Archaic Athens

The city during the archaic period

The Archaic period for Athens is distinguished for three reasons. The tyranny of Peisistratos, the founding of Democracy, and the Greco-Persian Wars.

Peisistratos probably built the first wall around the city. This wall was almost circular and had eight gates. Many monuments were built on the Acropolis, and for the first time an underground aqueduct was constructed to bring water from mount Hymettus. On the Acropolis, the first temple of goddess Athena was constructed. In an attempt to bring the Ionic Asia Minor cities’ elegance to Athens, he and his sons begun the construction of the giant temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieion) which remained unfinished only to be completed under the roman emperor Hadrian in AD 130.

Following the tyranny of Peisistratos and his sons a new era begun for Athens. In 504 BCE, Cleisthenes created a new type of regime: Democracy. This new type of administration required the construction of new, public, buildings in the area of Agora. On the Acropolis a new building programme started, basically after the victorious battle of Marathon. In the memory of this battle, the Athenians built the first Temple of Athena Nike (Victory) near the Propylaia.

During the second phase of the Greco-Persian Wars, in 480 BCE, the Athenians, seeing the Persians advancing, evacuated their city with their fleet and settled in the nearby island of Salamis. The Persians under general Mardonius entered Athens and burned it to the ground. But after the naval battle of Salamis and the retreat of the Persians, the citizens returned.

After the wars, the Greek cities gave an oath not to rebuilt the temples destroyed by the Persians in order to remember the disasters of the war. Nevertheless, in Athens, the building programme continued. The ruins of the old temple of Athena on the Acropolis were left undisturbed, but next to them, a new temple started being constructed: the Parthenon. Parts of the destroyed temples were placed on the north wall of the Acropolis as a reminder of the Persian Wars, where they are still visible.

For the monuments of Archaic Athens click below: