|508 BC–322 BC|
Owl of Athena, patron of Athens
Delian League ("Athenian Empire") shown in yellow, Athenian territory shown in red, situation in 431 BC, before the Peloponnesian War.
|Common languages||Attic Greek|
|Religion||Ancient Greek religion|
• 449–429 BC
|Historical era||Classical antiquity|
|478–404 BC (404–403 BC Thirty tyrants)|
• 5th century BC1
|300–350,000 (men with civil rights: 30–60,000)|
The city of Athens (Ancient Greek : Ἀθῆναι, Athênai [a.tʰɛ̂ː.nai̯]; Modern Greek: Αθήναι Athine [a.ˈθi.ne̞] or, more commonly and in singular, Αθήνα Athina [a.'θi.na]) during the classical period of Ancient Greece (480–323 BC) was the major urban centre of the notable polis (city-state) of the same name, located in Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Isagoras. This system remained remarkably stable, and with a few brief interruptions remained in place for 180 years, until 322 BC (aftermath of Lamian War). The peak of Athenian hegemony was achieved in the 440s to 430s BC, known as the Age of Pericles.
In the classical period, Athens was a centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Akademia and Aristotle's Lyceum,Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Plato, Pericles, Aristophanes, Sophocles, and many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization, and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then-known European continent.
Hippias, son of Peisistratus, had ruled Athens jointly with his brother, Hipparchus, from the death of Peisistratus in about 527. Following the assassination of Hipparchus in about 514, Hippias took on sole rule, and in response to the loss of his brother, became a worse leader who was increasingly disliked. Hippias exiled 700 of the Athenian noble families, amongst them Cleisthenes' family, the Alchmaeonids. Upon their exile, they went to Delphi, and Herodotussays they bribed the Pythia always to tell visiting Spartans that they should invade Attica and overthrow Hippias. That supposedly worked after a number of times, and Cleomenes led a Spartan force to overthrow Hippias, which succeeded, and instated an oligarchy. Cleisthenes disliked the Spartan rule, along with many other Athenians, and so made his own bid for power. The result was democracy in Athens, but considering Cleisthenes' motivation for using the people to gain power, as without their support, he would have been defeated,and so Athenian democracy may be tinted by the fact its creation served greatly the man who created it. The reforms of Cleisthenes replaced the traditional four Ionic "tribes" (phyle) with ten new ones, named after legendary heroes of Greece and having no class basis, which acted as electorates. Each tribe was in turn divided into three trittyes (one from the coast; one from the city and one from the inland divisions), while each trittys had one or more demes (see deme), depending on their population, which became the basis of local government. The tribes each selected fifty members by lot for the Boule, the council that governed Athens on a day-to-day basis. The public opinion of voters could be influenced by the political satires written by the comic poets and performed in the city theaters. The Assembly or Ecclesia was open to all full citizens and was both a legislature and a supreme court, except in murder cases and religious matters, which became the only remaining functions of the Areopagus. Most offices were filled by lot, although the ten strategoi (generals) were elected.
The silver mines of Laurion contributed significantly to the development of Athens in the 5th century BC, when the Athenians learned to prospect, treat, and refine the ore and used the proceeds to build a massive fleet, at the instigation of Themistocles.
In 499 BC, Athens sent troops to aid the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, who were rebelling against the Persian Empire (see Ionian Revolt). That provoked two Persian invasions of Greece, both of which were repelled under the leadership of the soldier-statesmen Miltiades and Themistocles (see Persian Wars). In 490 the Athenians, led by Miltiades, prevented the first invasion of the Persians, guided by king Darius I, at the Battle of Marathon. In 480 the Persians returned under a new ruler, Xerxes I. The Hellenic League led by the Spartan King Leonidas led 7,000 men to hold the narrow passageway of Thermopylae against the 100,000–250,000 army of Xerxes, during which Leonidas and 300 other Spartan elites were killed. Simultaneously the Athenians led an indecisive naval battle off Artemisium. However, that delaying action was not enough to discourage the Persian advance, which soon marched through Boeotia, setting up Thebes as their base of operations, and entered southern Greece. That forced the Athenians to evacuate Athens, which was taken by the Persians, and seek the protection of their fleet. Subsequently, the Athenians and their allies, led by Themistocles, defeated the Persian navy at sea in the Battle of Salamis. Xerxes had built himself a throne on the coast in order to see the Greeks defeated. Instead, the Persians were routed. Sparta's hegemony was passing to Athens, and it was Athens that took the war to Asia Minor. The victories enabled it to bring most of the Aegean and many other parts of Greece together in the Delian League, an Athenian-dominated alliance.
