Name: Date: Ancient Greece – Lesson 3 Athens’ Age of Glory



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Ancient Greece – Lesson 3

Athens’ Age of Glory

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What happened to bring about the success of Athens? As you read in the last lesson, the city-states of Greece went to war against the empire of Persia in 499 B.C. Understanding the importance of sea power, the Athenians built a mighty naval fleet. Over the next 20 years they joined forces with the armies of Sparta and other city-states. Together they defeated the Persians. Many Greek colonies were still in danger of Persian attack, however. Some of them began paying money for protection by the Athenian navy. Athens became rich from these payments. Some of that money went toward building an even more powerful navy. Much of the rest went to improve life in the city itself. Around 460 B.C. Athens entered a period of rich culture. Some historians call the next 30 years the “Golden Age” of Athens. It was a time of great achievement.


Golden Age of Athens

In the middle 400s B.C. Athens was the same in many ways as it had been 65 years earlier. Life still revolved around the agora and the acropolis. Citizens still voted on issues that shaped life in the city. Festivals honoring Athena were still held every summer. Much, however, had changed.


A Walk Through Athens

The Acropolis, high above the city, was the religious center of Athens. Many Greek cities had their own acropolises. The one at Athens, however, was larger than others – that is why it is generally spelled with a capital A. Here a group of buildings displayed the city’s new wealth and power. At their center rose a temple to Athena made of marble cut from a nearby mountain. This stunning temple was the Parthenon. It still sits on the highest point of the Acropolis and can be seen from all over the city. Looking down from the Acropolis, one could see many buildings. About 100,000 people lived in Athens, making it the largest city in Greece.



Activity in the Agora

Following the winding road down from the Acropolis, one might see crowds of people. Many had come to do business at the agora. There were shopkeepers, students, and lawyers heading for the market or government buildings. In one corner of the agora, citizens gathered at a monument that served as the city’s “bulletin board.” Here people could leave messages or read postings about upcoming matters to be voted on. Merchants sold perfume, vegetables, and clothing or offered haircuts. In nearby workshops, potters crafted vases and bowls.



Question Time: Answer the following questions based on what you just read above.

1. Why could Greece defeat Persia?





2. In what other way did Athens benefit from its navy?





3. What different activities take place in the agora on any given day?






Athenian Government

In the early 400s B.C. a small council of powerful citizens made all of the city’s important decisions. Later in the century, though, the council’s powers had been taken over by an assembly of citizens. An assembly is a lawmaking body of a government. The assembly voted on issues that helped to shape the future of the city. Do you remember from the last lesson who were considered citizens in Athens and who were not? No women and no enslaved men had a voice in Athens’ government. In fact they did not enjoy any of the rights of citizenship, such as land ownership. However, the people of ancient Athens took a big step toward creating a government that represented the people.



A Great Statesman

Pericles, an Athenian leader around 450 B.C., explained his city’s government this way:

Our city is called a democracy because it is governed by the many, not the few….No one, moreover, if he has it in him to do some good for the city, is barred because of poverty or humble origins.

Pericles made sure poor as well as rich citizens could take part in government. Citizens served on the assembly and sat on juries. A jury is a group of citizens chosen to hear evidence and make decisions in a court of law. Pericles arranged for citizens to be paid when they held office or served on a jury. This meant that farmers and other poor citizens could afford to take the time to become involved in government.




Philosophy in Athens

While citizens debated government issues, famous teachers like Socrates led discussions about the right way to live. Socrates lived around the middle 400s B.C. He taught his students philosophy, or the search for wisdom and the right way to live. They discussed what makes the best kind of government or what it means to love or to be a good citizen. Shortly before 400 B.C. Socrates began questioning Athenian values, such as laws, customs – even religion. It made some Athenians angry that he would doubt anything about the polis. In 399 B.C. Socrates was brought to trial for “urging Athens’ young people to revolt.” The jury decided he was guilty and sentenced him to death. His teachings, however, were written down by a student, Plato, who also became a famous philosopher.




Ancient Greeks developed three types of columns

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Question Time: Answer the following questions based on what you just read above.

4. Who was Pericles and what measures did he take to see that poor men as well as rich men were represented in the government?





5. What is philosophy?





6. What kinds of questions do philosophers investigate and think about?





7. What kinds of questions did the philosopher Socrates raise?





8. Why did some Athenian citizens object to his questions?






War and Conflict

The Golden Age of Athens did not last, however. Sparta and other Greek city-states were jealous of the power and wealth of Athens. They formed what they called the Peloponnesian League. You can see where the allies of Athens were located on the map below. In 431 B.C. the two sides began what became known as the Peloponnesian Wars.



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Battles on Land and Sea

The wars began with an attack by the Spartan army. Pericles knew that his army was no match for Sparta’s. He called for Athenians living outside the city to move inside the city walls. The walls protected the city, but Sparta’s army destroyed the farmland around Athens. The Athenians did not starve, however, because their navy controlled the Aegean Sea. Ships were able to bring in grain from other areas. In fact the powerful Athenian navy kept the wars in a deadlock for many years. Athens was able to win most of the battles at sea while Sparta won more often on land. However, the course of the wars worsened for Athens. A terrible disease swept through the crowded city. At least one third of the population died from it. One of its victims was Pericles. Meanwhile the wars continued, taking many more lives.


A Final Blow

In 404 B.C. Sparta was able to cut off the Athenian grain supply from the Black Sea. The starving Athenians had to surrender. All of Greece had suffered great losses from the Peloponnesian Wars. The Greek historian Thucydides, who lived during the time, concluded that war “is a violent teacher.”


The End of a Golden Age

Following the Peloponnesian Wars, Sparta was once again the leading polis in Greece. Yet its victory was short-lived. For the next 50 years no city-state was able to maintain control for long before others challenged it. These unsettled times would leave Greece open to threats from a new power to the north.


Why it Matters

Between 500 B.C. and 400 B.C. Athens gave the world some of ancient Greece’s most enduring legacies. Athenians improved their democracy and built splendid temples. They searched for wisdom through philosophy and created new dramatic forms. After 400 B.C. a young warrior-king from another land would spread those legacies far and wide. His name was Alexander. You will read about him in the following lesson.


Main Ideas

  • In the 400s B.C. during their “Golden Age,” Athenians discussed philosophy, wrote plays, and built many grand buildings.

  • Though democracy was still limited to male citizens, Pericles worked to give poorer citizens a voice in Athenian government.

  • The Peloponnesian Wars ended the “Golden Age” of Athens. Afterward no single polis dominated Greece.

Question Time: Answer the following questions based on what you just read above.

9. How was Athen’s navy able to hold off defeat for so long?





10. What non-battle event caused a weakening of Athens?





11. What finally broke the Athenian defense?





12. How did the Peloponnesian Wars weaken Greek power in the world?





Final Lesson 3 Activity:

  • Choose the achievement that you consider to be the greatest legacy of Athens in the Golden Age. Draw a scene that illustrates that achievement. Be creative!




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