views updated Jun 11 2018



Archaic Period . In Athens during the Archaic Period (700-480 b.c.e.), Solon divided the Athenians according to their income, while at the end of the sixth century another legislator, Cleisthenes, divided them according to their places of residence. Villages and hamlets became the basic unit of the state, and Cleisthenes created ten separate bodies of people, or “tribes.” In the course of the sixth century some rules were established as to which Solonian income class could hold what public office, while the new Cleisthenic system made the selection of individuals orderly. As might be expected, the most important offices were reserved for the highest income class; lesser offices were filled by the next two income classes. No office carried pay. The lowest class could only sit in the assembly and serve as jurors in the courts. All four classes had the right to appeal to a court of last resort instituted by Solon. These measures affected only the citizens.

Classical Period. The social classes into which the residents of Athens and Attica were divided in the Classical Period (480—323 b.c.e.) were three: citizens, metics, and slaves. The political and legal rights and the social status of these groups did not coincide. Only the citizens, who throughout the Classical Period constituted a homogenous group, had full rights, including the right to own land. It is estimated that at the end of the fifth century, three-fourths of the citizens of Athens owned land in some form or another. Until the beginning of the Second Peloponnesian War in 431 b.c.e., the political leaders of Athens were landowners. During the war men who had made money in trade and manufacture began to rise to power, but owning land continued to carry prestige, and commercial nouveaux riches met with criticism and ridicule, examples of which are found in the comedies of the era.

Land Ownership. As at Sparta, the question of the inalienability of land is difficult to decide. It probably could be bought and sold in the fifth century; certainly it was possible to do so in the fourth century. However, real estate was not commercialized as it is in the modern world. Mortgage was regarded as a bad thing and was used only in emergencies. It does not seem to have been used to raise money for other purposes; for example, to invest in business.

Agriculture. The basis of the Athenian economy in the fifth and fourth century remained farming. Much of it was subsistence farming rather than market farming, since only the farmers in the neighborhood of Athens could bring their produce to market in the city; even there most of the activity was exchanges in kind, rather than for cash. Some “heavy industry” in the form of mining also existed. The state leased the silver mines at Laurium to private entrepreneurs, who were generally citizens, for exploitation. Other citizens are known to have owned factories. The father of the orator and politician Demosthenes owned two enterprises, which might be described as “large-scale industry,” one manufacturing beds and employing twenty slave carpenters, and another, a cutlery, employing thirty workers. Citizens also worked in such professions as lawyers, architects, and sculptors; the citizens at the bottom of the social scale were employed in various trades, such as carpenters, painters, sawyers, masons, blacksmiths, and sailors.

Metics. Resident aliens residing in Athens were known as metics, which means “those who have changed their place of residence.” Solon encouraged the immigration to Athens of citizens of other Greek states as a way to increase trade and manufacture. The foreigners who established themselves as tradesmen and craftsmen in Athens in the course of the sixth and fifth centuries certainly did invigorate the Athenian economy with their skills and talents. The metics in the fifth century were mostly Greeks; in the fourth century a great variety of nationalities was represented among them: Thracians, Lydians, Carians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians lived and worked in Athens. Toward the end of the fourth century the metic population was probably about one-half that of the citizens. The institution was not peculiar to Athens; metics lived in many other Greek cities.

Origins. The attitude toward land and farming no doubt had something to do with the origins of this class. Historically, agriculture was the earlier economic activity; custom and tradition kept it in the hands of citizens. Along with this attitude went the low opinion that citizens had of what they regarded as demeaning work, which included almost all occupations except agriculture. Once the metic system was established, it was found to provide in the persons of the foreigners a reliable class of people who would do what the full citizens refused to do. The metic system, in other words, ensured the presence of a population that could take care of the economic life of the state.

Occupations. Since they could not own land, the metics naturally turned to those economic activities that were open to them: manufacture, commerce, and banking. Most of the small businessmen in Athens and Attica were metics. Many metics also worked as skilled journeymen and artisans, and some were extremely successful. In the largest manufacturing enterprise known to have existed in Classical Athens, the metic family of Cephalus owned an arms factory employing 120 slave workmen, who made shields.

Political Rights. The metics had no political rights and no voice in the government of the state. They were not eligible to sit in the popular assembly, or the senate, of Athens, or hold any public office. They did enjoy the passive protection of the laws, but at first could not sue or defend themselves in person before the court. All metics were required to have a guardian or patron who was a citizen, and they depended on this patron to represent them in court. The inability to appear personally in court fell into abeyance early; already in the fifth century there were instances of foreign residents engaged in litigation without the interjection of a patron. The restriction, too, on metic ownership of land was gradually eased until it became merely theoretical.

