Democracy and Mob Rule: The Problem of Freedom in Ancient Athens

Democracies and Republics, the best of all political structures, have a way of destroying themselves if not cherished and properly governed. By Aris Teon After World War II democracy began to be viewed in the West as the best possible form of government. However, a history of democratic states shows that freedom is not something[…]

The Plague in Ancient Athens: A Cautionary Tale

Thucydides indicates that this plague was extraordinary in that “a pestilence of such extent and mortality was nowhere remembered.” In his book, The History of the Peloponnesian War, the ancient Greek historian Thucydides provides the setting. Athens and Sparta had been the two principal leaders of the united Greeks who vanquished the mighty Persian Empire fifty[…]

The Ancient Athenian Calendar

Athenian calendars used lunar cycles and/or solar events to affix dates. Introduction The term “Athenian Calendar” (also called the “Attic Calendar”) has become somewhat of a misnomer, since Ancient Athenians never really used just one method to reckon the passage of time. Athenians, especially from the 3rd Century BCE forward, could consult any one of five[…]

The Cowardice of Alcibiades and the Revenge of Ancient Athens

He could not keep his word as he kept changing sides and lived in exile. Alcibiades, the son of Cleinias and an Alcmeonid woman named Deinomache, was not yet twenty years old when the Archidamian War (the first phase of the Peloponnesian War) broke out. With his mentor Socrates, he was present when general Phormio[…]

Ancient Athens in the Hellenistic World

Apart from some futile attempts to recapture their freedom, for well over a century the Greeks remained under Macedonian rule. Introduction When we think about ancient Athens, it is almost always about the classical city. We think of such things as its numerous monuments (the Parthenon on the Acropolis for example), beautifying everywhere, the Agora swarming with people doing business, discussing current affairs,[…]

The ‘Fall’ of Classical Athens?: Problems with Historical Periodization

“Hellenistic” Athens may not shine as brightly as Classical Athens, but it has lived unfairly in the shadow of its famous predecessor. Athens: the most powerful city in ancient Greece; the birthplace of democracy; home to the great tragedies of Aeschylus. Sophocles, and Euripides; philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; brimming with large monuments[…]

Law and Politics in the Ancient Athenian Agora

The Agora was the central gathering place for all of Athens, where social and commercial dealings took place. Arguably, it’s most important purpose was as the home base for all of the city-state’s administrative, legal and political functions. Some of the most important, yet least acclaimed, buildings of ancient history and Classical Athens were located[…]

Overthrowing Oligarchy in the Athenian Revolution of 508-507 BCE

Athens had the largest and wealthiest city-state, but they also had a larger class of people excluded from political life by the nobility. Introduction and Background The Athenian Revolution (508–507 BCE) 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[…]

The Golden Age of Ancient Athens in the Fifth Century BCE

The famous Greek playwrights, historians, and physicians familiar to us today lived in the fifth century. Introduction Fifth-century Athens is the Greek city-state of Athens in the time from 480 to 404 BC. Formerly known as the Golden Age of Athens, the later part being the Age of Pericles, it was buoyed by political hegemony,[…]

A History of Athens since the Early Modern Period

Athens was chosen as the Greek capital for historical and sentimental reasons. Ottoman Athens The first Ottoman attack on Athens, which involved a short-lived occupation of the town, came in 1397, under the Ottoman generals Yaqub Pasha and Timurtash.[25] Finally, in 1458, Athens was captured by the Ottomans under the personal leadership of Sultan Mehmed[…]

A History of Ancient and Medieval Athens

Athens has been inhabited from Neolithic times, possibly from the end of the fourth millennium BCE, or over 5,000 years. Introduction Athens is one of the oldest named cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for perhaps 5,000 years. Situated in southern Europe, Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first[…]

Greek Government in the Medieval Duchy of Athens

Exploring the establishment of the Duchy following the Fourth Crusade. Introduction The Duchy of Athens was a Latin or Frankish state in Greece that existed from 1205 to 1458 CE. It was created in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204 CE) and would be ruled for the majority of its history by the Burgundian[…]

The Areopagite Constitution and the Reforms of Ephialtes in Ancient Athens

Ephialtes’ reforms are considered by Aristotle and modern scholars to mark the end of the Areopagite constitution. The Areopagite constitution is the modern name for a period in ancient Athens described by Aristotle in his Constitution of the Athenians. According to that work, the Athenian political scene was dominated, between the ostracism of Themistocles in[…]

The Draconian Constitution: The First Written Legal Code in Ancient Athens

The people of Athens commissioned Draco to devise a written law code and constitution, giving him the title of the first legislator of Athens. Introduction The Draconian constitution, or Draco’s code, was a written law code created by Draco near the end of the 7th century BC in response to the unjust interpretation and modification[…]

