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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
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
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'
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
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
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.
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
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
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
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,
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
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
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
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Educational institutions WebPages
The Ancient City of Athens
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
Beazley Archive Dictionary
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
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
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
•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
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
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
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.
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)
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