what to do to beget a son and, on his way back, visited Pittheus, king of Troezen, renowed for his wisdom, to consult him about the meaning of the oracle he had received. There, Pittheus, seeing through the oracle, managed to get him drunk and to have him sleep with his daughter Aethra, from which union Theseus was born.
Theseus. the son of Aegeus, whom he succeeded on the throne, was indeed the most famous of the legendary kings of Athens. He freed Athens from Cretan dominion. But, above all, he unified all the villages of Attica (except Eleusis and Salamis) under a single government located in Athens, an achievement known under the name of synoecism (from a Greek word that means etymologically “bringing all the houses together”). He is said to have organized the city in three classes: noblemen, farmers and craftsmen and was honored as the father of democracy.
Hard to locate in that succession of kings is Ion, the eponym of the Ionians, who is also listed as a king of Athens. He was a son of Erechtheus's daughter Creusa and either Apollo or the Thessalian Xouthus. After Xouthus' death Ion married Helice, the daughter of Selinus, king of Aegialus, and succeeded him at his death. He built there a city to which he gave the name of his wife and called his people “Ionians”. The last legendary king of Athens was Codrus. His father Melanthus, a descendant of Neleus, settled in Attica after being ousted from Pylos by the Heraclidae. The king of Athens at the time, a descendant of Theseus named Thymoetes, offered him his throne in reward for having volunteered to fight in single combat Xanthus, the king of Thebes to end a war between the two cities, and having defeated him. When Melanthus died, Codrus succeeded him on the throne of Athens. During his reign, the Peloponnesians waged war against Athens and were promised victory by the oracle of Delphi on condition that they not kill the king. Informed of the oracle, Codrus decided to sacrifice his life for his country and, under a disguise, provoked an ennemy patrol in the countryside, and got killed.
One underlying theme that can be read behind these legends is the continued struggle in the history of Athens between an agrarian tradition of citizens born from, and for, the earth, represented by Athena, goddess of the mother city, of the olive-tree and the crafts, dispenser of wisdom, and a maritime aspiration, looking toward the sea and leading to imperialism, represented by Poseidon.
History of Athens' institutions
To move toward a more “historical” Athens and a description of its institutions at the time of Socrates and Plato, we may use as a thread the summary of the successive constitutions that led the city from kingship to democracy as given by Aristotle in his Constitution of the Athenians, 46. He lists 11 reforms down to and including the restoration of democracy in 403 after the short episode of the regime of the Thirty Tyrants at the end of the Peloponnesian War:
•Ion's organization of the people in four tribes named after his four sons: Geleontes, Hopletes, Argades and Aegicores, led by a tribal king and divided each in three “thirds”.
•Theseus' reform gathering all of Attic under one single government that was still close to monarchy.
•Draco's reform, around 620 B. C., which led to the first written code of laws in Athens, a code mostly concerned with criminal law.
•The reforms of Solon, who was Archon in 594-593 and had to deal with land ownership problems and the fate of those who had to make themselves slaves to pay their debts, and who refused to redistribute the land but wiped out all debts and set all citizens free in order to avoid civil war. Solon was later seen as the father of democracy and many other reforms were ascribed to him. They include laws on trade and industry; judicial reforms and the creation of the tribunal of Heliaea open to all citizens; laws on private life, weddings, funerals; a division of the citizens in four classes based on wealth measured in terms of volume of wheat crops and determining the access rights to public offices: the “Pentacosiomedimnes” or Five-Hundred-Measure Men, the wealthiest, the Horsemen, the “Zeugites” or Teamsters, so called because they owned a team of oxen (“zeugos” in Greek), and the “Thetes” or Labourers, the poorest, who had to hire their services ; the institution of a four-hundred members' council called “Boule”..
•The tyranny of Pisistratus, from about 560 till 527 B. C., punctuated by two periods of exile, followed by that of his two sons, Hippias and Hipparchus. Pisistratus seems to have been a moderate tyrant, generally abiding by the constitution, not too harsh with the aristocracy and promoting measures in favor of the poors. It is probably under his rule that the first Athenian coins, with an owl, were minted. But, above all, he undertook the building of new temples and instituted or reformed several religious festivals to give them more luster and use them as a tool to build cohesion among the citizens, including the Great Panathenaea, enriched with a competition opened to all Greece, and the Festivals of Dionysus, during which tragedies started to be played, the first being those of Thespis.
•The constitution of Cleisthenes (508), which set the frame of Athens' institutions for the next two centuries. Cleisthenes was a member of the Alcmaeonidae family, a famed powerful family of Athens. Not much more is known about him. A key feature of Cleisthenes' reforms was to replace the four Attic tribes inherited from Ion by a new organization in ten somewhat artificail tribes. Cleisthenes' reforms were meant to bring “isonomia”, that is, equality before the law of all citizens, a further step toward democracy. Soon after was enacted the law instituting ostracism, a procedure meant to cut short the ambitions of would-be tyrants by allowing the assembly of the people to vote once a year by secret ballot on the name of a citizen that would be deprived of his civil rights and banished for ten years. The names were written on fragments of pottery (in Greek ”ostraca”, hence the name of the procedure) and at least 6000 citizens had to take part to choose between two “candidates”. It was first put in use in 488 on a relative of Cleisthenes named Hipparchus. It is also around that time that the generals (“strategoi”) began to be chosen by vote, one from each tribe, while at the same time the Archons were no longer elected, but chosen by lot.