Pericles – an Athenian general, politician and orator – distinguished himself above the other personalities of the era, men who excelled in politics, philosophy, architecture, sculpture, history and literature. He fostered arts and literature and gave to Athens a splendor which would never return throughout its history. He executed a large number of public works projects and improved the life of the citizens. Hence, he gave his name to the Athenian Golden Age. Silver mined in Laurium in southeastern Attica contributed greatly to the prosperity of this "Golden" Age of Athens.
During the time of the ascendancy of Ephialtes as leader of the democratic faction, Pericles was his deputy. When Ephialtes was assassinated by personal enemies, Pericles stepped in and was elected general, or strategos , in 445 BC; a post he held continuously until his death in 429 BC, always by election of the Athenian Assembly. The Parthenon, a lavishly decorated temple to the goddess Athena, was constructed under the administration of Pericles.
Resentment by other cities at the hegemony of Athens led to the Peloponnesian War in 431, which pitted Athens and her increasingly rebellious sea empire against a coalition of land-based states led by Sparta. The conflict marked the end of Athenian command of the sea. The war between Athens and the city-state Sparta ended with an Athenian defeat after Sparta started its own navy.
Athenian democracy was briefly overthrown by the coup of 411, brought about because of its poor handling of the war, but it was quickly restored. The war ended with the complete defeat of Athens in 404. Since the defeat was largely blamed on democratic politicians such as Cleon and Cleophon, there was a brief reaction against democracy, aided by the Spartan army (the rule of the Thirty Tyrants). In 403, democracy was restored by Thrasybulus and an amnesty declared.
Sparta's former allies soon turned against her due to her imperialist policies, and Athens's former enemies, Thebes and Corinth, became her allies. Argos, Thebes and Corinth, allied with Athens, fought against Sparta in the decisive Corinthian War of 395–387 BC. Opposition to Sparta enabled Athens to establish a Second Athenian League. Finally Thebes defeated Sparta in 371 in the Battle of Leuctra. However, other Greek cities, including Athens, turned against Thebes, and its dominance was brought to an end at the Battle of Mantinea (362 BC) with the death of its leader, the military genius Epaminondas.
By mid century, however, the northern Greek kingdom of Macedon was becoming dominant in Athenian affairs. In 338 BC the armies of Philip II defeated Athens at the Battle of Chaeronea, effectively limiting Athenian independence. During the winter of 338 BC /337 BC Macedonia, Athens and other Greek states became part of the League of Corinth. Further, the conquests of his son, Alexander the Great, widened Greek horizons and made the traditional Greek city state obsolete. Antipater dissolved the Athenian government and established a plutocratic system in 322 BC (see Lamian War and Demetrius Phalereus). Athens remained a wealthy city with a brilliant cultural life, but ceased to be an independent power.
Athens was in Attica, about 30 stadia from the sea, on the southwest slope of Mount Lycabettus, between the small rivers Cephissus to the west, Ilissos to the south, and the Eridanos to the north, the latter of which flowed through the town. The walled city measured about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) in diameter, although at its peak the city had suburbs extending well beyond these walls. The Acropolis was just south of the centre of this walled area. The city was burnt by Xerxes in 480 BC, but was soon rebuilt under the administration of Themistocles, and was adorned with public buildings by Cimon and especially by Pericles, in whose time (461–429 BC) it reached its greatest splendour. Its beauty was chiefly due to its public buildings, for the private houses were mostly insignificant, and its streets badly laid out. Towards the end of the Peloponnesian War, it contained more than 10,000 houses, which at a rate of 12 inhabitants to a house would give a population of 120,000, though some writers make the inhabitants as many as 180,000. Athens consisted of two distinct parts:
The city was surrounded by defensive walls from the Bronze Age and they were rebuilt and extended over the centuries.
