Athens and the Classical Age

Siphnian Treasury DelphiSolon, considered the forefather of democracy, was appointed ‘archon’ of Athens in 594 BC. It was he who cancelled all debts, hence freeing many who had become enslaved by them. He declared all equal by law (free Athenians, that is, certainly not women or the slaves who had not become so via debt), though he did away with artistocratic inherited privileges.

The following century, after the Persians sacked and burned the Athenian acropolis in 480 BC (which lay in ruins for a time), themonuments to Athena (patron saint of the city state of Athens)- constituted the resurrection from the ashes of the Athenian Acropolis, during the Golden Age of Periklis, in the 5th centuries BC, with the Parthenon the crowning glory of the complex of buildings commissioned by him.

This age is well known not only for the glories of the architecture and sculpture that adorned the Acropolis, but also for its great dramatists (Sophocles and Aristophanes among them), orators, Thucydidhes and Demoshenes, and philosophers, Socrates and Plato.


classical mural glyptichque

It has already been mentioned that women and slaves had no voting rights, but it should also be stated that the economy on Classical Athens depended on slavery and that women were disenfranchised And that they were given no education or cultural opportunities, being expected to remain in the domestic realm, quite in contrast to the status of women in the Minoan palace cultures.

The word democracy means literally, ‘rule of the people’, and though Athens is credited with being the place where democracy was born, it cannot be forgotten that ‘the people’ excluded women and slaves,and that the slaves were only one rank lower map ancient greecethan the women. The famous Agora, the public market place, where politics, commerce, philosophical discussion, etc. were carried on, was off bounds to women, who sent their slaves to do the shopping.

There were three organs of government in Athens: the Areopagus, which consisted of city elders, the Council of Five Hundred (again, only free born males), elected annually by ballot, and expected to outline the business to be dealt with by the Assembly, and thte Assembly itself, which gave every citizen (again, free born males), the right to a voice in government. On a military level, Athens played a major role in expelling the Persian armies at Marathon (490 BC) and at Salamis (480 BC). See below.