ath'-enz Athenai In antiquity the celebrated metropolis of Attica, now the capital of Greece. Two long walls, 250 ft. apart, connected the city with the harbor (Peiraeus). In Acts 17 we are told what Paul did during his single sojourn in this famous city. He came up from the sea by the new road (North of the ancient) along which were altars of unknown gods, entered the city from the West, and passed by the Ceramicus (burial-ground), which can be seen to this day, the "Theseum," the best preserved of all Greek temples, and on to the Agora (Market-Place), just North of the Acropolis, a steep hill, 200 ft. high, in the center of the city. Cimon began and Pericles completed the work of transforming this citadel into a sanctuary for the patron goddess of the city.
The magnificent gateway (Propylaea), of which the Athenians were justly proud, was built by Mnesicles (437-432 BC). A monumental bronze statue by Phidias stood on the left, as one emerged on the plateau, and the mighty Parthenon a little further on, to the right. In this temple was the famous gold and ivory statue of Athena. The eastern pediment contained sculptures representing the birth of the goddess (Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum), the western depicting her contest with Poseidon for supremacy over Attica. This, the most celebrated edifice, architecturally, in all history, was partially destroyed by the Venetians in 1687. Other temples on the Acropolis are the Erechtheum and the "Wingless Victory." In the city the streets were exceedingly narrow and crooked. The wider avenues were called plateiai, whence English "place," Spanish "plaza." The roofs of the houses were flat. In and around the Agora were many porticoes stoai. In the Stoa Poecile ("Painted Portico"), whose walls were covered with historical paintings, Paul met with the successors of Zeno, the Stoics, with whom he disputed daily. In this vicinity also was the Senate Chamber for the Council of Five Hundred, and the Court of the Areopagus, whither Socrates came in 399 BC to face his accusers, and where Paul, five centuries later, preached to the Athenians "the unknown God." In this neighborhood also were the Tower of the Winds and the water-clock, which must have attracted Paul's attention, as they attract our attention today.
The apostle disputed in the synagogue with the Jews (Acts 17:17), and a slab found at the foot of Mount Hymettus (a range to the East of the city, 3,000 ft. high), with the inscription haute he pule tou kuriou, dikaioi eiseleusontai en aute (Psalms 118:20), was once thought to indicate the site, but is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th century. Slabs bearing Jewish inscriptions have been found in the city itself.
The population of Athens was at least a quarter of a million. The oldest inhabitants were Pelasgians. Cecrops, the first traditional king, came from Egypt in 1556 BC, and by marrying the daughter of Actaeon, obtained the sovereignty. The first king was Erechtheus. Theseus united the twelve communities of Attica and made Athens the capital. After the death of Codrus in 1068 BC, the governing power was entrusted to an archon who held office for life. In 753 BC the term of office was limited to ten years. In 683 BC nine archons were chosen for a term of one year. Draco's laws, "written in blood," were made in 620 BC. Solon was chosen archon in 594 BC and gave the state a constitution. The tyrant Pisistratus was in control permanently from 541 to 527 BC; his son Hipparchus was assassinated in 514. Clisthenes changed the constitution and introduced the practice of ostracism.
In 490 BC the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, and again in 480 BC at Salamis. In 476 BC Aristides organized the great Athenian Confederacy. After his death Conon became the leader of the conservative party; and when the general Cimon was killed, Pericles became the leader of the people. In 431 BC the Peloponnesian War broke out and continued till 404 BC, when Athens succumbed to Sparta. An oligarchical government was set up with Critias and Theramenes at the head. War broke out again but peace was restored by the pact of Antalcidas (387 BC). In the Sacred War (357-355 BC) Athens exhausted her strength. When Philip of Macedon began to interfere in Greek affairs, Athens could neither resolve on war measures (to which the oratory of Demosthenes incited her), nor make terms with Philip. Finally, she joined Thebes in making armed resistance, but in spite of her heroic efforts at Chaeronea, she suffered defeat (338 BC). Philip was murdered in 336 BC, and Alexander the Great became master.
After the subjugation of Greece by the Romans, Athens was placed under the supervision of the governor of Macedonia, but was granted local independence in recognition of her great history. As the seat of Greek art and science, Athens played an important role even under Roman sway--she became the university city of the Roman world, and from her radiated spiritual light and intellectual energy to Tarsus, Antioch and Alexandria. Philo, the Jew, declares that the Athenians were Hellenon oxuderkestatoi dianoian ("keenest in intellect") and adds that Athens was to Greece what the pupil is to the eye, or reason to the soul. Although the city had lost her real independence, the people retained their old characteristics:
they were still interested in art, literature and philosophy.
Paul may possibly have attended theater of Dionysus (under the Southeast cliff of the Acropolis) and witnessed a play of the Greek poets, such as Euripides or Menander. Many gifts were received from foreign monarchs by Athens. Attalus I of Perg amum endowed the Academy, Eumenes added a splendid Stoa to theater and Antiochus Epiphanes began the Olympeium (15 columns of which are still standing), the massive sub-basement of which had been constructed by Pisistratus. Athens became a favorite residence for foreign writers who cultivated history, geography and literature. Horace, Brutus and Cassius sojourned in the city for some time. Josephus declares that the Athenians were the most god-fearing of the Greeks eusebestatous ton Hellenon. Compare Livy xlv.27.
See Wordsworth, Athens and Attica; Butler, Story of Athens; Ernest Gardner, Ancient Athens; Tucker, Life in Ancient Athens; A. Mommsen, Athenae Christianae; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of Paul, chapter x; Gregorovius, Stadt Athen im Mittelalter; Leake, Grote, Thirlwall, Curtius, Wachsmuth, Holm, and Pausanias' Attica, recently edited by Carroll (Ginn and Co.), or in the large work of Frazer.
J. E. Harry
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