In addition the Long Walls consisted of two parallel walls leading to Piraeus, 40 stadia long (4.5 miles, 7 km), running parallel to each other, with a narrow passage between them and, furthermore, a wall to Phalerum on the east, 35 stadia long (4 miles, 6.5 km). There were therefore three long walls in all; but the name Long Walls seems to have been confined to the two leading to the Piraeus, while the one leading to Phalerum was called the Phalerian Wall. The entire circuit of the walls was 174.5 stadia (nearly 22 miles, 35 km), of which 43 stadia (5.5 miles, 9 km) belonged to the city, 75 stadia (9.5 miles, 15 km) to the long walls, and 56.5 stadia (7 miles, 11 km) to Piraeus, Munichia, and Phalerum.
The Acropolis, also called Cecropia from its reputed founder, Cecrops, was a steep rock in the middle of the city, about 50 meters high, 350 meters long, and 150 meters wide; its sides were naturally scarped on all sides except the west end. It was originally surrounded by an ancient Cyclopean wall said to have been built by the Pelasgians. At the time of the Peloponnesian war only the north part of this wall remained, and this portion was still called the Pelasgic Wall; while the south part which had been rebuilt by Cimon, was called the Cimonian Wall. On the west end of the Acropolis, where access is alone practicable, were the magnificent Propylaea , "the Entrances," built by Pericles, before the right wing of which was the small Temple of Athena Nike. The summit of the Acropolis was covered with temples, statues of bronze and marble, and various other works of art. Of the temples, the grandest was the Parthenon , sacred to the "Virgin" goddess Athena; and north of the Parthenon was the magnificent Erechtheion , containing three separate temples, one to Athena Polias, or the "Protectress of the State," the Erechtheion proper, or sanctuary of Erechtheus, and the Pandroseion , or sanctuary of Pandrosos, the daughter of Cecrops. Between the Parthenon and Erechtheion was the colossal Statue of Athena Promachos, or the "Fighter in the Front," whose helmet and spear was the first object on the Acropolis visible from the sea.
The lower city was built in the plain around the Acropolis, but this plain also contained several hills, especially in the southwest part. On the west side the walls embraced the Hill of the Nymphs and the Pnyx, and to the southeast they ran along beside the Ilissos.
There were many gates, among the more important there were:
Among the more important streets, there were:
The period from the end of the Persian Wars to the Macedonian conquest marked the zenith of Athens as a center of literature, philosophy (see Greek philosophy) and the arts (see Greek theatre). Some of the most important figures of Western cultural and intellectual history lived in Athens during this period: the dramatists Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides and Sophocles, the philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, the historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, the poet Simonides and the sculptor Phidias. The leading statesman of this period was Pericles, who used the tribute paid by the members of the Delian League to build the Parthenon and other great monuments of classical Athens. The city became, in Pericles's words, an education for Hellas (usually quoted as "the school of Hellas [Greece].")
Kerameikos also known by its Latinized form Ceramicus, is an area of Athens, Greece, located to the northwest of the Acropolis, which includes an extensive area both within and outside the ancient city walls, on both sides of the Dipylon (Δίπυλον) Gate and by the banks of the Eridanos River. It was the potters' quarter of the city, from which the English word "ceramic" is derived, and was also the site of an important cemetery and numerous funerary sculptures erected along the road out of the city towards Eleusis.
Ostracism was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. The word "ostracism" continues to be used for various cases of social shunning.
Themistocles was an Athenian politician and general. He was one of a new breed of non-aristocratic politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy. As a politician, Themistocles was a populist, having the support of lower-class Athenians, and generally being at odds with the Athenian nobility. Elected archon in 493 BC, he convinced the polis to increase the naval power of Athens, a recurring theme in his political career. During the first Persian invasion of Greece he fought at the Battle of Marathon and was possibly one of the ten Athenian strategoi (generals) in that battle.
Pericles was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during its golden age – specifically the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. He was descended, through his mother, from the powerful and historically influential Alcmaeonid family. Pericles had such a profound influence on Athenian society that Thucydides, a contemporary historian, acclaimed him as "the first citizen of Athens". Pericles turned the Delian League into an Athenian empire, and led his countrymen during the first two years of the Peloponnesian War. The period during which he led Athens, roughly from 461 to 429 BC, is sometimes known as the "Age of Pericles", though the period thus denoted can include times as early as the Persian Wars, or as late as the next century.
This article concerns the period 499 BC – 490 BC.
This article concerns the period 469 BC – 460 BC.
