How did Athens become the leading Greek city-state?

Greek-Persian_duel (1)

Greek Hoplite fighting a Persian Warrior

The rise of Athens in the late 6th century and early 5th century BCE not only ushered in the Classical Age, but it went on to influence European and Western culture for for thousands of years. This rise occurred in large part due to its prominent location and control of key trading routes and leadership in the wars against Persia. While other Greek cities held more powerful armies, such as Sparta, it was Athens’ leadership that proved attractive and helped pave the way for its influence.

At around 508 BCE, Cleisthenes rose to power as a leader of Athens. He is typically credited with being the father of Athenian democracy. While Athenian democracy looks very different from our own democratic systems, his reforms gave more power to the common gentry.[1] Both the nobility and common free citizens of Athens were able to participate in the city’s government assembly. Common citizens were also able to be appointed to key government posts. While one might assume these democratic style reforms led to the rise of power, the reality is Athens was already beginning to benefit from its control of key trade along the Mediterranean.[2] The region of Attica is not highly fertile, leading to Athens becoming a city highly dependent on its external links to colonies and trade.

The bases of city wealth helped Athens to use that wealth in subsequent events that were to shape all of the Greek world. Athens was involved in the rebellion in Ionia, along the coast of Asia Minor, that saw the Greek cities revolt against their Persian overlords. These revolts were put down; however, Persia was agitated by Athens’ support for the rebels. This led to Darius, the Achaemenid Persian king, to invade the Peloponnese peninsula to take revenge against Athens. In particular, the burning of Sardis by the Ionian rebels greatly upset the Persians, given that city’s great wealth and importance to the Persians.[3]

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Categories: Ancient History

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