•The return to the fore of the Areopagus after the Persian war (480), as a result of its leadership in the face of Athens' invasion, that was seen by Aristotle as a pause in the progress toward democracy. This period coincided with the building of the Delian League under the supervision of Themistocles and Aristides reconciled by the war, and the resulting growth of the Athenian Empire. It lasted about 17 years, until...
•The reform of Ephialtes, around 462, whose result was to deprive the Areopagus of most of its political power to transfer it to the Boule, and the popular tribunal of Heliaea. Ephialtes was soon after assassinated, but the slow progress toward democracy kept going, especially after the rise to power of Pericles, who further reduced the power of the Areopagus and introduced the misthos, a daily allowance for those seating, first at the Heliaea, then at the Council and in other tribunals.
•The first attempt at the restoration of an oligarchic government with the revolution of the Four-Hundred in 411, as the Peloponnesian War was dragging in lenght. This new oligarchic government lasted only a few months.
•The restoration of democracy after the failed attempt of the Four-Hundred.
A second attempt at an oligarchic regime, which came about in 404 with the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War and the help of Lysander, the Spartan general, and led to the tyranny of the Thirty Tyrants. This second attempt at oligarchy didn't last much longer than the previous one.
The final restoration of democracy after the fall of the Thirty (403).
Institutions of Athens in classical times
The second part of Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians is a detailed description of the institutions of Athens after this restoration of democracy, as they were still in force in Aristotle's time. The main features of these institutions were as follows:
•At the heart of them all were the citizens, that together made up the demos. But not all inhabitants of Athens were citizens of Athens in that sense. Only men above 18 could be citizens, provided their father and mother's father were citizens too, they had been properly registered and accepted in their deme and had completed their military training and service.
•Aside from women who had no right to citizenship no matter what, that left aside two categories of residents : the metics, residents aliens of free condition, mostly craftsmen and traders, and the slaves, both of whom most likely outnumbered the true citizens. The citizens were divided into four groups based on wealth : the Five-Hundred-Measure Men (“Pentacosiomedimnes”), the Horsemen (“Hippeis”), the Teamsters (“Zeugites”) and the Labourers (“Thetes”), initially to limit access to offices to the wealthiest, but over time, access to most offices was opened to members of all four groups. One could lose citizenship through atimia by showing cowardise at war, practicing dishonourable jobs such as prostitute, betraying the city, etc. but it was quite exceptionnal for non-citizens to be granted citizenship.
All citizens could take part in the ecclesia, or Assembly, that gathered ten, then 40 times a year, on the Pnyx, a hill facing the Acropolis, from dawn to dusk. The Assembly voted the laws prepared by the Council of Five-Hundred, voted once a year ostracism, confirmed magistrates in office, discussed about defense and foreign policy, received embassies, and could hear petitions from any citizen wishing to address it on public or private matters.
The day to day management of the city was handled in large part by the boule, or Council of Five-Hundred, composed, as the name implies, of 500 members since the reforms of Cleisthenes. Councilors (bouleutes) were chosen by lot among citizens each year, 50 in each of the 10 tribes. The fifty members of each tribe would joinly hold the presidency (prytaneia) in turn for one tenth of the year in an order defined by lot. The presiding bouleutes were called prytanes and the duration of their charge a prytany. Each day, a different prytane was chosen by lot as chairman (epistates) of the Council and Assembly for 24 hours. He would hold the keys of the treasury and archives and the seal of the city and had to sleep, along with a third of the prytanes chosen by him, in a round house, the Tholos, next to the Council Chamber alongside the agora (the market-place). No one could be elected chairman more than once during the prytany of his tribe. The powers of the boule were extensive, including executive, legislative and judicial functions. It would among other prepare the laws to be submitted to the vote of the Assembly, overlook their application, approve after scrutiny (dokimasia) elected officials, hear their account rendition at the end of their tenure, share with various elected officials the task of taking care of public buildings, streets, food supply, fleet, etc., greet embassies from other cities.
•Elected officials were needed to take care of specific tasks in various areas. There were several hundreds of them, often elected by groups of ten, one per tribe, for any given job. Among the most important of them were :
–The nine Archons, including the Archon Eponymus, who gave his name to the year and was sometimes simply called the Archon without other qualification, the King-Archon, or simply King (basileus), the War-Lord (polemarchos) and six “Lawgivers” (thesmothetai), and the secretary of the Lawgivers.
–The ten Strategoi, or Generals, elected for one year, one from each tribe and reeligible without limit. From a merely military role at first, their power grew over time to foreign policy, finance and all political activity. Many of the most famous political leaders of classical Athens ruled as Strategoi.
•Most judicial functions were exercized by the Areopagus and the Heliaea. The former was made up of all former Archons still alive and had lost most of its power after the reform of Ephialtes. The latter, which had assumed most of the judicial power as a result of this reform, owed its name to that of the building in Athens where the court was held, and was made up of 6000 ciitizens aged at least 30, the Heliasts, chosen by lot each year among volunteers at the rate of 600 per tribe, and submitted to an oath of office. The Heliasts were divided into several tribunals (dikasteria) of about 500 jurymen chosen by a elaborate lot process at the beginning of each day of business. They would hear all sorts of cases and their decision was final. They played a political role to the extent that, starting in 415, they could hear cases about the legality of a law voted by the Assembly and nullify it, in actions brought forth by any citizen.
Bernard Suzanne (page last updated 1998), ed.
This extract is cited July 2003 from the Plato and his dialogues URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks.
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