Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other


The Parthenon. Photo Jona Lendering. Athens: one of the main Greek city-states.

The Parthenon, the main temple of Athens, dedicated to the goddess Athena. The shrine was built between 447 and 438; the decoration was finished in 432. The building is still impressive because it is made of beautiful Pentelic marble. A satellite photo of the acropolis, in which the Parthenon stands, can be found here., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Modern reconstruction of the Athena of Phidias. Orientalis, Nijmegen (Holland); photo Jona Lendering.
A reconstruction (from the Museumpark Orientalis, Nijmegen, Holland) of the cult statue of Athena, made by the sculptor Phidias, who had been placed in charge of the decoration of the Parthenon by the Athenian politician Pericles. The Greek author Pausanias writes:

"The statue is made of ivory and gold. She has a sphinx on the middle of her helmet, and griffins on either side of it. [...] She stands upright in an ankle-length tunic with the head of Medusa in ivory on her breast. She has a Victory of about eight feet high, and a spear in her hand and a shield at her feet, and a snake beside the shield; this snake might be Erichthonius. The plinth of the statue is carved with the birth of Pandora. Hesiod and others say Pandora was the first woman ever born, and the female sex did not exist before her birth."

Reclining gods on the Parthenon frieze. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
The marble decoration of the Parthenon is now in the British Museum in London ("Elgin Marbles"). This is a fragment, showing reclining gods who are waiting for the beginning of a great procession. There are parallels with the equally famous reliefs on the northern and eastern stairs of the Apadana in Persepolis, and it is likely that a written description of the latter monument inspired the former (more...).

The theater of Dionysus in Athens. Photo Marco Prins.
The theater of Dionysus, at the foot of the Acropolis (satellite photo). To any actor, ancient or modern, this is sacred ground. Here, the great tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were performed; on this very place, the comedies of Aristophanes were staged for the very first time. In the Roman age, it was used for gladiatorial contests.

The tholos on the Athenian agora. Photo Marco Prins.
The prytaneum at the Athenian market place (agora; satellite photo) was the building where the prytaneis gathered, the executive committee of the Athenian democracy. It was built in 465 and was called the skias ("parasol"). It is therefore probable that the building had a round, pointed roof. The odd shape may or may not have been inspired by Achaemenid art.

The Long Walls of Athens. Map design Jona Lendering.
The greatest pride of classical ancient Athens was the Acropolis, but the most important construction must have been the triple wall that connected the city to its ports at Piraeus (satellite photo) and Phaleron. These Long walls enabled the Athenians to withstand any siege. They were finally destroyed when the Roman commander Sulla captured the city in the First Mithridatic War (86 BCE; text).

The city remained important in the Roman and Early Byzantine age, because the rulers appreciated the cultural legacy of Athens. However, the big political decisions were taken elsewhere.


This brief article has been written to offer background information to the real articles on Livius.Org. One day, this webpage will be improved. A list of completed articles can be found here.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2008
Revision: 30 October 2011
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other