Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
THE SO-CALLED DEMOCRACY OF ATHENS

THE FIRST modest beginnings of city development on the European continent appeared during the second millennium B.C. At that time in Italy a settlement was considered quite large if it contained three hundred people in fifty huts. On the Greek mainland a number of small, strong burghs resembling Jericho or ancient Troy, formed the nuclei of city development. More populous settlements were not feasible, because of the meagre harvests yielded by the rugged, infertile soil of Greece.

The burghs were usually situated on mountain-tops and consisted of the royal palace, storage houses, barracks for the warriors, a market place, a bazaar, and a place for religious rites. Most of the ruler's subjects lived outside the walls, but in case of danger they fled into the fortress. Today, when danger threatens, the process is the opposite -- we abandon the city.

At the end of the second millennium, the largest and most city- like of the Greek refuge burghs were on the Peloponnesian peninsula -- Tiryns with its Cyclopean walls, Argos, and Mycenae.

Mycenae, according to legend Agamemnon's royal burgh, during the fourteenth century B.C. was surrounded with a big wall; the longest diameter of the little town inside the wall was 1,312 feet. In Knossos a highly developed architectural culture and a strange nonchalance had joined forces in creating a radiant palace; the buildings of Mycenae were gloomy, large, and provocative in appearance; they were intended to serve as protection against enemies lurking everywhere. On the island of Crete, the Babylonian type of house was predominant -- numerous rooms, grouped around a courtyard. The Mycenaean house consisted of a single room with the hearth as its centre.

The older cities, in general, had been established inland, mainly to avoid the menace of piracy. But, as navigation became safer and more profitable, newer cities sprang up on the sea coast. There the inhabitants built walls to protect themselves from invasion and developed their opportunities for trade with peoples across the water. The most eminent of the "newer cities", and the largest among the many tiny city-states of Greece, were Corinth, Sparta, and Athens.

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