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Classical Athens

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Ancient Athens is the name for the city of Athens in about the 5th century BC. It was one of the most powerful cities in ancient times. It was important because they made a good democracy.


It is known that there were settlements in the Attica region since prehistoric times. It is unknown, however, when exactly one of them was first called "Athens". According to Plato (in Timeos dialogue), when Solon visited Egypt, some priests told him that according to their archives there was a city called Athens at least from 9600 BC. There is no evidence to support this.

According to Greek mythology the name "Athens" have given in the time of its first king Cecrops about 2000 BC.

Later, the myth of Theseas shows that the city was a vassal of Minoic Crete until an expedition that overthrown that status-quo.

According to Homer's Iliad Athens took the side of Mykenae in the Trojan War, sending 50 ships (that means 1650 – 2750 men) under the command of its king Menestheas. That shows that it was already a relatively major city of Greece, since a few other cities sent more.

From 900 B.C. till 600 B.C., kings and nobles ruled Athens. Nobles seized lots of land, since farmers who could not pay their debts could have their land taken from them. Slaves were treated cruelly.

However, when Solon became ruler about 594 years before Jesus was born, he made many reforms with the help of the Council. He made a supreme court.[1] He canceled farmer's debts and limited the amount of land that could be owned by nobles. Merchants began using coins. The people who did not work were punished. All free men could be citizens, even though the lower class could not vote.[1]

Shortly after the reforms of Solon, the Age of Tyrants began. Instead of many people ruling, one man took all the power. This is called dictatorship. When Cleisthenes, a noble, became powerful, he stopped dictatorship and gave rights to all free men. Cleisthenes was called the father of Athenian democracy.[1] Ten committees were given the right to declare war, collect money and see if the people with power were honest. They could secretly stop anyone who did not do his duty or seemed to be taking too much power. So, direct democracy was begun.

In 477 B.C. Athens began the Delian League to join the city-states for protection. The league's money was kept in the temple of Apollo. However, people soon began to disagree. The other states said that Athens was becoming a tyrant. No one was powerful enough to stop Athens, so Athens ruled. Pericles was when Athens was strongest, and this time was called the Golden Age of Greece.


Persian War

When King Xerxes of Persia fought in Asia Minor, Athens helped the people of Asia Minor. In time, the Persians attacked the Greeks. Because of this, a war began.

On the plain of Marathon, many Persians with bows and arrows fought the Greeks. Even though there were many more Persians than Greeks, the Greeks won because they had spears and swords of metal.

Themistocles, a statesman of Athens, warned the Athenians that the Persians would return, so they should make their navy bigger. The people did so, and Sparta offered to help.[1] The Persians arrived and attacked the Greeks, both on land and on sea. However, because of a Greek traitor, the Persians won.

Although the city of Athens was burnt down before the Persians left, most of the people had run away to the nearby islands for safety. Themistocles ordered the Greeks to prepare for another attack. This time he told them to leave their ships in the Bay of Salamis. About 480 years before Jesus was born, the Persians arrived: but they were surprised and confused by the harbor that was so full of ships they could not travel in it. This time a few hundred Greek ships destroyed many, many Persian ships. Xerxes went away.

The next year, another battle happened, which 32,000 Greek hoplites and 50,000 other soldiers won. The Persians did not attack Greece again.

Peloponnesian War

Even though Sparta and Athens helped each other in battle, they were very different culturally. In 431 to 404 B.C., these two city-states fought in a conflict called the Peloponnesian War after the name of the lower part of the peninsula. Sparta had help from other states. Athens kept inside the city walls, but many people died because of a terrible sickness, including Pericles.

Athens' navy was taken by Spartans who had been trained severely since they were children. In 404 B.C., Athens surrendered to Sparta.

For 30 years Sparta ruled, but many people did not like Spartan government, and Thebes, another city-state, helped Athens defeat Sparta. For nine years Thebes was the most powerful state.

However, Greece was much weaker because of the wars inside her country. Philip of Macedonia began to move into Greek territory. Although Demosthenes warned Athens of the danger, Athenians did not care. At Chaeronea, Philip of Macedonia controlled Greece.

When Philip died, his son, Alexander the Great, even though he was only 20 years, went out to capture the world. He won Asia Minor, Persia, Egpyt, and some parts of India, but he died when he was 32 because of an unknown ailment.


The people in Athens ate simply, usually barley cakes, onions, fish, and fruit. For clothes the men wore short pieces of cloth (tunics), aprons, and sandals for work. A woman wore a chiton, which was a long, loose cloth that was attached to the shoulder. The loose garment was like a blouse because of a rope worn around the waist. Sandals were made by putting the foot on a piece of skin while the shoemaker made a covering for the foot.[1]

Children liked to have pet rabbits and to play ball games. For fun, they also raced little chariots pulled by dogs. They were taught by slaves, and learned poetry, music, and dancing. Exercise was also important.

When a young man became 18, he began two years of training for the army.[1] After that he could join in the men's classes where throwing was done. For protection in wrestling, he tied leather strips around his wrists. He also cut his hair. Teachers from many lands taught the young men.

The Greek hoplites fought so close together that their shields overlapped with each other. Their spears were very long.

Women in ancient Athens were treated with little respect. They could not become citizens of Athens because the men thought they were not important enough. This means they could not vote and did not have any say in what happened in Athens and they could not run for election.

Girls could not be citizens. They left their home at the age of 15 to get married, sometimes with a man who was much older than she was (about 30 years). Her marriage would be arranged by her father. On most occasions, the father would pick a rich husband for his daughter and for most girls, marriage was just living together. The girl and her mother had no say in who she married, it was entirely the father's choice.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Hofflund, M.A., Ethel. History and Geography 603 The Civilizations of Greee and Rome. 804, N. 2nd Ave. E., Rock Rapids: Alpha Omega Publications, Inc. ISBN 51246-1759 .