Cleisthenes was an ancient Athenian lawgiver credited with reforming the constitution of ancient Athens and setting it on a democratic footing in 508 BC. For these accomplishments, historians refer to him as "the father of Athenian democracy." He was a member of the aristocratic Alcmaeonid clan. He was the younger son of Megacles and Aragiste making him the maternal grandson of the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon. He was also credited with increasing the power of the Athenian citizens' assembly and for reducing the power of the nobility over Athenian politics.
The Alcmaeonidae or Alcmaeonids (Ἀλκμαιωνίδαι) were a powerful noble family of ancient Athens, a branch of the Neleides who claimed descent from the mythological Alcmaeon, the great-grandson of Nestor.
The Pnyx is a hill in central Athens, the capital of Greece. Beginning as early as 507 BC, the Athenians gathered on the Pnyx to host their popular assemblies, thus making the hill one of the earliest and most important sites in the creation of democracy.
Athens is one of the oldest named cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for at least 5000 years. Situated in southern Europe, Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC, and its cultural achievements during the 5th century BC laid the foundations of Western civilization.
Pentecontaetia is the term used to refer to the period in Ancient Greek history between the defeat of the second Persian invasion of Greece at Plataea in 479 BC and the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. The term originated with a scholiast on Thucydides, who used it in their description of the period. The Pentecontaetia was marked by the rise of Athens as the dominant state in the Greek world and by the rise of Athenian democracy. Since Thucydides focused his account on these developments, the term is generally used when discussing developments in and involving Athens.
Xanthippus was a wealthy Athenian politician and general during the early part of the 5th century BC. His name means "Yellow Horse." He was the son of Ariphron and father of Pericles. He is often associated with the Alcmaeonid clan. Although not born to the Alcmaeonidae, he married into the family when he wed Cleisthenes' niece Agariste, and would come to represent their interests in government. He distinguished himself in the Athenian political arena, championing the aristocratic party. His rivalry with Themistocles led to his ostracism, only to be recalled from exile when the Persians invaded Greece. He distinguished himself during the Greco-Persian Wars making a significant contribution to the victory of the Greeks and the subsequent ascendancy of the Athenian Empire.
The period of the 5th century BC in classical Greece is generally considered as beginning in 500 and ending in 404, though this is debated. This century is essentially studied from the Athenian viewpoint, since Athens has left more narratives, plays and other written works than the other Greek states. If one looks at Athens, our principal source, one might consider that this century begins in 510, with the fall of the Athenian tyrant and Cleisthenes's reforms. If one looks at the whole Greek world, however, we might place its beginning at the Ionian revolt in 500, that provoked the Persian invasion of 492. The Persians were finally defeated in 490. A second Persian attempt failed in 481-479. The Delian League then formed, under Athenian hegemony and as Athens' instrument. Athens' excesses caused several revolts among the allied cities, which were all put down by force, but Athenian dynamism finally awoke Sparta and brought about the Peloponnesian War in 431. After both sides were exhausted, a brief peace occurred, and then the war resumed to Sparta's advantage. Athens was definitively defeated in 404, and some internal Athenian agitations ended the 5th century in Greece.
Thiseio or Thissio is the name of a traditional neighbourhood in downtown Athens, Greece, northwest of the Acropolis, 1.5 km southwest of downtown. Long ago, the name was derived from the Temple of Hephaestus which was mistakenly known as Thiseion in reference to Theseus, the mythical king of Athens, which gave rise to the neighbourhood being named Thiseio.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Ancient Greece:
The Themistoclean Wall, named after the Athenian statesman Themistocles, was built in Athens, Greece during the 5th century BC as a result of the Persian Wars and in the hopes of defending against further invasion.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Athens:
Melite was a deme of ancient Attica, located in the city centre of Athens, within the walls erected by Themistocles and to the west of the Acropolis. It included the Agora and the Pnyx. It belonged to the tribe of Kekropis.
The Achaemenid destruction of Athens was accomplished by the Achaemenid Army of Xerxes I during the Second Persian invasion of Greece, and occurred in two phases over a period of two years, in 480-479 BCE.
The Athenian Revolution was a revolt by the people of Athens that overthrew the ruling aristocratic oligarchy, establishing the almost century-long self-governance of Athens in the form of a participatory democracy – open to all free male citizens. It was a reaction to a broader trend of tyranny that had swept through Athens and the rest of Greece.