When did Athens emerge as the wealthiest Greek city-state?

Athens, one of the world’s oldest named settlements was populated for over 5000 years.

Athens, located in southern Europe, rose to prominence as the principal metropolis of Ancient Greece around the 1st millennium B.C. 

Its contextual contributions in the 5th century B.C. set the groundwork for Western civilization. The city declined during the initial Middle Ages, then rebounded during the subsequent Byzantine Empire

Athens was relatively affluent during the era of the Crusades, around the 12-13th Centuries, profiting from Italian trade. 

After significant decadence under Ottoman rule, Athens was re-established as the headquarters of the autonomous and self-governed Greek state in the 19th century.

Several Greek city-states suffered from issues during the Archaic period, including factionalism within aristocratic families, antagonism between aristocrats and the masses, and dictatorship.

Sparta, like Athens, devised a one-of-a-kind solution to the Archaic issue. By 500 BC, Athens’ issues had mainly been overcome.

The last tyrant had been deposed, Athens had a democratic administration, and aristocratic inertia was mainly limited to running for office and convincing the Assembly. 

In other words, the Athenians had become the second most crucial Greek polis because of their peaceful coexistence, prosperity, and large population.

They were set to play a significant role in the great battle. As the Greek city-states developed, the Persian Empire grew into an aspiring behemoth that threatened to overrun the Hellenic world.

A mighty Athens would be critical in defending Greece against the Persian rulers Darius I and Xerxes. 

When did Athens become Greece’s capital?

On September 18, 1834, Athens was named the capital of the Greek state by a decision signed by the regency council working on behalf of King Otto (who was still a minor at the time).

Other cities vying for the post included Argos, Corinth, Piraeus, and Nafplio, the latter of which was the capital at the time.

When was Athens’ Golden Age?

The Athenian golden era is commonly dated from 449 to 431 B.C., during the years of considerable peace between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars.

Following the second Persian conquest of Greece in 479, Athens and its Aegean allies founded the Delian League, a military organization aimed at countering the Persian menace.

The Antiquity Age of Athens 

The fortifications of Mycenae
The fortifications of Mycenae

Athens was populated since the Neolithic period, around the final years of the 4th millennium B.C.

The hamlet had become a significant hub of the Mycenaean culture during 1412 B.C. 

The Acropolis as the location of a massive Mycenaean fortification had the remnants of which may be identified as portions of the distinctive Cyclopean walls.

Cuttings in the granite on the Acropolis’s summit, under the later Erechtheion, have been proposed as the site of a Mycenaean residence. 

A staircase was erected down a crevice in a huge rock to access the supply of water supply somewhere around 1250 and 1200 BC. It was guarded against enemy incursions, analogous to related projects that took place at Mycenae. 

It is still unknown whether Athens was destroyed around 1200 BC, as is usually assumed, by a Dorian incursion. They mostly claimed themselves to be pure lonians having no element of Dorian.

The Athenians always claimed to be ‘pure’ Ionians with no Dorian ancestors.

However, as most other Bronze Age cities, Athens experienced economic stagnation for the next 150 years. Iron Age tombs at the Kerameikos and elsewhere are frequently well-provided for.

The demonstration backs this statement that Athens was one of the region’s primary centers of economic activities such as import, trade, export, and prosperity, along with Lefkandi in Euboea and Knossos in Crete beginning from 900 BC.

This status could have stemmed from the central placement in Greek, stable grip on the Acropolis, and proximity to the sea, giving it benefits over Thebes and Sparta, their inland rivals. 

Athens was once controlled by kings, lasting around the 9th century B.C. These kings presided over the Eupatridae, the ones who owned the land, with Council as their authority vehicle. 

The kings were elected by the senior city authorities and commander-in-chief, also known as the archons and the polemarch, respectively.

Theseus, a significant person in Greek mythology, slew the Minotaur and became Athens’ most renowned king.

Athens, during the time of Theseus, was able to take control of two major towns of Attica. This act of bringing towns under one house made Athens Greek’s most prominent and wealthiest state.

Democratic Reforms in Athens 

Painting depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration
Painting depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration

Solon’s reforms addressed political as well as economic concerns. The Eupatridae’s economic power declined after prohibiting the subjugation of the citizens of Athen as a punitive action for debt.

