Brief History of Athens Greece

athensAthens was named according to the mythology of Greece from competition that the goddess Athena had with Poseidon about who will become protector of the city. The myth says that Poseidon gave a spring with sea water whilst Athena offered an olive tree as she touched the ground of the sacred rock of the Acropolis. The people of Athens choose Athena as their protector and so the city was named after the goddess of wisdom. The myth is symbolic but the two Gods symbolising the strength of Athens as a city of wisdom and as a sea power. The first settlement of Athens 3000 BC was situated on the rock of Acropolis.

According to the tradition, Athens was founded, when the king Theseus united in a state several settlements of Attica. The last king of ancient Athens was Kodros, who sacrificed his life in order to save the homeland.

Athens in the Antiquity

Later came to power the nobles (wealthy landowners). The nobles ruled Athens by their consul the Supreme Court (Arios Pagos), from this consul where elected the 9 rulers of Athens . During this time was existed the assembly of the Athenian citizens (Ecclesia of Demos) but during this period did’t had the power that had later with the lows of Solon.

The main characteristics of Athens are quite different from those of Sparta, because despite the existence of laws and the state, the concept of the individual-citizen was important. The main concern of the legislators was to strengthen the national conscience and to protect the democratic state. At the same time, however, local freedom was encouraged and each municipality had the opportunity to decide on its local affairs, but the state intervened when it deemed it necessary. Each municipality sent its representatives to the city which was the cohesive web of the state. The national consciousness was strengthened with the creation of several festivities but also public works that increased the sense of pride of the inhabitants but also prevented social explosions, by employing to do those works the unemployed and the poor Athenians

At the same time, the existence of laws that favored equality and the creation of a humanitarian culture, enabled the Athenian citizens to emerge and evolve. This fact was unthinkable for cultures outside Greece (where everything in a person’s life was predetermined and given) and will be a significant noticeable difference of Greek culture from the rest. The Athenians were always proud to belong to the Ionians, a race that had lived in the area for a long time. The creation of the city of Athens is largely due to Theseus and the name of the Goddess Athena who prevailed over Poseidon. Nevertheless, the cities of Ionia have the avant-garde in Greece followed by Athens .

The gradual rise of Athens will begin in the middle of the 7th century BC. As in most cities, so in Athens there were  significant problems, with many people finding it difficult to cope with their obligations resulting in the conversion of several of them into slaves. While the bourgeoisie is unhappy, since although it participates in the financial burdens of the state it does not have the corresponding participation in the political events… Although there will be reactions and unrest here, it will be easier than elsewhere to move from the absolute power of the king to the oligarchic and from there in a democratic regime. So throughout the 6th century there will be laws that will protect the weak but also a gradual transition to democracy. The most important legislators were Solon in the twilight and Cleisthenes in the twilight of the sixth century BC.

The role of the women in Ancient Athens 

In Athenian society it is a fact that women are subject to restrictions (with the exception of the prostitutes) who were also deprived of political rights, but they had legal rights and no one could arbitrarily harm them. Women basically stayed at home not because it was forbidden to go out of it, but because it was considered an element of dignity. Thus the informal restrictions were more applicable to the women of the nobles, while on the contrary the position of the women of the lower economic strata and especially of these rural areas was more free due to the need for agricultural hands. The women married mostly young, while the legal status of the marriage was validated by the guarantee between the bride’s master and the groom and was completed with the transfer of the bride to her new home. At the same time, the family together with the bride handed over the agreed dowry. The dowry after the wedding was still the property of the bride and the future groom could manage it, but if he wanted to divorce the bride he should have known that he would lose the dowry together…

After the the period of colonisation and expansion of trade, many citizens of Athens became rich and wealthy from the trade and shipping, and they wished to participate in the administration of the state, while from the other hand the lower classes of the city where facing poverty. This fact resulted riots between the poor who wanted land and new lows with more social justice and the nobles that wanted to keep their power and authority.
Those riots tried to exploit the ambitious Cylon aiming to become a tyrant, but he failed. His movement stayed in history as ‘Cylonian Curse‘. After this , the nobles tasked Drakon to write new laws in response to peoples demand. But the laws of Dracon were too hard and peremptory and thus disappointed the Athenians.
As the laws of Dracon did not meet the expectations of the people of Athens who they tasked Solon, which was considered as a very wise man, to write new laws.
Solon gave back the debts of the citizens and let free all those who had been slaves from their debts. That law, because released the people of Athens from a very heavy burden, was named ‘seisachtheia’
Solon split the Athenians into four classes, depending on their income. Archons (rulers) had the right to become only the rich. But, Solon strengthened politically and the poor, because he gave the great strength to the Ecclesia of Demos, namely, the assembly of citizens. The assembly decided on all major issues and was voting the laws which were prepared by the House of the four hundred. Solon founded the large peoples court, the Iliaia. Those where the first steps towards democracy.

Athens during the Hellenistic times

The problems and the rumored “decline” of the city begin in 338 BC. after the victory of Philip II over the Athenians in the battle of Chaeronea. Then the city loses its independence and the freedom to determine its own foreign policy. In the Hellenistic years, Athens had completely lost its leading role in the political events of the time and was left to be consumed by the civil conflicts that the cities of the Greek area engaged in after the decline of the Macedonian state. In 133 BC the largest slave revolt in the city dates. Lavrio’s slaves rebelled, causing the city to abandon the mines and lose a stable source of income.

In 86 BC it knows the first great looting of its monuments and the massacre of its population by the Roman forces of the military and political Sulla, which results in the submission of the city to the Romans. But then some Roman emperors of the first post-Christian century -specifically Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius-, rulers who had respect for classical culture, benefited Athens, which experienced a new period of prosperity.

