ATHENS (ăth'ĕnz, Gr. Athēnai). In ancient times the famous capital of Attica, one of the Greek states, now the capital of Greece. The city was named after its patron goddess Athene. It centered around a rocky hill called Acropolis and was four and one-half miles (seven and one-half km.) from the sea. Two walls, 250 feet (78 m.) apart, connected the city with its harbor (Peiraeus). According to tradition, the city was founded by Cecrops, who came from Egypt about 1556 b.c.; Athens sent fifty ships to the Trojan War. The city was ruled by kings until about 1068, when archons (magistrates) began to rule. Two of the most famous archons were Draco, who in c. 620 issued laws “written in blood,” and Solon, who in 594 gave the state a constitution. The Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon in 490 and again in 480 at Salamis. They then built a small empire, with a powerful fleet for its support. The period of Athens’ greatest glory was during the rule of Pericles (459-431), who erected many beautiful public buildings in the city and under whose administration literature and art flourished. The Peloponnesian War (431-404) ended with the submission of Athens to Sparta. Later wars sapped the strength of Athens. Philip of Macedon crushed the city in 338. In 146 the Romans made it a part of the province of Achaea. The Roman general Sulla sacked the city in 86. It subsequently came into the hands of the Goths, the Byzantines, and other peoples. The Turks ruled it from a.d. 1458 until the emancipation of Greece in 1833.

In ancient times Athens had a population of at least a quarter of a million. It was the seat of Greek art, science, and philosophy, and was the most important university city in the ancient world, even under Roman sway. Although politically conquered, it conquered its conquerors with its learning and culture.

Paul visited the city on his second missionary journey and spoke to an interested but somewhat disdainful audience (Acts.17.1-Acts.17.34). He reminded them of their altar inscribed with the words “To An Unknown God,” which he had seen in the city, and declared that he could tell them about this God. He made some converts in the city, but there is no record of his establishing a church there or of his returning on any later occasion. From Athens he went to Corinth, where he remained for a year and a half, establishing a strong church.

Capital of Attica, metropolis of ancient Greek culture, and capital of modern Greece. Its name seems to have derived from that of its patron goddess, Athene. The city has a striking situation with the rock of the Acropolis rising more than 500 feet above the plain. A monarchy in its early days and then an oligarchy, it became a pioneer in democracy from about 500 b.c. It played a leading part in the Persian wars and reached the peak of its political and cultural power in the fifth century b.c. After its conquest by the Macedonians in 338 b.c., there began the Hellenistic period in which Athens was still revered for her culture and learning though it had passed its peak. Athens was taken by the Romans in 86 b.c., but was made a free city under Augustus and was adorned with new buildings, particularly by Hadrian.

Acts 17 records the visit of Paul and his preaching the Gospel in the Areopagus. He showed himself able to present it in terms which were related to current philosophy, but he made only a few converts, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. Apart from an allusion in passing in 1 Thess. 3:1, there is no further mention of Athens in the New Testament. The first reference to the church in Athens comes from Melito of Sardis who states (according to Eusebius) that the emperor Antoninus Pius tried to stop the harassment of Christians which was going on there in the middle of the second century.

Because of the importance of its schools of philosophy Athens was the home of a number of Christian Apologists* such as Quadratus, Aristides, and Athenagoras. Among those who studied at the philosophical schools were Julian, Basil, and Gregory Nazianzus, but in 529 Justinian forbade the study of philosophy. During the Byzantine period it had the status of a provincial town, and the ancient temples were used as Christian churches. In 869 it was given its own archbishop. From 1204 it came under Latin rule until its conquest by the Turks in 1456. The Greek Church was allowed to continue during the period of Turkish domination, which ended in 1833 with the setting up of the modern kingdom of Greece, of which Athens became the capital. At the same time the Orthodox Church of Greece became independent under the archbishop of Athens.

ATHENS ăth’ ĭnz (̓Αθη̂ναι, G121; city of Athena). Chief city of the ancient city-state of Attica and capital of modern Greece.


The city is located about five m. from the Aegean Sea on the narrow plain between Mount Parnes to the N, Mount Pentelicus to the E and Mount Hymettus to the SE. It was originally settled by neolithic people because of its Acropolis which was easily defended and had an accessible supply of water. Attica is one of the driest regions of Greece, but the rainfall is sufficient for olive groves and vineyards. The export of olive oil and wine was one of the chief sources of the prosperity of classical Athens. In addition, there were excellent clay beds nearby for pottery making, and silver and lead were mined at Laurium at the southern tip of Attica. Mount Pentelicus provided beautiful marble for local use and for export.

The city was enclosed by fortification walls throughout most of its history. During the Late Bronze Age a wall (the Pelargikon) was built around the perimeter of the Acropolis. Because of the Pers. threat at the beginning of the 5th cent. b.c. the Athenians hastily fortified the expanded city and soon thereafter extended the walls down to the excellent port facilities of the Piraeus. The Emperor Hadrian encouraged the enlargement to the E of the city walls which stood intact until the Herulian invasion in the 3rd cent. a.d.

The classical and Rom. city was located within roughly circular walls. The Acropolis occupied the S central portion. The Areopagus Hill lay to the NW, the Pynx Hill to the W and the agora (marketplace) to the N. There were residential areas to the N, E and S. Visitors to Athens such as Paul and Pausanias would have entered through the Dipylon Gate just beyond the Kerameikos (the old potters’ quarter) cemetery and traveled along the Panathenaic Way through the agora to the Acropolis.


The Athenians described themselves as autochthonoi (sprung from the earth) to indicate that their ancestors had inhabited the city without interruption. The site was originally settled on and around the Acropolis in the Neolithic Period. Tradition says that Athens was not affected by the Dorian invasion at the end of the Bronze Age and further that Nestor led the people of Pylos there when the Dorians overran the Peloponnesus. During the Geometric Period (Early Iron Age) the city expanded in a northwesterly direction. At some time during the period the agora ceased to be used for burials, and it became the public center of the city. During the 6th cent. an archaic temple of Apollo and the old Bouleuterion were built, as well as the old temple of Athena on the Acropolis.

Athens emerged into history in the 6th cent. The city was first ruled by an oppressive aristocracy until the reforms of Draco. In 594 the constitution of Solon provided safeguards against mistreatment of the people, but it remained for the tyrants, Peisistratus and his sons, to bring prosperity and public confidence. Cleisthenes, at the end of the 6th cent. was the true founder of the democracy.

The role of Athens in the Persian War brought it to a place of great prominence. Even though the city was completely destroyed, the Athenians recovered quickly. The fleet which had a decisive part in the defeat of the Persians became the basis of a maritime empire. The years of Pericles’ great influence (443-429) were the most glorious in Athenian history. Athens became a complete democracy and by its encouragement of the arts nurtured one of the greatest periods in the history of mankind. The city was adorned with magnificent public buildings. The dramatists and historians recited its greatness. Athens attracted intellectuals from all over Greece and encouraged the study of philosophy, rhetoric and science. Only the short-sighted foreign policies of its leaders led to the decline of Athens and to the Peloponnesian War.

Although deprived of its empire and wealth, Athens remained a center of art and lit. in the 4th cent. A precarious democracy was restored for a time until Philip of Macedon conquered all of Greece. The Macedonian kings, Egypt, Syria and esp. Pergamum courted favor by benevolences to the city. In the 3rd cent. Athens joined the Achaean league, but soon thereafter lost its independence to Rome. In 86 b.c. the Rom. general, Sulla, besieged the city and allowed his soldiers to loot it. Now poor and stripped of its commerce, Athens was reduced to a university center which was visited by many prominent Romans. The Rom. emperors, particularly Hadrian, supported the city by their benevolences. The city continued to decline until the early 19th cent. a.d. when it was a mere village of 5,000.


Ancient monuments are numerous enough in Athens to give the visitor an insight into the glories of the past. Painstaking work has been done by the Greek Archaeological Service on the Acropolis, by the American School of Classical Studies in the agora and by the other foreign schools in the city and its environs. As one enters from any direction, the Acropolis dominates the city. The entrance to the hill is the Propylea which like the Parthenon was built during the time of Pericles. The Parthenon, dedicated to Athena, is a building of the Doric order. It is 238 ft. long and 111 ft. wide at its base. The outer colonnade was made up of forty-six columns thirty-four ft. high. The pediments at each end depicted mythological scenes; the birth of Athena on the E, the contest of Athena and Poseidon for Attica on the W. Above the inner colonnade ran a frieze depicting the Panathenaic procession. On the N side of the Acropolis is the Erechtheum, the common shrine of Erechtheus and Poseidon. Also on the hilltop can be found the fortification walls of Themistocles, the Temple of Wingless Victory and the foundations of a number of older buildings. Below the Acropolis on the S side are the theater of Dionysius and the Odeum of Herodes Atticus.

The agora was the forum and marketplace of the ancient city. All that remains today are the foundations of buildings and the Stoa of Attalus which stretched across the E side and has been faithfully reconstructed by the American School as a museum. The commercial area included the Stoa of Attalus and the S, E and middle stoas along the S side. The W side consisted of the important public buildings of Athens: the circular Tholos, the office and dining room of the Prytaneum; the Bouleuterion or senate house; the Metroon, the official archives; the temple of Apollo Patroon and the Stoa Basileios. In front of the Metroon was a temple of Ares and the statues of the eponymous heroes of the city. Above the agora to the W on the Kolonos Agoraios stands the 5th cent. temple of Hephaestus, one of the best preserved Gr. temples.

Paul’s visit.

When the Apostle Paul visited Athens the city still retained its reputation as a center of learning, although it was no longer prosperous. He noticed the magnificent public buildings and shrines which were still intact despite Sulla’s barbarism (Acts 17:23). He came there because of the Jewish protests against his preaching in Thessalonica and Berea. He witnessed in the agora and was called before the Areopagus Court to which he gave an intellectual defense of the Gospel. He mentioned an altar to the unknown god which both Pausanias and Philostratus also observed. The synagogue (17:17) is unknown, but Jewish burials have been found in the Kerameikos. A few converts were made as a result of his preaching before he left for Corinth (Acts 17:15-18:1).


P. Gaindor, Athènes de Tibère à Trajan (1931); Athènes sous Hadrian (1934); M. L. W. Laistner, History of the Greek World from 479 to 323 B. C., passim (1936); I. T. Hill, The Ancient City of Athens (1953); The American School of Classical Studies, The Athenian Agora, a Guide to the Excavations (1954).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Athenai In antiquity the celebrated metropolis of Attica, now the capital of Greece. Two long walls, 250 ft. apart, connected the city with the harbor (Peiraeus). In Ac 17 we are told what Paul did during his single sojourn in this famous city. He came up from the sea by the new road (North of the ancient) along which were altars of unknown gods, entered the city from the West, and passed by the Ceramicus (burial-ground), which can be seen to this day, the "Theseum," the best preserved of all Greek temples, and on to the Agora (Market-Place), just North of the Acropolis, a steep hill, 200 ft. high, in the center of the city. Cimon began and Pericles completed the work of transforming this citadel into a sanctuary for the patron goddess of the city.

The magnificent gateway (Propylaea), of which the Athenians were justly proud, was built by Mnesicles (437-432 BC). A monumental bronze statue by Phidias stood on the left, as one emerged on the plateau, and the mighty Parthenon a little further on, to the right. In this temple was the famous gold and ivory statue of Athena. The eastern pediment contained sculptures representing the birth of the goddess (Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum), the western depicting her contest with Poseidon for supremacy over Attica. This, the most celebrated edifice, architecturally, in all history, was partially destroyed by the Venetians in 1687. Other temples on the Acropolis are the Erechtheum and the "Wingless Victory." In the city the streets were exceedingly narrow and crooked. The wider avenues were called plateiai, whence English "place," Spanish "plaza." The roofs of the houses were flat. In and around the Agora were many porticoes stoai. In the Stoa Poecile ("Painted Portico"), whose walls were covered with historical paintings, Paul met with the successors of Zeno, the Stoics, with whom he disputed daily. In this vicinity also was the Senate Chamber for the Council of Five Hundred, and the Court of the Areopagus, whither Socrates came in 399 BC to face his accusers, and where Paul, five centuries later, preached to the Athenians "the unknown God." In this neighborhood also were the Tower of the Winds and the water-clock, which must have attracted Paul’s attention, as they attract our attention today.

