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"Giants" at the Odeion of Agrippa. Athens, Agora.

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Athens, Tomb of Philopappos.

View toward the Acropolis, from W, Athens

Overall view from Lykabettos, Athens, Stadium

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View of the Hephaisteion in the Agora. Athens, Agora.

Aerial view of Stadium, Athens

Summary: Fortified city and center of a major city-state.
Type: Fortified city
Region: Attica



Early Bronze Age

Middle Bronze Age

Late Bronze Age

Dark Age









Located in the center of a large plain, enclosed on all but S side by mountains, Athens is ca. 7 km inland from its seaport at Piraeus. The site has been continuously inhabited from Neolithic times to the present. The plateau and the slopes of the Acropolis hill were the area of earliest settlement and later became the religious center of the ancient city. S of the Acropolis, in the Ilissos district, were many sanctuaries and athletic establishments. N of the Acropolis is the Agora, the civic and social center of the ancient city and N of the Agora is the Kerameikos (the potters' quarter), the Sacred Gate (opening toward Eleusis) and, beyond the city walls, the cemetery. W of the Acropolis are the hills of the Areopagus (site of the most ancient court of Athens), the Pnyx (meeting place of the popular assembly), and the Hills of the Muses and the Nymphs. The NW quarter of the city was occupied by artisans and tradesmen and farther W the Long Walls linked Athens to the harbor city of Piraeus.


The natural defenses of the Acropolis, with fresh water springs at its base and a vista of the plain and distant coast, was a focus for prehistoric settlement, and by the Late Bronze Age a Mycenaean citadel occupied the summit. This citadel was one of the few Mycenaean centers to survive the upheavals and destruction of the later 13th century B.C. and may have served as a refuge for those fleeing other parts of the collapsing empire. According to tradition, Theseus, the king of Athens at this time (or somewhat later) unified the towns of Attica in the synoecism (amalgamation) and founded the first city-state of Athens.

Although the city does not seem to have had a circuit wall until the 6th century B.C. (when it was built by Solon or Peisistratos), the 13th century citadel continued to serve the city and, in fact, these defenses were still in use at the time of the Persian invasion in 480 B.C. The Acropolis began its transformation into a purely religious area in 566 B.C. when Peisistratos instituted the festival and games of the Great Panathenaia and the great ramp and 1st temples were built on the Acropolis. Religious constructions, although interrupted by the Persian invasion, continued from the 6th century through the Roman period. Numerous sanctuaries, shrines and other buildings of religious character were established on the Acropolis slopes (where prior to the 6th century, habitations, shops, and cemeteries had been located).

The Agora of Theseus' time was located on the NW slope of the Acropolis while the later Agora of Solon was placed to the N of the Areopagus. In the mid 6th century the Agora shifted to its 3rd and final location.

After the Persian destruction of Athens and the Acropolis in 480 B.C., major rebuilding began under the archonship of Themistocles. A new and much extended wall was built around the city and the fortification of the Piraeus which had been initiated in 493 B.C. were completed. Under the rule of Pericles in the 5th century, the masterworks of the classical age were created on the Acropolis, and in the lower city. The Athenian city walls were destroyed by the Spartans in 404 B.C., but again rebuilt by Konon in 394 B.C.

In 86 B.C. the walls of Athens and Piraeus were demolished by Sulla and the city remained unwalled until the time of Valerian (253-260 A.D.). The new walls included the new city which had been built by Hadrian. Valerian also re fortified the Acropolis.

In spite of Valerian's fortifications of the city, Athens suffered a devastation by the Herulians in 267 A.D. After the Herulian destruction a smaller circuit wall (known as the Late Roman Wall) was built to the N of the Acropolis. The outer ancient circuit wall was repaired in Justinian's time and in use up to 1204 A.D.

In 529 A.D. Justinian closed the internationally famous philosophical schools of Athens, but it retained its reputation as an intellectual center throughout the Byzantine period.


Excavations began after Independence in 1833 and continue almost without interruption to the present under Greek and foreign auspices.

Sources Used:

Rossiter 1977, 61-167; PECS, 106-110; Leekley and Noyes 1976, 3 ff.

Other Bibliography:

C. Wachsmuth, Die Stadt Athen im Alterthum, I-II (1874-90). J.E. Harrison and M. de G. Verrall, Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens (1890). E. Curtius, Die Stadgeschichte von Athen (1891). J.G. Frazer, Pausanias's Description of Greece I-VI (1898). P. Cavvadias and G. Kawerau, Die Ausgrabung der Akropolis vom Jahre 1885 bis zum Jahre 1890 (1906). O. Walter, Athen Akropolis (1929). W. Judeich, Topographie von Athen (2nd ed) (1931). W. Wrede, Attische Mauern (1933). G.P. Stevens, "Architectural Studies Concerning the Acropolis of Athens," Hesperia 15 (1946) 73-106. Excavation reports from Kerameikos = Kerameikos, Ergebnisse des Ausgrabungen, Vol. 1-6 (1939-70 Berlin). Excavation reports from the Agora = The Athenian Agora. Results of Excavations Conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 1-20 (1953-74 Princeton). H.A. Thompson and R.L. Scranton, "Stoas and City Walls on the Pnyx," Hesperia 7 (1943) 269-301. H.A. Thompson, The Athenian Agora: A Guide to the Excavation and Museum (1962). O. Broneer, "Plato's Description of Early Athens"; Hesperia Suppl. 8 (1949) 49-59. I.T. Hill, The Ancient City of Athens (1953). J. Travlos, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens (1971).

W.M. Leake, The Topography of Athens (1841 London). J. Stuart and N. Revett, The Antiquities of Athens I-IV (1762-1816 London). L. Ross, Archäologische Aufsätze I-II (1855-1861 Leipzig). J.G. Frazer, Pausanias's Description of Greece, Vol. II (1898 London). J. E. Harrison and M. de G. Verrall, Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens (1890 London). J. E. Harrison, Primitive Athens as Described by Thucydides (1906 Cambridge). W. Judeich, Topographie von Athen (2nd ed) (1931 Munich). I.T. Hill, The Ancient City of Athens (1953 London). J. Travlos, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens (1971 London). J. Travlos, Athens, Ekistic Elements, First Report. Ancient Greek Cities no. 17 (1972 Athens), ( P. Graindor, Athènes sous Auguste (1927 Cairo). P. Graindor, Athènes sous Hadrien (1934 Cairo). Annual rescue excavations in ArchDelt since 1960. E. Beulé, L'Acropole d'Athènes, I-II (1953-54).