Taxes. A metic’s obligations were the payment of a special tax, which, at twelve drachmas for men and six drachmas for women, was low; another tax was imposed on them for the privilege of trading in the marketplace. Deserving metics could be granted an exemption from the annual metic tax and so be put on the same level as the citizens, who did not pay a tax on their persons, but only on their property. In addition to these obligations, the metics were also liable to the taxes and duties incumbent upon the citizens. They had to undertake the so-called liturgies, that is, the financing and supervision of certain public activities, such as paying the expenses for a warship and its crew, and if qualified to do so, serving as the ship’s captain. Like the citizens, the metics served in the army and navy and were subject to the payment of a special tax that was raised in time of war or great emergencies.

Wealth. The basis of the metics’ social position was wealth; some were poor, while others were extremely rich. Apart from some rare prejudice toward them motivated by snobbery or xenophobia, the rich metics were accepted by the citizens, and even by the aristocrats among them, as their social equals. The sons of Cephalus were counted among the wealthiest Athenians, belonging to the social and intellectual elite.

Contributions. Although they were resented occasionally as upstarts, the metics were not regarded as economic rivals of the citizens. On the contrary, their contributions to the economic life and well-being of the state were welcomed by the citizens. The metics, for their part, accepted the order under which they lived, for it enabled them to live in peace and enjoy the material prosperity, power, and prestige of Athens. Many of them became fully assimilated, and, as a whole, the metics never formed a separate, much less a hostile, group against the citizens. In times of internal conflict they favored the democracy against the party of the oligarchs.

Slaves. A third legal class at Athens comprised the slaves, both public and private. Although they were legally property, like inanimate objects, slaves were granted a certain protection of the laws. They could not be beaten, wounded, or killed. Apart from that, slaves had no legal personality; they could not go to law, and it was up to their owners to protect them from injury. They

could testify in court, but their testimony was valid only if given under torture. Like the metics, the slaves belonged to different nationalities from various parts of the eastern and northern neighbors of Greece such as Asia Minor, Thrace, and Scythia, in present-day southern Russia. There were also Greeks among them. Men became slaves through war or through piracy, as prisoners who were then sold into slavery. Women and children of towns and cities captured by the enemy were regularly enslaved. Given the frequency of warfare and the unsafe sea lanes, anyone could become a slave. In fourth-century Athens non-Greek slaves predominated.

Mining. Slaves did the same sort of work as the members of the free workforce and were to be found in every sector of economic life: in farming, commerce, manufacture, domestic service, and in the navy, as oarsmen on the warships. Only mining was regarded as specifically slavish work, although occasionally freemen worked in the silver and lead mines located at Laurium, a district in southern Attica.

Working Conditions. The conditions in which slaves lived and worked varied considerably. The type of work that a slave did determined his social status and his standard of living, in a manner similar to that of the metics. At the bottom of the scale were the slaves working in the mines under harsh conditions in narrow tunnels, without much hope of gaining their freedom and with a short life expectancy. As far as the rest of the slaves were concerned, the differences between free and slave labor were few. One difference was that the free worked for themselves, while the slaves worked for someone else, although here, too, there were exceptions. A second difference was that slave labor was more likely to be employed in the larger “factories,” and free labor in the smaller, family businesses. On top of the slave hierarchy stood the public slaves—scribes, secretaries, and assistants working in the political, administrative, fiscal, and other committees that constituted the large bureaucracy of democratic Athens. Another group of public slaves formed the police force of Athens. The public slaves enjoyed a privileged position and considerable personal freedom.

Pasion. Another privileged group consisted of slaves who lived apart from their owners, with the consent of the latter. These “separately domiciled” slaves worked in all sorts of occupations as independent operators, but on condition that they turned over a portion of their earnings to their masters; by saving up some of the rest of their income they could buy their freedom and rise to the status of metics. The independently working slaves did not differ much from the free artisans and craftsmen; there is even some reason for thinking that they had some legal standing that allowed them to seek the protection of the courts. A slave could advance himself considerably. The banker Pasion, for example, began his career as a slave in a banking firm, then became a freedman, and eventually an Athenian citizen. Pasion was the wealthiest banker and manufacturer of his time, and at his death was a multimillionaire in modern terms.

Erechtheum. Inscriptions on marble show that citizens, metics, and slaves worked side by side as craftsmen and laborers. In one instance an inscription records the trades, social class, and pay of the workers completing the construction of the temple of Athena, known as the Erechtheum in the last decade of the fifth century. Much of the temple still stands today on the Athenian Acropolis. Many professions and trades are listed; among them are 2 architects and their secretary, 44 masons, 19 carpenters, 9 sculptors, 7 wood-carvers, 3 painters, a pair each of sawyers and wax modellers, 1 joiner, lathe worker and gilder, and 7 men whose trade is unknown. Of the total 107 workers, 24 were citizens, including the architects and their secretary, 42 were metics, and 20 were slaves. Sixteen slaves worked in the specialized trades of masonry and carpentry; no slave worked as a common laborer, while six freemen did. Later sources add coppersmiths, engravers, wagon masters, drivers, ropemakers, weavers, and leather workers to the work force on the Acropolis. On the whole these men did the same kind of work and were paid the same wage. The only distinctions made were that the architects and their secretary were under contract for one year and received a salary, two distinct advantages. The rest of the workers, depending on the type of work they did, were paid either by the day or by their production rate. Slaves also regularly served in the navy of Athens as oarsmen, side by side with citizen and metic shipmates; in fact, the majority of the rowers in the warships were slaves.

