Athens is the capital city of Greece. It is a modern, big city as the capitals of other European countries are, and more than a million people live in Athens and its suburbs. But Athens is also one of the most important cities of history. Thousands of years ago, when most of the men on earth were still ignorant savages, the learning and the science and the art of today had their start in Athens . About five thousand years ago, men first built a city where Athens stands today. They built the city around a rocky hill about four hundred feet high.
On this hill they built walled-in fortifications called an acropolis, about which there is a separate article. The people lived around the hill and farmed the land. If an enemy attacked, they could all go to the Acropolis for safety. All cities in those ancient times passed under the rule of one king after another, fought and lost many wars, sometimes were conquered and ruled by neighbouring peoples, and sometimes conquered the neighbouring peoples and ruled them. For hundreds of years, Athens rose and fell in this way.
But about three thousand years ago-not long after the year 1000 B.C. – the people of Athens began to develop a civilisation greater than the world had known before. The first step toward this was the Greek language as the Athenians learned to use it. No other language then had the words needed to write great books of science as well as great poetry and other literature. The poetry of Homer, written in this language, is still as great as any that has ever been written. In the hundreds of years that followed, the drama was born in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and others. Three of the greatest philosophers of all time, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, taught and wrote in this Greek language.
Laws written in this language, by the great statesman Solon and others, gave Athens one of the earliest democratic governments. The Greek language is still used by scholars throughout the world. Athens became a democracy in 508 B.C. The two hundred years that followed were the times of its greatest glory. During this period the sculptor Phidias and other Athenian sculptors built the magnificent buildings on the Acropolis and carved statues that are still models of beauty. The people elected their own leaders. Athens was a “ city-state ,” which means that it was a city but also an independent country. There were many slaves, however. In 338 B.C., Athens was conquered by King Philip of Macedon, a neighbouring country in Greece. (Philip was the father of Alexander the Great, who conquered almost the entire civilised world.)
After it fell under the rule of Macedon, Athens did not become big and independent again for more than two thousand years. The Romans ruled it, then a series of conquerors until the Turks made it part of Turkey about four hundred years ago. Athens became just a small town. In the year 1834, the entire country of Greece became independent again and Athens was made the capital. It began to grow, and now is a great city again. It is the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church (also called the Orthodox Catholic Church), and the capital of the kingdom of Greece. About two thirds of all the manufacturing in Greece is done in and near Athens . The remains of many of the great buildings of ancient Athens , including the Acropolis, can still be seen there. During World War II, the Germans occupied Greece and captured Athens , but it was not damaged.