Ancient   Athens

    The city of athens was one of the most prominent regions of ancient greece. The people of this city enjoyed great wealth and entertainment as artists and writers flocked to a place where there work would be appreciated. over time, however, arrogance over the cities prosperity and an anger with anyone who disagreed with their stance on religion, caused athens to make decisions that led to the cities eventual downfall and demise.


    athens reached it’s greatest period of prosperity from 425 to 350 BC. During this time, artists and creative minds from all over the ancient world came to the city, having heard that this was the place for their work to find an audience. Athens fought in two great wars throughout it’s history, and thE period of artistic and intellectual stimulation came right in between those wars. When the first war, known as the Persian war, ended in a greek victory, the athenians were the final army to send the defeated persians home. athens suddenly became a city of might and celebration. wealth flourished throughout the city walls. this led to athens reaching areas of great success in art, literature, and philosophy, but the new power and status athens had achieved also caused the people to view themselves as superior to other greeks. pride and celebration quickly became arrogance and it wasn’t long before the spartans who had allied with athens in the persian war, were now looking at the athenians as potential enemies. it was the second great war that athens fought, the peloponnesian war against sparta, and the poor decisions the athenians made due to it’s narcissism, that led to a loss in that war and the cities downfall shortly after.


Following the end of the persian wars, in which athens had defeated persia both at the battle of marathon and then again at salamis, the athenians suddenly came into some money. they found rich deposits of silver under ground, which added on to the newfound wealth of the city. the athenians used this extra money to build up their navy into a stronger force and one that all other cities would fear.


It was because of this money and the people’s willingness to freely spend it that artists now began pouring into the city. this was a city that appreciated the finer creative arts and minds, as if they had suddenly undergone an awakening after winning the war and now realized that there was greatness out there that needed to be enjoyed and marveled at.


In literature, the greek poet homer wrote both the iliad and the odyssey. the iliad told of stories from the mediterranean area about the legendary war between greece and troy. the odyssey was homer putting a greek spin on some of the tales of ancient egypt. he fused both stories with greek gods and had these gods come down and interact with humans, even fighting alongside them on the battlefields.


While homer was pioneering his stories, another author named sophocles was working on plays. he wrote out eighty minute narrative pieces, such as oedipus rex, to be told by a bard on stage in front of an audience. at that time the whole play consisted of a single man telling the story to the crowd, perhaps backed up by a chorus. then one day a storyteller named thespius decided to do impressions of his characters as he told of their story. he acted out the different parts and this became the first form of acting. stories didn’t just have to be told, they could now be performed. this was all met with tremendous success.


In philosophy too, one after another, great men of wisdom came to popular acclaim by building on and even debating the ideas of each other. plato was a student of socrates. aristotle was a student of plato. and all of these men spoke to audiences of their peers, lecturing them about life and the true meaning behind the way things were and the way they should be.


but while the art was flourishing and new ideas seemed to be accepted with open minds, the truth was that people did worry and harbor resentment for things that went against their traditional ways. the poor were kept down, as the wealthy had no plans to accept and welcome in men who did not come from a wealthy family. and anyone who did not agree with or practice the common religion among the people, was seen as an outsider and a possible threat to the city.


the disparity between the wealthy and the unfortunate was even made clear in the treatment of children at young ages. Up until the age of seven, all athenian boys stayed with their mothers. this was meant to give them all a more gentle knowledge and experience with their matriarchs, before going off to learn the trade of men. They lived in the women’s quarters until this age, but once the boys turned seven years old, they were whisked off to join their fathers. if a boy came from a poor family, he now began learning the trade of his father. if his family was well off, then at age seven he began his education.


At the same time as they were beginning their education, boys from wealthy families began their infantry training while boys from poorer families were thrown right into the army. the well off boys from prominent families now received education in military training as well as reading, writing, music, and homeric poems. The works of homer were regarded so highly that they received their own subject of schooling, separate from reading.


In government, athens was known to have had the first democratic system in history, but what seemed like a situation where everyone got to vote was in actuality just forty thousand men making decisions about the entire population of two hundred and fifty thousand. these forty thousand men who ruled and made decisions for all were known as the polis, or athenian governing body.


