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History of Athens - 336 BC to 267 AD



336 BC to 267 AD


Lycurgus of Athens, 396-323 BC

After the battle of Cheronia, Lycurgus, one of the ten Attic orators, ruled Athens from 336 until 324 BC. He was born in Athens ca. 396 BC and was the son of Lycophron, who belonged to the noble family of the Eteobutadae. In his early life he devoted himself to the study of philosophy in the school of Plato. Afterwards he became one of the disciples of Isocrates and entered upon public life at a comparatively early age. He was appointed three successive times to the office of manager of the public revenue and held his office each time for five years

Lycurgus contributed to the creation of splendid buildings such as the Panathenaic StadiumHis primary concern was to increase income and economic reserves allowing Athens to create an effective army and fleet and contributing to the creation of splendid buildings such as the Panathenaic Stadium, the portico at the Sanctuary of Asclepius and the Temple of Apollo Patroos in the Agora. In addition, Lycurgus is accredited with the reconstruction of the Theatre of Dionysos and the completion of the works at Pnyx Hill, at Eleusis and at the Amphiareion of Oropos. The city had not seen such building activity since the time of Pericles.

Lycurgus was entrusted with the superintendence of the city and the keeping of public discipline. The severity with which he watched over the conduct of the citizens became almost proverbial. He had a noble taste for everything that was beautiful and grand, as he showed by the buildings he erected or completed, both for the use of the citizens and the ornament of the city. His integrity was so great, that even private persons deposited with him large sums of money, which they wished to be kept in safety.

He was also the author of several legislative enactments, of which he enforced the strictest observance. One of his laws forbade women to ride in chariots at the celebration of the mysteries and when his own wife transgressed this law, she was fined. Another law ordained that bronze statues should be erected to Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and that copies of their tragedies should be made and preserved in the public archives.

Lycurgus of Athens died in 323 BC while holding the office of director of the theatre of Dionysus. Top

The beginning of Macedonian rule

The already tense situation between Athens and Macedon came to a head in 323 BC when Alexander died. Athens played a leading part in the creation of an anti-Macedonian alliance with the Aetolians, the Thessalians, the Phoceans, the Lokrians and certain Peloponnesian states. The alliance was decisively defeated by the Macedonian general Antipater in 322 VC, in Krannon, Thessaly.

Athens capitulated with extremely onerous terms:

• a Macedonian garrison stationed at the port of Mounychia
• the democracy abolished
• those responsible for the war sentenced to death
• Oropos and Samos detached from the city.

The leadership of the city was given to the senior general Phokion who was put to death in 318 BC when democracy was restored. In 317 BC, Athens was obliged to ally with Cassander of Macedon and power was held for ten years by Demetrius Phalireus, a pupil of Aristotle, an eminent scholar and a lawgiver. Top

Demetrius (the Besieger), 307-287 BC

Bust of Demetrius I of Macedon Demetrius Poliorcetes, King of Macedon (Mainland Greece) from 306-283 BC.Demetrius I, son of Antigonus I Monophtalmus and Stratonice, was a Macedonian king (294-288 BC belonging to the Antigonid dynasty. At the age of twenty-two he was left by his father to defend Syria against Ptolemy the son of Lagus. He was totally defeated in the Battle of Gaza but soon partially repaired his loss by a victory in the area of Myus.

After an unsuccessful expedition against Babylon and several campaigns against Ptolemy on the coasts of Cilicia and Cyprus, Demetrius sailed with a fleet of 250 ships to Athens. He freed the city from the power of Cassander and Ptolemy, expelled the garrison which had been stationed there under Demetrius of Phalerum and besieged and took Mynycia (307 BC). After these victories he was worshipped by the Athenians as a deity under the title of Soter (savior).

TimelineCassander did not accept the loss of Athens and between 307 and 304 BC he tried to retake it, without success. The Athenians took part in the battle of Ipsos (301 BC) on the side of the defeated Antigonus and Demetrius. Lachares became tyrant of Athens but soon Piraeus passed to the hands of the opponents and, in 295 BC, Demeterius successfully besieged Athens. Eight years later Demeterius, by now king of Macedon, was defeated and forced to abandon his kingdom. He thus failed to keep Athens but Piraeus remained in Macedonian hands. Top

From the Macedonians to neutrality, 287-200 BC

In 268 BC, in alliance with the Ptolemies of Egypt and King Ares of Sparta, Athens declared war against Antigonus Gonatas, King of Macedon and son of Demetrius the Besieger. The city was besieged and forced to capitulate in 262 BC. It remained under Macedonian influence until 229 BC.

The Ptolemaic dynasty was a Hellenistic royal family which ruled over Egypt for nearly 300 years, from 305 to 30 BC. Ptolemy, a Macedonian and one of Alexander the Great's generals, was appointed satrap (governor) of Egypt after Alexander's death in 323 BC. In 305 BC, he declared himself King Ptolemy I, later known as Soter (savior). The Egyptians soon accepted the Ptolemies as the successors to the pharaohs of independent Egypt. Ptolemy's family ruled Egypt until the Roman conquest of 30 BC.