The apostle disputed in the synagogue with the Jews (Ac 17:17), and a slab found at the foot of Mount Hymettus (a range to the East of the city, 3,000 ft. high), with the inscription haute he pule tou kuriou, dikaioi eiseleusontai en aute (Ps 118:20), was once thought to indicate the site, but is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th century. Slabs bearing Jewish inscriptions have been found in the city itself.

The population of Athens was at least a quarter of a million. The oldest inhabitants were Pelasgians. Cecrops, the first traditional king, came from Egypt in 1556 BC, and by marrying the daughter of Actaeon, obtained the sovereignty. The first king was Erechtheus. Theseus united the twelve communities of Attica and made Athens the capital. After the death of Codrus in 1068 BC, the governing power was entrusted to an archon who held office for life. In 753 BC the term of office was limited to ten years. In 683 BC nine archons were chosen for a term of one year. Draco’s laws, "written in blood," were made in 620 BC. Solon was chosen archon in 594 BC and gave the state a constitution. The tyrant Pisistratus was in control permanently from 541 to 527 BC; his son Hipparchus was assassinated in 514. Clisthenes changed the constitution and introduced the practice of ostracism.

In 490 BC the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, and again in 480 BC at Salamis. In 476 BC Aristides organized the great Athenian Confederacy. After his death Conon became the leader of the conservative party; and when the general Cimon was killed, Pericles became the leader of the people. In 431 BC the Peloponnesian War broke out and continued till 404 BC, when Athens succumbed to Sparta. An oligarchical government was set up with Critias and Theramenes at the head. War broke out again but peace was restored by the pact of Antalcidas (387 BC). In the Sacred War (357-355 BC) Athens exhausted her strength. When Philip of Macedon began to interfere in Greek affairs, Athens could neither resolve on war measures (to which the oratory of Demosthenes incited her), nor make terms with Philip. Finally, she joined Thebes in making armed resistance, but in spite of her heroic efforts at Chaeronea, she suffered defeat (338 BC). Philip was murdered in 336 BC, and Alexander the Great became master.

After the subjugation of Greece by the Romans, Athens was placed under the supervision of the governor of Macedonia, but was granted local independence in recognition of her great history. As the seat of Greek art and science, Athens played an important role even under Roman sway--she became the university city of the Roman world, and from her radiated spiritual light and intellectual energy to Tarsus, Antioch and Alexandria. Philo, the Jew, declares that the Athenians were Hellenon oxuderkestatoi dianoian ("keenest in intellect") and adds that Athens was to Greece what the pupil is to the eye, or reason to the soul. Although the city had lost her real independence, the people retained their old characteristics: they were still interested in art, literature and philosophy.

Paul may possibly have attended theater of Dionysus (under the Southeast cliff of the Acropolis) and witnessed a play of the Greek poets, such as Euripides or Menander. Many gifts were received from foreign monarchs by Athens. Attalus I of Perg amum endowed the Academy, Eumenes added a splendid Stoa to theater and Antiochus Epiphanes began the Olympeium (15 columns of which are still standing), the massive sub-basement of which had been constructed by Pisistratus. Athens became a favorite residence for foreign writers who cultivated history, geography and literature. Horace, Brutus and Cassius sojourned in the city for some time. Josephus declares that the Athenians were the most god-fearing of the Greeks eusebestatous ton Hellenon. Compare Livy xlv.27.

LITERATURE. See Wordsworth, Athens and Attica; Butler, Story of Athens; Ernest Gardner, Ancient Athens; Tucker, Life in Ancient Athens; A. Mommsen, Athenae Christianae; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of Paul, chapter x; Gregorovius, Stadt Athen im Mittelalter; Leake, Grote, Thirlwall, Curtius, Wachsmuth, Holm, and Pausanias’ Attica, recently edited by Carroll (Ginn and Co.), or in the large work of Frazer.