When did Athens emerge as the wealthiest Greek city-state

Athens is one of the world’s oldest named settlements, populated for 5,000 years.

Athens, located in southern Europe, rose to prominence as the principal metropolis of Ancient Greece in 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 Crusades (12th and 13th centuries), profiting from Italian trade. 

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

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.

What was the impact of Athens’ Golden Age on Greece?

Greece’s “golden period” lasted little more than a century, yet it laid the groundwork for Western civilization.

The period began with the improbable defeat of a substantial Persian army by outnumbered Greeks and ended with a vile and protracted battle between Athens and Sparta.

The Antiquity Age of Athens 

The fortifications of Mycenae
The fortifications of Mycenae

Athens has been populated since the Neolithic period, maybe as early as the end of the fourth millennium B.C., or for over 5,000 years.

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By 1412 BC, the hamlet had become a significant hub of the Mycenaean culture. 

The Acropolis was the location of a massive Mycenaean fortification, the remnants of which may be identified by sections of the distinctive Cyclopean walls.

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

Between 1250 and 1200 BC, a staircase was erected down a crevice in the rock to access a water supply. It was guarded against enemy incursions, analogous to related projects carried out at Mycenae. 

Unlike other Mycenaean cities such as Mycenae and Pylos, it is unknown whether Athens was destroyed around 1200 BC, as is usually assumed, by a Dorian incursion.

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

However, like many 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 from 900 BC onwards, Athens was one of the region’s primary centers of trade and prosperity, along with Lefkandi in Euboea and Knossos in Crete.

This status could have stemmed from its central placement in the Greek world, stable grip on the Acropolis, and proximity to the sea, which gave it a natural benefit over inland rivals like Thebes and Sparta. 

Athens was once controlled by kings, which may have lasted until the 9th century B.C. These kings presided over a land-owning elite known as the Eupatridae- the ‘well-born,’ whose authority vehicle was a Council. 

The kings were elected by the senior city authorities, the archons, and the polemarch (commander-in-chief).

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

During this time, Athens was prosperous in drawing the other towns of Attica under its control.

This process of synoikismos – bringing together into one house – created the most prominent and wealthiest state on the Greek mainland, Athens.

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 was reduced by prohibiting the subjugation of Athenian citizens as a punitive action for debt (debt bondage).

He also broke up large landed estates and allowed the onset of a thriving urban trading class. Solon divided the Athenians into four political classes based on their wealth and ability to perform military service.

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

Likewise, they were also allowed to vote in the Ecclesia (Assembly). However, only the elite classes were permitted to occupy the political office. The Areopagus survived, but its powers were diminished.

The new system laid the groundwork for what became Athenian democracy, but it ceased to pacify class warfare in the short term. After twenty years of turmoil, the popular party headed by Peisistratos took control. 

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Peisistratos is commonly referred to as a tyrant, but the Greek word tyrannos does not refer to a cruel and despotic ruler but instead to one who seized power by force. 

Peisistratos was a famous king who made Athens affluent, influential, and a cultural center. He upheld the Solonian Constitution while ensuring that he and his family held all governmental offices.

Peisistratus constructed the first aqueduct canal in Athens, which was most likely fed by springs on Mount Hymettos and beside the Ilissos river.

It supplied the fountain residence in the southeast quadrant of the Agora, among other buildings. It also had a lot of tributaries. 

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

Several portions featured round, oval, or square access holes on top. This system’s pipe portions may be seen at the Evangelismos and Syntagma Metro stations.

Peisistratos died in 527 BC, and his sons Hippias and Hipparchus succeeded him. They proved to be considerably less capable rulers, and Hipparchus was killed in 514 BC in a private disagreement over a young man. 

As a result, Hippias established a true dictatorship, which was much despised. In 510 BC, he was deposed. Cleisthenes, a radical politician with an aristocratic background, seized over and created democracy in Athens.

Cleisthenes’ reforms substituted the traditional four phyles (‘tribes’) with ten new ones, named after legendary heroes and without regard for class; they were, in fact, electorates.

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

The majority of government offices were filled by a lot, except for the ten strategoi (generals), who were elected.

With a few minor interruptions, this arrangement remained for 170 years until Philip II of Macedon defeated Athens and Thebes 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

At the time, the Persian Empire was governed by Emperor Darius I (the Great, r. 522-486 BCE), who rapidly crushed the insurrection and subsequently despatched a force against Athens. 

The Persians were destroyed at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, losing almost 6,000 soldiers to the clever tactics of Athenian general Miltiades (l. 554-489 BCE), who lost only 192 soldiers. 

The Persian military was thought to be unstoppable at the time. Therefore this victory boosted the Athenians’ already strong self-esteem.

To revenge for his father’s insult, Darius I’s son and successor, Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE), amassed the world’s greatest army at the time. 

He then began an invasion of Greece, with Athens as the primary objective, in 480 BCE.

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The Spartan king Leonidas (d. 480 BCE) and his famed 300 warriors held their men at Thermopylae, but after conquering and killing them, Greece lay open for annexation.

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

This capitulation was accompanied by the ground combat of Plataea and Mycale in 479 BCE. This pushed the Persians from Greece and formed Athens as a powerhouse.

Under Pericles, Athens established the Delian League, reportedly to forge a unified Greek network among 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. 

Pericles utilized the money from the alliance to beautify and defend Athens, and the city grew so powerful under his leadership that the Athenian Empire could practically control the laws, customs, and commerce of all its neighbors 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, and brilliant intellectuals, writers, and artists thrived in the city.

The “father of history,” Herodotus (about 484-425/423 BCE), lived and authored in Athens. Socrates, the “Father of Philosophy,” lectured in the marketplace (470/469-399 BCE). 

Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine,” also practiced from around 460 to 370 BCE. Phidias (c. 480-430 BCE) created magnificent masterpieces of Greek sculpture for the Parthenon on the Acropolis and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders.

Sophocles (c. 496 – c. 406 BCE) popularized Greek plays, including comedy and tragedy. Pindar (c. 518 – c. 448 BCE) also penned his Odes here. 

Plato (l. 428/427-348/347 BCE) established his Academy outside the walls of Athens in 385 BCE. Aristotle (l. 384-322 BCE) established his Lyceum in the city center. 

The might of the Athenian Empire fostered hubris among politicians of the day, which became unbearable to its neighbors.

When Athens sent troops to assist Sparta in putting down a Helot insurrection, the Spartans rebuffed the overture. 

They sent the Athenian army back home in dishonor, igniting a long-brewing war.

Later, when Athens dispatched a navy to assist its friend Corcyra (Corfu) in defending itself against a Corinthian assault during the Battle of Sybota in 433 BCE, Sparta misinterpreted their actions as aggression rather than support Corinth was an ally of Sparta.


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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