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He also broke massive estates and allowed the onset of a thriving urban trading class. Solon then made 4 political classes and Athenians were placed under each class based on their capability to perform during military service and the amount of wealth they owned.

For the first time, the poorest class, the Thetai (Ancient Greek), who made up the majority of the population, were granted political rights. 

With the class division, the Athenians were given the right to vote in the Assembly or the Ecclesia. However, only the people belonging to the Elite class had the privilege to occupy the political offices.

The groundwork for the Athenian democracy was created with the class division and the reform, but it ceased to pacify class warfare within a short period of time.

The situation lasted for over 20 years until the new power of the political party headed by Peisistratos took control. 

Peisistratos became a famous king for making Athens affluent, influential, and a cultural center.

Peisistratus constructed Athen’s first aqueduct, which was most likely fed by springs on Mount Hymettos and the Ilissos river.

It was superseded by the 4th century B.C. with a network of terracotta tubes built with stone subterranean channels known as the Hymettos aqueduct.

Several portions featured holes on top having various shapes such as oval, square, and round. This system’s pipe portions may be seen at different places like the Metro stations of Syntagma and Evangelismos.

Peisistratos’s two sons Hipparchus and Hippias succeeded him after his death in 527 BC. They were comparatively less capable rulers, and Hipparchus was killed in 514 BC in a disagreement with a young citizen of Athens. 

As a result, Hippias established a true dictatorship, which was much despised. In 510 BC, he was deposed. after Cleisthenes, an aristocratic politician, seized over making Athens a democratic state.

Cleisthenes’ reforms substituted the previously formed four phyles or the tribes with 10 other newly made tribes.

Except in murder cases and religious affairs, which became the Areopagus’ only surviving powers, the Assembly allowed all residents and served as the legislature and the highest court.

These arrangements remained for over 170 years and were changed in 338 BC after Athens and Thebes were defeated by Philip II of Macedon at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.

The Persian War

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior fighting each other
Greek hoplite and Persian warriors fighting each other

The Persian Empire was governed by Emperor Darius I during the Persian Wars. He rapidly crushed the insurrection and subsequently despatched some army to go against the Athenians. 

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However, at the Battle of Marathon which took place in 490 BCE, the Persian force was unable to gain victory against the Athena. The Athenian force with the general Miltiades was able to win over due to their astonishing strategies and tactics.

This war took the lives of over 6000 Persian forces and around 192 Athenian forces.

To revenge for his father’s insult, Xerxes I in 480 BC, amassed the world’s greatest army at the time and headed forward to invade Greece along with Athens.

King Leonidas of Spartan and his famed 300 warriors held their men at Thermopylae. However, Greece laid open annexation after defeating them.

The navy of Persia was annihilated by Athenian-led militaries at the Battle of Salamis when General Themistocles of Athens (l. 524-460 BCE) bested and outhustled them.

This capitulation was accompanied in 479 BCE by the ground combat of Plataea and Mycale. This incident led to Persians evading away from Green and establishing themselves in Athens.

Athens then established the Delian League while being supervised under Pericles and forged a unified network of Greek around the city-states to repel further Persian incursions.

The other city-states contributed to the Delian League’s coffers in exchange for Athens’ promise to safeguard them from Persian attack. 

The money that arose from the alliance was used by Pericles to defend Athens. This movement transformed the city of Athens into a powerful Empire that could control its own customs and laws, and also have proper trade relations with its neighboring states, especially in Attica and the Aegean islands.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona
The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona

Athens reached its golden period under Pericles with the flourishment of brilliant intellectuals, artists, composers, and writers namely the “father of history,” Herodotus, and Socrates, the “Father of Philosophy”.

Similarly, Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine,” also practiced from around 460 to 370 BCE. Phidias came up with magnificent masterpieces of Greek sculpture and one of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Sophocles popularized Greek plays, including comedy and tragedy, in 385 BCE Plato established his Academy in Athens while Aristotle established his Lyceum at the center of the Athens city. 


The Greek city-state of Athens began to establish the groundwork for a new type of governmental organization in the late 6th century B.C. This demokratia, as it became called, was a direct democracy. 

This system gave political authority to free male Athenian inhabitants rather than a ruling elite class or dictator, which had long been Athens’s standard.

It laid the groundwork for Athens to be one of the most powerful city-states of ancient Greece. 

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