The Last Tyrants of Ancient Athens

Economic crisis, impoverishment, and elite conflict led Athens to be managed by individual rulers, the last tyrants of Athens. Introduction The period of the first decades of the Ist Century BC was certainly one of the most conflictive and notable moments in the history of ancient Athens. Thus, since the excellent prosperity gained as a[…]

Crisis and Corruption: Bloody Consequences in Ancient Athens

Looking past a plague at how a massive government spending plan went badly awry 2,500 years ago. Introduction The jump in federal spending in response to the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic is not a new idea. Nearly 2,500 years ago, the people of ancient Athens had a similar plan – which succeeded in meeting[…]

Pausanius’ Guide to Travel in Ancient Athens

Pausanius is best known for his ten-volume work, Description of Greece, detailing his travels through the country, city-by-city. Introduction Pausanius was a 2nd century CE writer who traveled extensively, taking notes on points of interest, and recorded his travels in `guide books’ which could be used by tourists visiting the sites described. Born in Lydia,[…]

The Long Walls of Ancient Athens

Many Ancient Greek fortifications connected a city to another site – a citadel or a port. The best known example is the Athenian wall to Piraeus. The Athenian “Long Walls” were built after Xerxes’ invasion of Greece (480-479); their construction was proposed by Themistocles, but the actual building started in 461, when Athens was at[…]

The Ancient Athenian Treasury at Delphi

The Athenian treasury was the first Panhellenic sanctuary that was dedicated by Athenians. Introduction The Athenian Treasury at Delphi was constructed by the Athenians to house dedications and votive offerings made by their city and citizens to the sanctuary of Apollo. The entire treasury including its sculptural decoration is built of Parian marble. The date[…]

Aristotle’s ‘Constitution of the Athenians’

Ancient accounts of Aristotle credit him with 170 Constitutions of various states. Introduction The Constitution of the Athenians is a work by Aristotle or one of his students. The work describes the constitution of Classical Athens, commonly called the Areopagite constitution. It was preserved on two leaves of a papyrus codex discovered at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt[…]

Ancient Athens, Pericles, and the Alcmeonids

The career of Pericles and of the extension of Athenian democracy that took shape under his direction. Introduction In 432 B.C. , just prior to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans escalated their diplomatic offensive against the Athenians by reminding them that their leader Pericles was polluted by a curse, and they demanded[…]

Ancient Greece, from the Persian Wars to the Athenian Empire

The most famous series of wars in ancient Greek history broke out with a revolt against Persian control by the Greek city-states of Ionia. Introduction An Athenian blunder in international diplomacy set in motion the greatest military threat that the ancient Greeks had ever faced and put the freedom of Greece at desperate risk from[…]

The Plague of Athens and the Cult of Asclepius

Social movements often arise in times of sudden changes and social unrest, becoming a source of spiritual and political empowerment. Abstract During the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, several waves of a plague killed an estimated one-third of the civilian Athenian population and one-fourth of its army. Thucydides account of the plague (430-426 BCE)[…]

The Plague in Ancient Athens

The city-state of Sparta, and much of the eastern Mediterranean, was also struck by the disease. Introduction The Plague of Athens was a devastating epidemic that ravaged the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece in 430 B.C.E., during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.), when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach.[…]

The Oligarchic Coup in Athens, 411 BCE

The movement toward oligarchy was led by a number of prominent and wealthy Athenians. Introduction The Athenian coup of 411 BC was the result of a revolution that took place during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. The coup overthrew the democratic government of ancient Athens and replaced it with a short-lived oligarchy known[…]

Tyranny as the Inevitable Outcome of Democracy in Ancient Athens

Power belonged to anyone who could harness the collective will of the citizens directly by appealing to their emotions. Introduction Plato, one of the earliest thinkers and writers about democracy, predicted that letting people govern themselves would eventually lead the masses to support the rule of tyrants. When I tell my college-level philosophy students that[…]

Culture and Society in Classical Athens

Athenian prominence in the story of Classical Greece is no accident. Introduction As mentioned in the previous chapter, the prosperity and cultural achievements of Athens in the mid-fifth century B.C. have led to this period being called a Golden Age in the city-state’s history. The state of the surviving ancient evidence, which consistently comes more[…]

The Life of Alcibiades: Liar, Coward, and Traitor of Ancient Athens

During the course of the Peloponnesian War, Alcibiades changed his allegiance on several occasions. Introduction Alcibiades Cleiniou Scambonides, meaning Alcibiades, son of Cleinias, from the deme of Skambonidai; c. 450–404 B.C.E.), was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother’s aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from[…]

The Peloponnesian War and Its Aftermath at Athens

The losses that Athens suffered in the Peloponnesian War show the sad consequences of the repeated unwillingness to negotiate peace. Introduction Athens and Sparta had cooperated in the fight against Xerxes’ great invasion of Greece in 480–479 B.C., but by the middle of the fifth century B.C. relations between the two most powerful states of[…]