Greek City-States - European History for AP World History
The city of Athens was a city-state in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on the Greek Peninsula founded in about 3000 BCE by Theseus, the king who united the mountainous villages that became Athens. One of the most famous accomplishments of Athens was their development of Democracy for the first time in ancient history. Their governmental system forms the backbone of modern day Democracies. In order to defend their Democracy, Athens needed a military; they chose to develop a naval army. Thus, another of Athens’ accomplishments was the invention of the trireme ship. This ship design helped them to defeat Persia and defend themselves, until succumbing to plague, from Sparta.
Athens Wars and Alliances
The area where Athens now stands was dotted with small tribes beginning just after 5000 BCE; until, in 3000 BCE, it was united, mostly diplomatically, by a Mycenaean named Theseus. He brought the people together under one rule and they named their new city Athens after Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom and strategy. Athens started out as an aristocracy lead by a few of the richest land owners. However, the aristocrats’ rule began to fail in 7th Century BCE, and they appointed Draco to draft a strict new law code to keep the lower classes in line. This didn’t keep the people of Athens at peace for long, so the aristocrats appointed Solon in 594 BCE to reform the system. Solon gave power to the lower class by allowing them to vote for which aristocrat would make the laws and rule over them. Next came several leaders and reformers who were overthrown for their attempts to hurt the lower class’s ability to vote, until 510 BCE, when Cleisthenes took power and established democracy in Athens, freeing all slaves; giving everyone citizenship, the right to vote, and the ability to run for office. Between 490 and 479 BCE, Athens allied with Sparta in order to defeat the Persians. After the Persian Wars, Athens formed a trade league with many other city-states in Greece, excluding Sparta and some of the smaller city-states, called the Delian League. During this time, Athens went through a golden age of art and philosophy. Pericles funded the building of several national wonders including the Parthenon; Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates developed philosophical ideas; Hippocrates developed medicines and doctoring; and Thucydides wrote history. Unfortunately, Sparta, and the other city-states not in the Delian League, despised Athens and formed the Anti-Athens League; they declared war on Athens in 431 BCE. Athens was able to annihilate Sparta for a short time because of their mastery of the sea, but shortly after, they were struck with a devastating plague that wiped out more than one-third of the Athenian population. Sparta easily defeated Athens after this, and Athens laid in rubble until 338 BCE, when Phillip II of Macedon conquered it for his growing empire.
Athens was the first civilization in history to develop a democracy. It took the people of Athens several thousand years and many rulers to get it right, but they eventually did in 510 BCE when Cleithenes took power and put it in place. This is important because all other democratic countries in the world today have based their government at least partially on the democracy developed in Athens. Democracy also helped the people of Athens by giving them the right to vote, and more over, think without being persecuted. This gave rise to the golden age in Athens and the development of many modern sciences and philosophies, such as medicine and the scientific method. This also, sadly, made a lot of the other city-states around Athens want to take it over. However, this innovation did make Athens all around a better place to live for everyone in it. The rich/poor gap shrank because everyone was able to take part in the democracy; this also meant that there were no slaves in Athens during its Golden Age.
The invention of the Trireme allowed Athens to gain a head up opposed to most cultures around it. A trireme was 120 feet long, 18 feet wide, and it would have three rows of oars stacked on top of each other on both sides of the ship. There were 170 rowers on a single trireme, therefore the trireme could move very quickly throughout the seas around Athens, and they were very strong with a large projection coming out of the front of the ship. Because of the many rowers, triremes could move easily throughout any naval battlefield; also, because of their nose projection, triremes could be used to ram other ships. The trireme gave Athens power over all sea trade around her. The faster, better moving ship allowed Athens to trade with more civilizations around it, not to mention taxing them to trade, and that brought in more money; they used this money to finance the construction of more triremes, of which they had a growing fleet of 300. Also, because Athens is located in a mountainous area, it needed supplies and food from others areas such as Asia Minor; they were able to control and trade with their colonies there who cultivated crops for them in exchange for olives and other luxury resources. Also, the trireme allows Athens to dominate other cultures around it. Athens controls not only sea trade, but the sea in general because of their ships. They defeat Persia because of them on several occasions; one such occasion being the Battle of Salamis in which a colossal fleet of Persian warships are defeated by a few Athenian triremes. The trireme also allows Athens to blockade Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, effectively cutting them off from supplies. Athens was not only a place of great philosophical minds, but of great military minds as well.
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