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The Golden Age (479-431 b.C.)

Just after their victory the Athenians undertook the task to restore their damaged city. The most important concern of Themistocles was to fortify the city with a strong wall which would enclose the “asty”, the port of Piraeus and the road between them; being extremely long, the wall was called “Makra Tehe”(‘the long wall”); today, only few evidence of this fortification, known as “Themistoclean wall”, survives here and there. The wall was built very quickly, as the Spartans looked this process quite unfavorably. Spartans were also shocked when in 477 b.C. the Athenians refused their assistance to share control of the sea ways of the Aegean and the Black Sea; Athenians preferred to undertake this task themselves, with the assistance only of their Ionian allies.

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Thanks to this policy it was made up a strong alliance led by the Athenians which gradually developed to an Athenian hegemony over the rest of the city-states of Asia Minor and of the Aegean; this alliance included some 150 city-states. In theory, the funds of the alliance were kept in Delos, the sacred place of the Ionians; in practice however only the Athenians had access to that money; as a result, using this money, they soon built a pretty powerful fleet, controlled by them; the fleet officially intended to protect all the members of the alliance, but in fact it supported above all the interests of Athens. With this fleet the Athenians had once more beaten the Persians, in 468 b.C., under the leadership of Cimon; this sea battle that took place at the mouth of river Evrymedon in Asia Minor signaled the total release of Greeks from the threat of Persian invasions. Also, from this time onwards, Athens became the indisputable leader of the allies; any city-state that would attempt to leave the alliance would be dealt as opposing to Athens, which might result even in ruining the city, as it happened with Naxos, Thasos etc.

The fleet of Athens offered job to thousands of citizens of the lower class, especially to those whose income was not enough to buy their arms and thus to enlist in the infantry. The long absence of these citizens to naval expeditions allowed the aristocrats to gain ground and take back several privileges they had lost in democracy. Under the leadership of Cimon, the son of Miltiades, the Athenians achieved to repulse the Persians in Asia Minor; they also succeeded in stabilizing their position in Thrace and Skyros. In Skyros the Athenians had “discovered” the relics of Theseus which were brought back to Athens and buried their in great honor. During the absence of Cimon, Ephialtes, the leader of the democratic party of Athens had introduced several reforms that increased the power of the people, through the process of electing the state’s officials by lot.

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By 450 b.C. Pericles appears on the political scene of the city and becomes its leader. First of all, Pericles moved the alliance’s fund to Athens, which allowed him to fund the extensive program of reconstruction of Athens, partly still in ruins since the Persian war. In 458 b.C. the huge bronze statue of Athena Promachos, a work of Pheidias, had already been erected on the Acropolis and dominated Athens; the statue was the first thing in Athens that one would discern when approaching Attica from the sea. By the same period it was accomplished the fortification of the borders, with the construction of the fort of Phyle and elsewhere. In that way a strong defensive line protected the city from land invasion; evidently, no enemy could attack the city from the sea, thanks to the powerful navy of Athens. Also, there were enforced the walls of the city and of Piraeus.

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As everybody knows, the most important contribution of Pericles was the new design of the Acropolis, a really inspired work which was entrusted to Pheidias, Ictinos and Callicrates; the most magnificent and important of the new monuments was undoubtedly the Parthenon, built of white marble from Pendeli and housing the excellent statue of Athena made of gold and ivory, a work of Pheidias. The Parthenon was a bit later accomplished by the magnificent road and the Propylaea of the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles.

It is in this period of great artistic creation that lived and worked in Athens several men of Letters; the historian Herodotus, who wrote the history of the Persian Wars, as well as the great tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, whose immortal works are still touching the feelings of everybody, when performed. An echo of the monuments raised for the impact of these tragedies is the choregic monument of Lysicrates, still surviving at Plaka. Also, thanks to the increase of trade incomes, the city knew a flourishing of nice private buildings.
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