How old is Athens?

Athens is one of the most fascinating and historic cities in the world. It is the capital of Greece and the cradle of Western civilization. But how old is Athens exactly? When was it founded and by whom? How did it become such a powerful and influential city in ancient times? And what are some of the most interesting facts about its long and rich history?

In this blog post, we will try to answer these questions and more, using reliable sources and evidence from archaeology, history and literature. We will also provide some links for further reading if you want to learn more about this amazing city.

The origins of Athens

The name of Athens, connected to the name of its patron goddess Athena, originates from an earlier Pre-Greek language. The origin myth explaining how Athens acquired this name through the legendary contest between Poseidon and Athena was described by many ancient authors, such as Herodotus, Apollodorus, Ovid, Plutarch, Pausanias and others. It even became the theme of the sculpture on the west pediment of the Parthenon.

According to this myth, both Athena and Poseidon requested to be patrons of the city and to give their name to it, so they competed by offering the city one gift each. Poseidon produced a spring by striking the ground with his trident, symbolizing naval power. Athena created the olive tree, symbolizing peace and prosperity. The Athenians, under their ruler Cecrops, accepted the olive tree and named the city after Athena. A sacred olive tree said to be the one created by the goddess was still kept on the Acropolis at the time of Pausanias (2nd century AD). It was located by the temple of Pandrosus, next to the Parthenon. According to Herodotus, the tree had been burnt down during the Persian Wars, but a shoot sprung from the stump. The Greeks saw this as a symbol that Athena still had her mark there on the city.

However, this myth is not the only explanation for the name of Athens. Plato, in his dialogue Cratylus, offers his own etymology of Athena’s name connecting it to the phrase ἁ θεονόα or hē theoû nóēsis (ἡ θεοῦ νόησις, ‘the mind of god’).

The age of Athens

Athens is one of the oldest named cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for perhaps 5,000 years. Situated in southern Europe, Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC, and its cultural achievements during the 5th century BC laid the foundations of Western civilization.

The region of Athens has been inhabited since the late Neolithic era, with evidence of early settlements dating from 4500 to 4000 BC. The earliest known reference to Athens is in Homer’s Iliad (c. 8th century BC), where it is mentioned as a powerful state under King Erechtheus.

The historical period of Athens begins with the establishment of democracy by Cleisthenes in 508 BC, following a series of reforms that ended the tyranny of Pisistratus and his sons. This marked the beginning of the Classical era, when Athens reached its peak of political, economic, military and cultural influence under leaders such as Themistocles, Pericles, Cimon and Alcibiades.

Athens was also the center of a maritime empire that extended from Asia Minor to Sicily and southern Italy. It was involved in several wars with its rivals, especially Sparta and Persia. The most famous battles were Marathon (490 BC), Salamis (480 BC), Thermopylae (480 BC), Plataea (479 BC) and Aegospotami (405 BC).

Athens also excelled in arts, sciences, philosophy and literature. It was home to some of the most renowned figures of antiquity, such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Herodotus, Thucydides, Demosthenes and Phidias. Some of their works are still considered masterpieces today. The most iconic monuments of Athens, such as the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, were built during this period.

The decline of Athens began with the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which ended with its defeat and subjugation by Sparta. Athens recovered some of its power and prestige under the Second Athenian League (378-338 BC), but was eventually conquered by Philip II of Macedon in 338 BC, who made it part of his Hellenic League.

Athens remained a significant cultural and intellectual center under the Macedonian and later the Roman rule, but lost its political independence and influence. It was sacked by Sulla in 86 BC, by the Heruli in 267 AD, by the Goths in 395 AD and by the Slavs in 582 AD.

Athens was revived under the Byzantine Empire, which restored Christianity and Greek culture to the city. It was relatively prosperous during the period of the Crusades (12th and 13th centuries), benefiting from Italian trade. It became part of the Duchy of Athens, a Frankish state established after the Fourth Crusade (1204), until it was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1458.

Athens suffered a period of decline and oppression under the Ottoman rule, which lasted until the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832). It was briefly liberated by the Venetians in 1687, but was severely damaged by their bombardment. It was also occupied by the French in 1798, by the British in 1801 and by the Russians in 1828.

Athens became the capital of the independent and self-governing Greek state in 1832, after the intervention of the Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia). It was chosen as a symbol of the glorious past and the national identity of the Greeks. It underwent a process of modernization and expansion, especially after King Otto I moved his court there in 1834.

Athens faced several challenges and crises in the 20th century, such as the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), World War I (1914-1918), the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), World War II (1939-1945), the Nazi occupation (1941-1944), the Greek Civil War (1946-1949), the military dictatorship (1967-1974) and the economic crisis (2009-present).

Despite these difficulties, Athens has also witnessed periods of growth and development, such as the interwar years (1923-1939), when it became a cosmopolitan and cultural hub, attracting artists, writers and intellectuals from Greece and abroad. It also hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and again in 2004, showcasing its sportsmanship and hospitality to the world.

Today, Athens is a vibrant and dynamic city, with a population of about 3 million people. It is a major political, economic, cultural and educational center of Greece and southeastern Europe. It is also a popular tourist destination, offering a unique blend of ancient and modern attractions, such as museums, monuments, festivals, nightlife, cuisine and shopping.

Some interesting facts about Athens

  • Athens is Europe’s oldest capital. Records show the city’s origins go back to around 3,400 years ago, also making it one of the oldest cities in the world.
  • Athens has more theatrical stages than any other city in the world. There are about 148 theaters in Athens, compared to 90 in New York and 40 in London. The ancient theater of Dionysus on the south slope of the Acropolis is considered to be the birthplace of drama.
  • Athens is home to one of the largest collections of ancient books in the world. The National Library of Greece has over 4.5 million books and manuscripts dating from antiquity to modern times. Some of its treasures include a copy of Homer’s Iliad from the 10th century AD and a fragment of Plato’s Phaedo from the 1st century AD.
  • Athens is one of the sunniest cities in Europe. It enjoys an average of 2,771 hours of sunshine per year, compared to 1,662 hours in Paris or 1,410 hours in London. The average temperature in Athens is 18°C (64°F), with mild winters and hot summers.
  • Athens has more than 250 species of