Athens, Greece » City Info » History

Athens is well-known as the birthplace of western civilisation and has a rich history of over 4,500 years. The leading city of ancient Greece began its long age of civilisation from the 1st millennium BC.

The Mycenaean settlement began somewhere around 1400 BC in ancient Athens. Unlike Pylos and Mycenae, settlement in Athens was not forsaken by the Doric invasion. Hence, Athenians always claimed to be pure Ionians with no Doric aspect. Unfortunately, Athens lost its power and diminished into a small hill-fort on the top of the Acropolis. In the 3rd millennium BC, the settlement was spread only across 20km of land, although suburbs extended well beyond the walled city. Acropolis was situated at the south of the heart of the ancient walled city.

In the 9th century BC, Athens secured a stronghold on the Acropolis and became a part of the Greek world. Athens also took hold of the towns of Attica under the ruling of Solon. Its natural access to the sea gave it an advantage over its rivals, Sparta and Thebes. During this time, the enslavement of Athenian citizens was forbidden, and the poorest class, the Thetai, received rights to vote in the Ecclesia (Assembly) and other political rights. This system laid the foundation for democratic Athens but soon failed to resolve class conflict. After 20 years, a cousin of Solon, Peisistratus, took over the charge of the city and made Athens a hub of power, wealth, and culture. He established the Athenian naval supremacy in the Aegean Sea and beyond. The ruling of Peisistratus was taken over by his sons Hipparchus and Hippias after his death in 527. Hippias introduced real dictatorship.

Troops were sent from Athens to aid the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, who were fighting against the Persian Empire in 499 BC. This aggravated the Persians to invade Greek twice. Both the Persian invasions were defeated under the leadership of Miltiades and Themistocles, Athenian Soldier statesmen. With the victory over the Macedonian conquest and Persian wars, Aegean and most of the other parts of Greece came in together in an Athenian-dominated alliance, the Delian League. Athens also became a centre of philosophy, arts, and literature during this time. The leading statesman, Pericles, used the tribute paid by the members of the Delian League to build the Parthenon and other great monuments of classical Athens. Athens was also home to the leading philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, famous dramatists Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes, well-known historians Xenophon, Thucydides and Herodotus, the legendary poet Simonides and the renowned sculptor Phidias during this era.

In 431, Peloponnesian War took place that led to the end of the Athenian power over the sea and the victory of Sparta. Thrasybulus restored democracy in 403. Allies of Athens, Corinth, Argos and Thebes, fought with Sparta in the Corinthian War from 395 BC to 387 BC. This victory enabled Athens to establish a Second Athenian League. In 338 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Athens and widened the horizons of the Greeks by making the traditional Greek city-state archaic. Athens enjoyed a wealthy cultural lifestyle under his reign. After 200 years, Greece was engulfed into the Roman republic.

Athens, due to its widely admired schools, was given the position of a free city. Most of the Athenian houses were levelled by Sulla, Roman general, from 88 to 85 BC. In 267 AD, Athens was ransacked by the Heruli, resulting in the damage of buildings, lower city, Acropolis, and Agora. In 529 AD, schools of philosophy were stopped by emperor Justinian. This marked the end of the ancient history of Athens. The city dwindled significantly because of the barbarian raids by Slava and Avars from about 600 AD. Again Greece was re-dominated entirely in the middle of the 9th century, and Athens began to expand and recover.

The period between the 11th and 12th centuries marked the golden age of Byzantine art in Athens. Most of the important churches and other buildings were constructed during this time. In 1204, Athens was captured by Fourth Crusade and then by Ottoman Turks. During this time, the city was ruled by the Latin empire. The Catalan Company conquered Athens in 1311 and ruled the city till 1388. In 1388 the city was taken over by Florentine Nerio I Acciajuoli. Later, till 1458 the descendants of Florentine Nerio I Acciajuoli ruled over Athens.

Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II came into Athens and enfolded it into the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, under the Ottoman Empire, the city's population began to decline, and later by the 17th century, Athens was turned down into a village. A lighting bolt stroked the Propylaea in 1640, causing damage and destruction. Later in 1687, Athens was beleaguered by the Venetians. In 1778, ancient monuments were destroyed, and this provided a wall for the Ottomans to surround the city. Lord Elgin, the British resident in Athens, removed the Panathenaic frieze between 1801 and 1805. A Greek insurgency conquered Athens in 1822, but the city went back to the Ottomans in 1826. The ancient monuments were destroyed again. The fight between the Greeks and Ottoman forces went on till 1833. By 1833, the forces withdrew, and the Greek kingdom was established again. Athens became the capital of the kingdom of Greece.

Prince of Bavaria, Otto became the King of Greece in 1832. Otto adopted the Greek national dress and changed the spelling of his name to Othon. The public buildings were erected, and a modern city plan was constructed under his reign. Many monuments and buildings were built between 1837 and 1897. After the devastating war with Turkey in 1921, Athens went through its first period of explosive growth. About one million Greek refugees from Asia Minor came back and resettled in Greece.

During World War II, Athens was taken over by the Germans. There was a violent fight between the royalists supported by the British and the Communist forces in 1944. The city began to flourish again after World War II. In 1981, the city bloomed, and the entry of the Greek Kingdom into the European Union introduced new investment areas into Athens. But the city was unable to tackle its environmental and social problems, which caused a threat to the ancient monuments. Athens also failed to host the 1996 centenary Olympic Games.

Later the Greek government and Athens, supported by European Union funds, embarked on constructing major infrastructure projects such as the new metro system and Athens Airport. Athens tackled the air pollution problem, environmental and social problems. As a result, it won the bid to host the 2004 Olympic Games. The games were a success and resulted in tourism revenue to Athens.