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ancient Athens

Athens was one of the great cities of Europe in Greek and Roman times. It reached the height of its glory under Pericles in the -400s. Even under Roman rule, when Greece was poor and broken, Athens was still a great seat of learning.

Today Athens is the largest and greatest city in Greece, but for a over a thousand years Constantinople, not Athens, was the centre of the Greek world, from the 300s till the 1400s. It was not till the 1800s that Athens was back on top.

In the middle of Athens is a long hill with a flat top: the Acropolis, the high city. Its sides go straight down in cliffs. On top are the remains of ancient temples, the biggest and most famous one being the Parthenon.

The Parthenon was the temple to the virgin goddess, Athena. Later it became a Christian church and then a Muslim mosque. In the 1600s the roof was blown off during a war between Venice and the Turks. In the early 1800s in the time of Napoleon the British carted away parts of it and put them in the British Museum (losing some of it at sea).  But even so it is still a thing of beauty.

The Parthenon was built in the -400s taking the place of an older temple to Athena. It was partly painted in red, blue and gold. Inside was a huge statue of Athena made of gold and ivory. Its columns are not all straight and the same but are made so the temple “looks right” when viewed from the ground. That is what makes it look more graceful than most temples.

So many people have visited it over the years that some of the rocks nearby have become smooth enough that you can slip on them.

The Parthenon was built when Athens was a great sea power, the centre of an empire. Athens sold olive oil and pots. It had a silver mine, university-level schools and some of the greatest thinkers and writers of all time. People like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

Because of its writers, Athenian or Attic Greek became the way to write Greek for a thousand years. And because of its writers we know more about Athens than almost any other ancient city.

Athens could not grow enough of its own food. It was fed by wheat grown by Scythians on the shores of the Black Sea. So its food came from over the seas. That meant Athens needed to be a sea power: without control of the seas an enemy could cut off its food. Which is what did in Athens in the end.

After enjoying great wealth and power it overreached itself and found itself locked in a fight to the death with Sparta. Sparta won. Yet Athens shined brightest when it fell: those who lived through those times, like Plato, Thucydides and Aristophanes, produced some of its greatest works.

– Abagond, 2008.

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