Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

5
THE GROWTH OF ATHENS
AND THE PERSIAN WARS

During the Archaic period, the Athenians struggled with the same problems that beset other city-states of Greece--factional quarrels among the aristocratic families, tension between the aristocrats and the people, and tyranny. By 500 BC, these problems had been largely resolved. The last tyrant had been expelled, Athens had a democratic government, and aristocratic stasis was largely confined to competition for office and persuading the democratic assembly. Because of their relative harmony, wealth, and great numbers, the Athenians had become the second most powerful Greek polis and were poised to play a major role in the great war that was about to begin. For while the Greek city-states were evolving, the Persian empire was growing into an ambitious power that would threaten to engulf the Hellenic world. A strong Athens would be vital to the defense of Greece against the invasions mounted by the Persian kings Darius and Xerxes.


SOURCES FOR EARLY ATHENS

Written sources for early Athenian history are almost as meager as they are for Sparta and the other Greek states. The first man to commit the history of Athens to writing seems to have been Hellanicus of Lesbos, who was born around 500 Bc and was the earliest in a series of chroniclers known as Atthidographers, that is, people who wrote about Athens. (The other Atthidographers were Athenians, and they wrote during the fourth and third centuries BC.) To the surviving fragments of the Atthidographers we can add the valuable treatise, The Athenian Constitution, written by Aristotle ( 384-322 BC) or by one of his students, as well as Plutarch's lives of early figures such as Theseus and Solon, which made use of sources that are now lost. Aristotle, Plutarch, and other later authors also preserve substantial fragments of the poetry of Solon, the great Athenian statesman and lawgiver. Solon's poems, written around the beginning of the sixth century, constitute our earliest direct evidence for Athenian society at a crucial time in its

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