The birthplace of democracy – Athens

I have been fortunate to visit Athens twice, and though the second time was just a day trip, I was still excited to spend time there. I first went to Athens in 2004, the year in which the modern Olympics returned to Greece in over a hundred years. There was so much going on and travelling from the airport on the bus into the city, there was rubble, construction and mayhem everywhere. I did wonder whether the Greeks would be ready for the onslaught of athletes and spectators that were soon to arrive on their shores. Speaking with the locals, there was no doubt they’d be ready and on time for the big opening; and they were! It was a spectacular. I wasn’t there for the Olympics, and in fact it was better, as I didn’t need to wait in line to go to venues or places to eat.

Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly http://www.ancientgreekbattles.net/…/Pericles.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7725777

Athens was and still is famous for many historical events and people. There is the Akropolis where the Temple of Athene is situated, the Erechtheum or Erechtheion—a multipurpose temple housing older and newer cults dedicated to Athene, local hero Boutes, the god of fire Hephaistos, other gods and heroes. As you climb the winding staircase to the Akropolis, you come to the propylaeum, a covered entry, and to the right is the Temple of Nike, the winged goddess. As you walk through, the vista of the Pantheon takes your breath away. Well, it did mine. It must have been a spectacular vision when it was first built, and colourful. The ancient Greeks used a range of colours to adorn the sculpted reliefs, metope, tympanum, pretty much most of it. The original temples on the Akropolis were made from wood with clay tiles. They were burnt down during the second Persian war, when Xerxes invaded.

Leo von Klenze (1784–1864)
Title Reconstruction of the Akropolis and Areus Pagus in Athens :1846
Courtesy of Wikimedia

The Agora was another important locale in Athens. It was the main hub of the city and where male Athenian citizens would spend a significant time shopping, exchanging information and attending to political meetings. In its early settlement, the Agora was smaller and many citizens had their homes there. It was the tyrant Peisistratos who spearheaded a building program on Agora and in turn forced many of the citizens to move to make way for civic buildings, temples and shrines. Cutting diagonally through the Agora and towards the Akropolis was a road called the ‘Panathaenaic Way’. This was used for the annual dressing of the statue of Athene, a peplos, woven by Athenian women and carried by priestesses of Athene to the temple on the Akropolis. It was also used for the Panathaenaia games, similar to the Olympics held in ancient Olympia.

The Ancient Agora Of Athens, website The Athens Key https://www.athenskey.com/ancient-Agora.html

The Pynx was the official meeting place for the Athenian assembly, which arose out of the reforms made by Kleisthenes in the 6th century BCE. Initially, they met in the council hall called the bouleuterion, a building in the Agora. It was later moved to the foothill of Mouseion to better accommodate for its 13,000 citizens and seats for 500 elected members of the council. 6,000 citizens had to attend in order for changes to be made, hence the earliest recorded mention of a quorum. The speaker stood a ‘bema’ a stone platform, and addressed the citizens on various policies they needed to vote on, or to elect members to positions of power.

Bema – orator’s platform
Photo by Mirjanamimi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51705033

Although democracy was born in Athens, it did not work in the same way Western democratic countries have applied it in their governments. For one, only male Athenian citizens voted and participated, and where officials and jurymen were selected by lot. Women, including Athenian females, slaves, foreigners—even if they were living and contributing members of society, were not allowed to vote. The ‘democratic’ city-state tended to favour the wealthy, famous and powerful citizens. It seems somethings never change. In spite of these differences, we do have to thank the ancient Greeks for the concept democracy, for I am grateful to be able to live a country where a citizen’s voice counts and is heard… mostly.

Thank you for your continued support and as always, I look forward to your comments and will respond.

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, burnt out but not done… yet.

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12 thoughts on “The birthplace of democracy – Athens

  1. Excellent post. I enjoyed learning about the details concerning (and surrounding) the “Agora”.
    Yes, Democracy in Athens was clearly elitist and misoginist. We are still used to control during the election process (basically as the electoral campaign unfolds), but there are no restrictions when it comes to wealth or gender. However, we should be grateful for this extraordinary Greek legacy.
    Thanks for sharing, cara Luciana… Love & best wishes 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyable and informative post.
    Your comment re the Olympics made me remember how Pireaus Harbour was full of cruise ships being used as floating hotels. We were driving from the UK to Crete, and once on board our Minoan Lines ferry we went on deck to see all the ships. Just before our boat sailed at 9.00 p.m. the day’s Olympic events ended with a firework display…we were in the right place at the right time. x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Luciana,

    Thank you for sharing the post on Athens. The Athenians certainly has left its mark in history for creating its concept of democracy, although it was still limited to a certain population. I am amazed at the architecture and the influence it had. I’ve never visited Athens, but it looks like a fascinating city to visit. Have a great week.

    Regards,
    Linnea

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Linnea,

      If you do get a chance to go, it is an amazing place. Everywhere you turn, there’s history. A bit like Rome. And you must go to the new Acropolis Museum. They have done a fantastic job with the way they present the artefacts, statues and many friezes.

      Thank you for stopping by, and a wonderful week.

      Cheers,
      Luciana

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mio caro amico,

    Mentioning in your post that the democratic city-state tended to favor the wealthy, famous and powerful citizens and that it seems somethings never change, really resonated with me, as I often wonder if they ever will change. Like the Agora, we have Washington, DC, where wealth reaches and influences via political agendas, but it’s also where the voices of women in congress are beginning to rise above the din. The voices of women around the world are becoming louder, and with that, I remain hopeful that perhaps one day, things will indeed change.

    Wonderful post!

    xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Buonasera Bella,

      It’s good to see more women rising in position in politics, and our voices are finally cutting through the density of machismo. I still feel we have long way to go, but it is changing.
      Let’s hope we get to see it too!

      Tante baci
      😀 xxx

      Like

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