Atlas - Athens

Main information

Greece, Attica

From Prehistory until modern times
  • Hellenistic
Intensive exploration of the site, either during planned excavations by Greek and international teams, or during salvage excavations due to modern urbanistic works.
Discover the library page
Ptolemaion Library
Discover the disrupted library page
Library in Piraeus

Attica was a large peninsula in the Eastern part of Greece. Its main urban centre, Athens, was inhabited since prehistorical times. The birthplace of democracy, it was a major economic, political, artistic, and cultural centre since Archaic times.


Athens until the 4th c. B.C.E.


Athens during the Hellenistic period

After Alexander the Great, Athens was alternatively an oligarchy or a democracy, depending on its fluctuating relations with the Hellenistic monarchs.

In opposition with the Macedonian Antigonids during most of the period, Athens fostered alliances with other Mediterranean states, such as Rome.

The prestige of the Classical city and its policy of alliances made Athens a choice destination for Hellenistic kings (especially the Attalids of Pergamon, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Oriental Seleucids), who visited it and adorned its public centre with statues and monumental buildings.

The ideal location of Attica in the Eastern Mediterranean contributed to the prestige of Athens and to its alliance to Rome. The city’s harbour, Piraeus, was an important commercial centre attracting many foreign merchants. From the second quarter of the 2nd c. B.C.E., the Athenian state had also gained control over the island of Delos, which was turned into a free port.

Athens in the 1st c. B.C.E. and under the Julio-Claudians

In the 1st c. B.C.E., Athens made several bad diplomatic choices, especially when it supported Pontus’ king Mithridates VI. It consequently lost the support of Rome, and the city was defeated and sacked by Sylla’s army in 86 B.C.E. For the following decades, Athens struggled to overcome the resulting destructions. The city also suffered during the civil wars between Roman factions, when it systematically sided with the losing side.

The revival came mainly after the the battle of Actium, with the beginning of a durable peace and the restoration programs encouraged by Augustus and his family in the Aegean. Augustus came several times to Athens and his family initiated important building programs in the centre of the city.

Roman Athens


Cultural context

In Hellenistic times, Athens still maintained its cultural prestige. The city was a major artistic and intellectual centre, attracting gifts and visitors from all over the Hellenized Mediterranean and Orient.

Hellenistic Athenian literary sources appear less numerous than during the 5th and 4th c. B.C.E. Nevertheless, the abundant epigraphic documentation and the testimony of non-Athenian authors confirm the Athenian preponderance in the intellectual education of Mediterranean elites. Its philosophical schools, which were mostly founded in the 4th c. B.C.E., attracted notables from other hellenized regions. The Hellenistic kings contributed to the restoration and adornment of public spaces by offering monumental constructions: porticoes, gymnasium, civic offices, temples and statues. The works of Athenian artists were exported all over the Mediterranean.

Athenian intellectual life was funded and stimulated by the civic body. A mandatory step in the military and civic instruction of young Athenians during classical times, the ephebeia transformed during the 3rd c. B.C.E. It became an elitist instruction path open to notables from other Greek cities, where intellectual education took an important place. The ephebes received an athletic instruction in the Diogenion gymnasium, took part to civic ceremonies, and had to attend conferences and various teachings in several Athenian gymnasia: The Lyceum, the Academy and the Ptolemaion. In the late 2nd c. B.C.E., they also had to contibute to the increase of the library in the Ptolemaion [LINK].

Despite the sack of Athens by Roman general Sylla and his army in 86 B.C.E. and political troubles throughout the 1st c. B.C.E., the city remained attractive. Greek and Roman notables were coming to complete their philosophical education.

The urban centre was progressively reconstructed and embellished during the Augustean period (odeon of Agrippa and transfer of temples in the agora, “Roman market”, acropolis).


  • Camp J., 2001, The archaeology of Athens, Yale, New Haven, p. 161-182.
  • Etienne R., 2004, Athènes, espaces urbains et histoire, des origines à la fin du IIIe siècle ap. J.-C., Paris.
  • Greco E., Foresta S., Gagliano E. (ed.), 2010-, Topografia di Atene : sviluppo urbano e monumenti dalle origini al III secolo d.C., Athens (6 tomes parus).
  • Habicht Ch., 1997, Athens from Alexander to Antony, Harvard, Cambridge MA.
  • Perrin-Salminadayar E., 2007, Education, culture et société à Athènes. Les acteurs de la vie culturelle athénienne (229-88) : un tout petit monde, Paris.


Coqueugniot Gaëlle


Title : Athens
Creator : Coqueugniot Gaëlle
Subject : Site
Editor : Coqueugniot Gaëlle
Date : June 2018
Format : Text & images
Language : English
Relation :
Coverage : Greece, Attica / 4th c. BC – AD 1st c. / Hellenistic
Rights : CC by NC - SA