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Neolithic figurine (4500-3200 BC) - National Archaeological Museum Athens



Athens during Prehistoric times

The history of Athens began many centuries before the cultural wonder of the Classical period. Archaeological evidence proves the existence of organized life and significant accomplishments as early as Prehistoric times. However, due to intensive building activities through centuries at the locations where traces of the first settlements have been found, namely the Acropolis, the Agora and the Olympeion, most of the evidence that would give a clear picture of the prehistory of Athens, has been lost forever.

Funerary stele made of shelly sandstone, bearing the relief representation of a hunting or a fighting scene, including a chariot. It is dated to the second half of the 16th century BC. – National Archaeological Museum AthensThe reconstruction of the earliest phases of Athens is based on results of excavations that have brought to light mostly tombs and portable finds. Athens was first settled during the final Neolithic period (4500-4000 BC), around the Acropolis. From the scant finds it seems that the Neolithic inhabitants of Athens were in contact with the coasts of the Saronic Gulf, Aegina and Kea where important settlements have been found.

During the Bronze Age (3200-1100 BC), settlement continued uninterruptedly around the Acropolis but new sites prove the spread of inhabitants over a wider area. During the early Bronze Age, the Acropolis was settled around the Erechteion and on the hill of the Olympeion. The Kerameikos area began to be used for the burial of the dead and at the Agora there were early traces of a road leading westwards. On a cultural level, there were contacts with the Cyclades which thrived during this period and with the important coastal settlements of Attica such as where modern day Agios Kosmas is.

During the middle Bronze Age there was considerable expansion and organization of the settlements on the Acropolis, on its south and north slopes, at the Agora, on the hill of the Muses (Pnyx Hill) and at the Olympeion. Impressive is the large quantity and variety of findings, demonstrating the constant communication with Central Greece, the Peloponnese and the Cyclades.

During the late Bronze Age or Mycenaean period, the inhabitants of Athens were quite late in adopting the organization and practices of the Mycenaeans but, eventually from 1500 BC on, they assumed a Mycenaean character.

Fresco details from the palace at Tiryns, 13th century BC. – National Archaeological MuseumA new settlement with a cemetery was formed at Ilissos. The greatest settlement development, especially south of the Acropolis, occurred between 1400 and 1300 BC. The creation of large cemeteries in the Agora, on the hill of the Nymphs and on the Areios Pagos, where the richest burials were found, indicates the prosperity and growth of the populations.

The existence of different places of burial suggests perhaps that the inhabitants were organized into independent groups, “kata komas’, a fact that concurs with the ancient sources and the name of the city, Athinai, in the plural.

The early 13th century BC marks the beginning of the most important stage of development. The biggest differentiation is noticed in administrative organization, seeing that by then it was clear that the Acropolis was the palatial, administrative, military and cultural centre. The few relics of the Mycenaean palace were located on the site where the Erechteion and the first Temple of Athena would later be built.

Later the inhabitants fortified the hill parametrically with a cyclopean wall and created entrances. The co-ordination and planning of the works on the site suggest that a powerful authority was in place. The Athenians interpreted the Mycenaean hegemony as the rule of Thesus to whom the synoecism of Athens was attributed. Synoecism was the mergere of villages and small towns in Ancient Hellas into larger political units such as a single city. It is the process by which democracy in the Ancient Greek world originated and developed. The word itself means "dwelling together" or "to unite together under one capital city".Timeline

In the early 12th century BC, the prosperity of the final Mycenaean phase came to an end as was the case with the entire Mycenaean world. The population grew sparser and dispersed but the city was never deserted.

For typical words, please consult our Greek Glossary



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