While it might seem like these forty thousand men were at least in a position where they could take life easy and enjoy their status, the government was not such a pleasant place to be a part of either. there was an assembly designed with the sole intention of examining the performances of government officials and looking for errors made on the job. these public officials were often called in front of the assembly to have their actions questioned. they would be put on the spot to defend their decisions.


there were also specific times set aside for votes about which citizens should be ostracized from the community. the members of the polis who were present during the time of voting would submit the name on a ballot of anyone they thought was becoming too powerful. any person whose name received more than six thousand votes was then immediately ostracized and sent into exile for a period of ten years. this created a system where popularity was something to be feared. the ones whose names did not come up in the balloting were the people who kept company with only a small group of friends and made their names known as little as possible.


The Athenians placed their top priority on maintaining their status as the dominant empire of greece. they did this by building up their navy to be so powerful that other cities feared them, and by controlling the marketplace wherever possible. “Athenian pottery drove the pottery of other Greek cities out of markets all over the mediterranean,” (Canton,112). in these ways, athens was starting to become a bully, allowing it’s success to go to it’s head as the men with power became more and more arrogant.


There was also a problem with religion, for it left no room for the questioning of anything that went against a firm belief in the greek gods. the gods were tied to stories about the way things were and the ways they came to be. if anyone questioned these stories, even if it was in the pursuit of science, they were threatened with being exposed as impostors and trouble makers trying to disrespect the city’s religion. the greek gods were said to be responsible for such things as fire and the different seasons. all of this natural phenomena was explained by stories of how the gods interacted with each other and also with man. because questioning these stories was prohibited, while the athenians were making tremendous progress in art, they were restricting themselves from even looking to make any progress in science.


These firm beliefs in the gods led to many problems with some of the more important figures in athenian history. Socrates, the first great greek philosopher, preached that there was good inside everyone and that man sometimes needed to go through a self-examination to find it. This belief that man was capable of changing himself, even if his past actions were malicious, went against the gods. it claimed that the gods were not in control of how a man turned out, but that man was in control of himself. because this was viewed as challenging the gods, socrates was put on trial for trying to corrupt the minds of athenian youth.


in battle too, the athenians chose allegiance to religion over strength in arms. when a top athenian general, alcibides, did not accept the same gods as the public, he was suddenly seen as an enemy and a figure who needed to be brought down. alcibides had just planned out a massive athenian attack on sparta, and he would stay in athens while the men he trained were sent off by sea to execute his plans. no sooner had the men taken to their ships and sailed off did the athenian population begin accusing alcibides of destroying their religious statues. he was suddenly put on trial. alcibides fled to sparta and told the spartans all about the athenian attack that was coming their way. the attack was meant to be a surprise, and now the spartans were able to setup and prepare for it. this led to the greatest spartan victory of the peloponnesian war. It was the battle at syracuse, and when it was over, the scales had tilted so far in the spartan’s favor, that the whole war was nearly over.


it was arrogance like this, by the people of athens that led to the cities downfall. The athenians held onto their traditions and customs so strongly that they refused to allow anyone to even believe in anything else. WHen alcibides disagreed with the common religion, the people sacrificed military success in order to be rid of him. when socrates tried to say that man was in control of himself, he was suddenly seen as a public enemy and put on trial for his words.


the peloponnesian war might not have been lost by athens if not for their problems with alcibides, but it might not have even begun if athens hadn’t shown great disrespect toward sparta to begin with. after the persian wars were over, athens began a massive alliance with the neighboring cities of greece, known as the delian league. despite sparta contributing greatly to the victory over persia at the battle of thermopolae, athens now refused to invite sparta to join their league. athens wanted to have complete control of the league, and felt that if sparta was invited, the athenians might not be able to maintain this control. the clear rejection of sparta caused so much resentment by the spartans that it eventually led to the war. the peloponnesian war was won by the spartans, but all of greece was involved and all of greece was weakened by the time the war came to an end. alexander the great of macedonia and his father, king phillip, saw how weakened greece had become, and marched right over the land, conquering the once powerful empire. the prosperous golden days of athens were now over. The Arrogance of athens following it’s defeat over persia, caused the city to make hasty and unwise decisions that led to the cities downfall.