Athens (ancient city)

Article

July 5, 2022

The polis of Athens was in ancient times one of the major centers of ancient Greece and the Mediterranean area, leaving a deep trace in the cultural and political history of Europe and the Western world. Athens was a city-state, the first in the history of mankind to adopt a democratic political system. It is also considered the cradle of theater, philosophy, historiography, pedagogy and politics, understood as the active participation of citizens. It was born in Attica, a territory rich in agricultural and mineral resources; already at the time of the Mycenaeans in that place stood a fortified citadel. Athens proper, however, was born in the eighth century BC. with the Egyptian king Cecrops and among his sovereigns he could include Aegeus and Theseus. Furthermore, Athens was originally a tribal society: in fact the population was divided into four parts and each part was divided into several families.

Foundation of the city

The founding myth

According to the founding myth, Athens was founded in 1500 BC. by two gods, Poseidon and Athena, who, however, subsequently began to quarrel over which of them should have given their name and their protection to the city. The two deities decided to put themselves to the judgment of the Athenians: Poseidon gave them a splendid horse and promised his support in battle, Athena instead offered a magnificent olive tree and promised the inhabitants the gift of wisdom, intelligence and peace. The Athenians, after a long discussion, decided to entrust themselves to Athena, from which the name derives. The goddess of war made the Egyptian Cecrops, who was half man and half snake, first king. Athens was then ruled by ten (human) kings, including Theseus and the last Codro, who, having learned from the oracle of Delphi that the Dorians who were besieging Athens would lose only if they killed him, then sneaked between the enemies and these, recognizing him as a spy, killed him.

In historiography

Athens was founded in 1500 BC. and there was probably a small Mycenaean center, concentrated only on the present Acropolis hill. The city somehow managed to escape the Doric invasions and during the so-called Hellenic Middle Ages it began to develop. According to the historiographical tradition, the citizens of Attica were organized by the mythical king Cecrops in a dodecapolis, that is a union or confederation of 12 settlements. Centuries later, through the procedure of synecism, Attica would have been united in a single civic body and therefore a single polis by the mythical king Theseus. The disappearance of the Mycenaean civilization led to the birth of a new social order of an oligarchic type and the advent in the judiciary of the representatives of the four emerging tribes in Attica, in turn divided into phratries (union of several clans), which became an important expression of Athenian social and religious life.

Political-social structure

Sovereigns

The social organization foresees, even in Athens, in the "mythical" age that the command was in the hands of the king. Strabo, quoting Philocorus, affirms that Cecropia was one of the twelve cities founded in Attica by the mythical king of Athens Cecrops, and which later Theseus had united in the city of Athens; Cecropia was precisely the initial nucleus of Athens. There are four kings before the hero Theseus and another seven until the descent of the Dorians; then other sovereigns.

Archons

Between 1038 BC and 753 BC the government was entrusted to 9 archons, who were first of the magistrates elected for life and then transformed into a ten-year office until 682 BC. when it became annual. The king remained to carry out the religious functions and to preside over the areopagus, because the supreme military command passed into the hands of an archon, while the civil and judicial offices were presided over by the archon flanked by the thesmothets. The nine offices formed the college of the 9 archons, whose office was annual and all of noble extraction.