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 > THE CLASSICAL PERIOD
THE CLASSICAL PERIOD - Athens
 
  GENERAL INFORMATION
 

THE UNIFICATION ATTRIBUTED TO Theseus must actually have taken olace quite a long time after the Mycenean period, in the eighth century BC, and it did much to boost the development of Athens. In the seventh century, the power that had previously been held by the kings passed into the hands of the aristocrats. In 624 BC, the laws of the city were codified for the first time, by Draco, and in 594 BC the Athenians commissioned Solon, one of the Seven Sages of antiquity, to compose a new code of laws. His innovations gave the system of government a democratic tone, in the sense that the offices which could be held by the citizens and the obligations to which they were subject were determined in accordance with their income. In 561/56o, Pisistratus established a tyranny in Athens – with the support of the broad mass of the people – and he and his sons Hippias and Hipparchus remained in power until 510 BC. In 508 BC, Athens acquired a fully democratic system of government under the reforms promoted by Cleisthenes. In the period from 490 to 480/479 BC, the Athenian led Greek resistance to the Persians in their attempt to expand their empire on to Greek soil. During the Persian wars, Athens was burned down twice, subsequently being reconstructed and fortified on the initiative of Themistocles. Themistocles was also the force behind the reinforcement of Athenian naval power and the setting up of what was called the Delian League, in 478 BC. This alliance, of which many Greek cities were members, had the primary objective of forming a common front to deal with the Persian threat, but Athens was able to use its leading position in the Delian League to become the most important city-state in Greece. In the political sphere, this period saw the rise of Pericles, the guiding spirit behind the Golden Age which was the most brilliant period in the entire history of Athens.
In the time of Pericles, democracy reached perfection and all the sectors of intellectual life and the arts experienced moments of grandeur and glory.
Northeless, even these achievements were not capable of preventing the Peloponnese War., which broke out in 431 BC and divided Greece into two armed camps, with Athens and Sparta as the principal belligerents. In 404 BC, Athens was finally defeated and embarked upon a slow process of decline.
After an unsuccessful attempt to regain a position at the heart of Greek affairs by setting up a second League (in 379 BC), Athens was conquered by Philip II of Macedon in 338. Philip – and his son Alexander, the Great – displayed respect for the city cultural prestige, however. In the Hellenistic period, Athens was dependent on the policies of Alixander’s successor’s, and in the second century BC passed into the Roman sphere of influence. In 86 BC, during the wars between Rome and King Mithridates of Pont, Athens was looted by the Roman consul Sulla, and it was many years before the damage was rectified. In the second century AD, the favours bestowed on the city by the Emperor Hadrian stimulated a late flowering of Athens, which grew out beyond the geographical boundaries of the past and acquired many fine new monuments.
Today, the monuments of Classical antiquity are scattered all across the city, but the supreme creations are the sacred building of the Acropolis. The Acropolis was the place in which the cult of Athena, the most important goddles in the city, developed.
Originally, the site was used for habitation, but it had become a place of religious significance by the sixth century BC, when Pisistratus caused the building there of a limestone temple of Athena. The city’s patron goddess was honoured in the Panathenaic Festival, which included athletic contests and a magnificent procession in which all the people of the city took part. The purpose of the Panathenaic procession was to deliver a new robe to cover the statue of Athena on the Acropolis, a ceremony which was accompanied by sacrifices on the Rock. The Panathenaic Festival was celebrated with the greatest pomp in the fifth century BC, when superb buildings were constructed on the Acropolis. In 437-432 BC, the architect Mnesicles constructed the monumental Propylaea  at the west entrance to the Acropolis; the temple-like façade of this gateway would have instilled an attitude of piety in those who ascended towards the sacred buildings. At about the same time, Callicrates was responsible for the building of the Ionic amphiprostyle temple of Athena Nike, erected to commemorate the Athenian victory over  the Persians. The Parthenon, symbol of democratic Athens, was completed between 447 and 432 BC, to plans by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates. Technically, the temple is a peripteral amphiprostyle structure (8x17), in the Doric order with Ionic features.
The cella was unusually broad – thus marking a step forward in ancient Greek temple-building – and inside it was a two-storey colonnade in a Greek Π shape. In this was the famous and colossal chryselephantine statue of Athena Parthenos by the sculptor Phidias. The entire temple was built in marble from Mt Pendeli and was ornamented with the pioneering sculptural composirtions of Phidias (on the east frieze: the battle of the Giants; on the west frieze: the battle of the Amazons; on the south frieze: the battle of the Centaurs; on the north frieze: the fall of Troy; on the east pediment: the birth of Athena; on the west pediment: the dispute between Poseidon and Athena). The famous Ionic interior frieze, which showed the Panathenaic procession, was also the work of Phidias. Thanks to what archaeologists called its architectural refinements, by which they mean the curvature of its surfaces, the Parthenon gives the impression of being a piece of sculpture rather than a mere work of architecture. In this masterpiece of a building, all the ideological and artistic inquiries of the ancient Greeks came together and reached their solution in a single work. In 421-406 BC, the Erechtheum was built to the north of the Parthenon. This unusual Ionic temple was dedicated to the old gods of Athens and also to Poseidon and Athena, the deities who – according to the traditions – had quarreled over which of them was to be the parton of the city. In the south porch of the Erechthium strood the Caryatids, sculptures of the kore type whose purpose was to support the roof of the temple. Among the numerous other buildings on the Acropolis were the Sanctuary of Afrodite Pandemos, the Sanctuary of Artemis of Brauron, the Chalcotheke, the temple of Rome and Augustus, the Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus and the Arrephorium. In among these buildings were statues of the greatest value dedicated by followers of the various cults.

 
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