After the dead of Demetrius II, son of Antigonu Gonatas, the Macedonian garrison withdrew and returned Piraeus, Salamis and the forts of Mounychia and of Rhamnous to the Athenians. The city leaders pursued a policy of strict neutrality with regard to the conflicts that prevailed during the last quarter of the 3rd century on Greek mainland, remaining however under the protection of the Ptolemies. Top

On the side of Rome, 200-88 BC

Philip V of MacedonThis situation was reversed in 200 BC when the city declared war against Philip V of Macedon, who had already gone to war with Rhodes and with Attalos of Pergamon. Unable to wage war by themselves, the Athenians solicited the help of Rome. The city was besieged by the Macedonians but was saved thanks to the Roman intervention.

In 197 BC, the defeat of Philip at Cynoscephalae led to peace. Athens took the side of Rome conclusively and assisted it in 192 BC against Antiochus III of Syria and against Perseus of Mecedon in 171-167 BC. In return, Athens won Lemnos and Delos which over the following years became a link between Asia and Italy, contributing considerably to the new affluence of the city.

During that period, building activity started again in Athens and added luster to the city thanks to the donations from the rulers of Pergamon and other Asian kings. Top

Mithridates and Sulla

Allegiance to the Roman alliance was set aside in 88 BC when Athens sides with Mithridates VI Eupator, king of Pontus. The Athenians collaborated with Archelaos, the general of Mithridates, and subjugated the larger part of Greece while Mithridates freed most of the cities of Asia Minor and of the islands from the Romans.

In 87 BC Sulla, leading five legions, spearheaded the Mithridatic War on behalf of the Romans. He besieged Athens and Piraeus for many months. When the city eventually fell, there was a terrible massacre that, in the end, Sulla stopped himself. A little later he seized Piraeus and set fire to the famous skeuotheke (arsenal) of Philon and the dockyards.Timeline

Athens’ audacity in confronting Rome cost her dearly. The city lost Delos and Salamis and was decimated by the war, the siege and the ensuing massacre. Numerous works of art and precious metal offerings fell into the hands of the besiegers and were taken to Rome. Many city monuments were destroyed or seriously damaged. The city survived thanks to its name and prestige in the Roman world. Top

Roman rule in Athens

Athens was quick to recover from these disasters. During the 1st century BC, Greek culture began to appeal to the Romans. As a result, many Romans settled in Athens and the emperors embellished the city with remarkable new buildings. Julius Caesar inaugurated the new Athenian Agora, known as the Roman Agora, completed after the termination of the civil wars.

Under Augustus, the aspect of the ancient Athenian Agora changed with the Odeon of Agrippa and the transfer of temples from the Attic countryside to the Athenian Agora. The government of Tiberius and Claudius was oppressive but in the Emperor Nero, despite his disreputable historical image, Greece found a real benefactor. He declared the independence of Greek cities again followed by large tax alleviations.

During this period, specifically in 50 AD, the Apostle Paul preached Christianity in Athens, a fact that had little importance then but assumed gigantic proportions in the course of time. The reign of the Falvians was marked by opposition between the “men of letters” and the Roman administration since the former began to criticize the excess of power of the later. Several intellectuals, of which Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus, known as Hadrian (117-137), the great benefactor of Athens during Roman rulesome Athenian, were persecuted.

During the Antonine period, Athens enjoyed a time of rebirth beginning with Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus, commonly called Trajan (98-117), and continuing with the great benefactor of the city Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus, known as Hadrian (117-137) and his successors. Hadrian, fond of Greek philosophy and of the city itself, visited Athens three times (124-125, 128-129 and 131-132).

At his command, the residential area of the city expanded eastwards, beyond the Ilissos river, while important public buildings were built or completed under imperial benefaction:

• the aqueduct and the nymphaeum (building consecrated to the nymphs)
• the library
• the Olympeion and the Temple of the Pan-Hellenic Zeus
• the Pantheon
• the Temple of Hera
• a new gymnasium and a new Pompeion (building used for the start of processions)

This was not all though. It was clear that Hadrian intended to give Athens its intellectual grandeur back. The construction of the Temple of Pan-Hellenic Zeus was accompanied by the foundation of the Panhellenion, a federation of all the Greek cities headed by Athens and by the institution of the Pan-Hellenic games that were held every five years in honor of the emperor. In addition, by forbidding unlimited exports of oil, Hadrian saw to the protection of the lower social classes against the avarice of food merchants. To honor the emperor, the city dedicated an arch to him near the Olympeion.

The beneficent policy towards Athens continued under Antoninus Pius (138-161), a period during which Herodes Atticus offered the city more splendid buildings such as the Panathinaic Stadium and the Odeon, but also under Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the emperor-philosopher.

Around the middle of the century, the traveller Pausanias wrote the “Hellados Periegisis”, (a description of Greece), a significant part of which was dedicated to Athens and its monuments thus preserving a picture of the city for future generations. About a century later, this picture was to change for good.

TimelineThe invasions of barbarian tribes in the Balkans and in Greece had an effect on Athens as well. Under Valerianus (253-260), there was a last effort to fortify the city against the imminent invasions but the hastily constructed wall did not prevent the Herulians from seizing the city and destroying a large part of its public and private buildings. Top


  336 BC TO 267 AD
   Lycurgus of Athens
   Beginning of Macedonian rule
   Demetrius the Besieger
   Macedonian rule to neutrality
   On the side of Rome
   Mithridates and Sulla
   Roman rule in Athens

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