As for its Christianization, the apostle Paul visited it in 52 AD. and, while at first his preaching was mocked, afterwards the Athenians were converted to the new religion thanks to Dionysius the Areopagite who founded the Christian community of Athens.

Athens during the reign of Byzantium

In 267 AD the Gothic tribe of the Herouls invaded Athens and set fire to the entire city with the exception – fortunately – of the Acropolis. This was also the second disaster in the history of the city. Until the 4th century AD, however, Athens had not experienced a particular decline, despite the two disasters that had preceded it. This is demonstrated by the assistance provided by the Athenian fleet to Constantine the Great against his opponents.

Thus, when he became Emperor in 324, he rewarded the Athenians by exempting their teachers from direct taxes. This fact shows that Athens maintained its prestige in the educational field. However, in 396 there is evidence of an invasion by the Goths.

As for the Parthenon, around 480 it was converted into a Christian temple dedicated to Panagia Athiniotissa. This cult replaced that of Pallas Athena. It is worth noting that, as the years passed, Athens gradually turned into an important place of pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary. Many sources of travelers testify to this. In fact, Basil the Bulgar-slayer himself had visited Athens and the Parthenon for a pilgrimage.

The abolition of the ancient religion of Athens

The ordinances which followed against the ancient religion as the centuries progressed, i.e. the banning of all public pagan ceremonies or the banning of the Olympic games, were not indiscriminately applied in Athens, which still had a strong pagan tradition. In the middle of the 5th century, however, the chryselephantine statue of Athena, after being stripped of everything valuable it had, was moved to Constantinople, from where it mysteriously disappeared in the 10th century. In the same period, the destruction of the Diverse Lodge is witnessed. However, the decisive blow to the city’s educational tradition was given by Emperor Justinian’s decision to close the city’s philosophical school. The last national teachers, after this, fled to the court of the Persian king Chosroes.

Raids during the middle ages

More raids against the city were recorded in 580 by the Slavs, in 1040 by the Varangians as well as by the Normans of Roger II in 1147 and by the Saracens in 1182, to come to the invasion in 1203 by Leo Sgourou, the Byzantine lord of Nafplio, who had rebelled against the emperor Alexios III Angelos.

In this situation Athens was found by the invasion of the Frankish crusaders into the territories of the Byzantine Empire and the fall of Constantinople in 1204. Athens was awarded to Boniface Momferatikos, the leader of the crusade, who expelled Leo Sgouros and ceded Athens as a fief. to the Burgundians under the house of de la Roche. Thus the Duchy of Athens and Thebes was founded. During this period the lords of the city often clashed heavily with the Frankish rulers of Evia. As for the fortifications, they built a tower on the Acropolis, called the Tower of the Propylae, and one in Thebes (also called the Tower of Santomeris), where the rulers of the Duchy resided. The Roman Catholic Church in Athens was also established, but this had little effect on the population, as did the contacts of the Franks with the Greeks.

The Burgundians ruled the city until 1311, when in the Battle of Kopaida or Battle of Almyros the invaders from the so-called Catalan Company defeated the Burgundians. The Catalan Company had been founded by Roger de Flor in the early 14th century and was made up of mercenary adventurers.

When they were out of work and therefore without resources to live on, they turned to the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II who hired them to fight the Turks. But he defaulted on his financial obligations to them, as a result of which these adventurers plundered the Balkans. So after they defeated the Burgundians and overthrew the Duchy, they horribly plundered Thebes. Not even Athens was spared from their fury, since the Catalans destroyed the Eleonas in Colonos and completely demolished the district to the east of the Acropolis.

Occupation by the Ottomans

This last period of Florentine rule was from 1388 to 1456, when the city succumbed to the Ottoman invasion after a siege of the Acropolis, a siege that lasted almost two years. Then Muhammad visited the city. Some even argue that the name of the area Patisia was given because of Patishah Mohammed (title for the sultan) who visited the city at the time. In 1458 the Parthenon was converted into a mosque. A minaret was built in the south-west corner of the Parthenon, all Christian symbols were removed from its interior and the Christian period hagiographies were plastered over.

Although the monument suffered several damages during the siege of 1458 and from the previous campaigns, it would still be in a much better condition today and with its roof intact if in 1687, during the sixth Venetian-Turkish war, the Venetian commander-in-chief Morosini, later doge of the Peaceful Republic, did not decide to besiege Athens and the Acropolis. Then a shell fell directly on the roof of the Parthenon, which the Ottomans during the siege used as a powder store, and completely destroyed it. In addition, Morosini, who eventually captured Athens, but left it almost immediately because he could not hold it, also looted several sculptures from the monument

Liberation of Athens 1822.

Since then, after this ill-fated Venetian attempt to capture the city, Athens would remain under Ottoman occupation until its liberation in 1822 during the Greek Revolution. As for the Parthenon, after serving as a temple of three religions over the centuries, it eventually became a visitable archaeological site.

Athens becomes the Capital of Greece

In 1834 Athens was proclaimed the capital of the Kingdom of Greece, which had recently become independent from the Ottoman Empire. From the Turks, Athens had been conquered in 1456: the Parthenon had thus become a mosque and the inhabitants, at the end of the eighteenth century, had been reduced to 12,000. In 1827, during the war of independence, the city was completely destroyed.

The monarchy that ascended the throne of Greece (1833) was of German origin and wanted to make Athens a capital worthy of its past (ancient Athens) and its significance in the history of humanity. A generation of European intellectuals had fought for the freedom of Hellas, in the name of ancient Greek culture: the new capital had to become its symbol again.