Assimilation. Through the work that they did the slaves of Athens became assimilated with the lower classes of the free population. They did not constitute a separate social class, nor did they compete with the citizens for employment. The modern view that slave labor made worse the economic position of the free workers is mistaken. Nowhere in the ancient sources is there any indication of antagonism against slave workers; on the contrary, free workers regarded the slaves as “working companions,” rather than as economic rivals.

Slave Revolts. At the height of the Peloponnesian War in 413 b.c.e., the Spartans blockaded Athens, and twenty thousand slaves ran away. Many of them were probably miners escaping their harsh working conditions. They fell into the hands of the Boeotians, who sold them for a good price. The deserters did not intend to start a slave war against Athens. Apart from a few revolts by the helots at Sparta, there were no slave uprisings of the kind that occurred later in Roman Italy. The differences in nationality and in their social and economic circumstances prevented slaves in Greece from developing a class consciousness and so from uniting to form a program of common action.

Imperialism. For fifty years after the Persian Wars, Athens was the most prosperous Greek state, mainly because it was now an imperial power. The old belief that war was a legitimate means of enriching oneself remained alive, but in the Classical Period it took on the more subtle form of imperialism, which may be defined as the imposition by a superior power of demands on others, in this case demands for the payment of tribute. It had been agreed originally that the moneys paid into the treasury on Delos were to be used in prosecuting the war against Persia; however, it was probably inevitable that some of the tribute from the dozens of city-states should eventually come to be used for the benefit of Athens alone. The increase of Ath-ens’s wealth from this source explains how that country, having only mediocre farmland and few natural resources except silver, could become the wealthiest city-state in the Greek world, building public buildings on a magnificent scale, maintaining large war fleets, and waging war, all at the same time.

Plot Holders. No voice was raised in Athens to defend the interests of the states subjected to Athenian rule. One politician, Thucydides, the son of Milesias, raised the question of the tribute paid by the states for the construction of new public buildings, but he did not really champion the cause of the subject states. The Athenians were fully satisfied with the benefits from their empire; besides the financial benefit from the tribute, they held control of foreign sources of various commodities. As virtual dictators over their vassal states, the Athenians could confiscate allied lands and settle on them as so-called plot holders. Having such holdings in the Aegean region was not enough for them; in 415 b.c.e. they began a war against Sicily for more such free land.

Rivals. The Athenians were not the only imperialists. Other states also built empires, not for financial gain, but for political and military reasons. The Spartans, for instance, did not force the members of the Peloponnesian League, of which they were the leaders, to pay tribute. Nevertheless, the members of the League did contribute some of their wealth by paying for the maintenance of the military forces of the League. Corinth also practiced a form of imperialism. She maintained links with her colonies, requiring some of them to grant special privileges to the mother city.

Imports. In the Classical Era the chief concern of Athenian authorities was feeding the population, which was large for its time, probably numbering around 250,000 people. During this period Athens regularly had to import two-thirds of its grain from abroad. Its leaders accordingly followed a policy of keeping the sea lanes open to grain cargoes bound for Athens and of controlling the Dardanelles, the vital passage to the grain regions along the Black Sea. Sicily, too, was a source; early in the Second Peloponnesian War the Athenians sent warships to Sicily to intercept grain transports sailing for the Peloponnese.

Timber. Athens kept control of the sea with her powerful navy, but the navy in turn stood in constant need of raw materials with which to build new ships and maintain the old. The greatest need was timber, the main sources of which were the hinterlands of the Thracian coasts, southern Italy, and Sicily. In 465 b.c.e. Athens made an attempt to establish a settlement in Thrace, with a view to obtaining timber there, but attacks upon the settlers by the native tribes and opposition from the kings of Macedon frustrated the operation. After another unsuccessful venture in 445 the Athenians turned to the west, making treaties with various Sicilian and south Italian towns. Two years later a colony was established at Thurii in south Italy. In 437 Athens finally gained a foothold in Thrace with the foundation of Amphipolis, but it lost the town in 424 to the Spartans.

Self-Sufficiency. Other commodities needed for both military and civilian purposes also had to be imported throughout the Classical Period. They included various metals, flax for sails, and pitch and ruddle (vermillion or cinnabar) for the hulls. For these commodities, as well as papyrus and leather, Athens had to rely entirely on imports. Athens was self-sufficient only in honey, wine, and olive oil; it also had natural resources of silver, marble, and potting clay.

Profits. The Athenians could not pay for all these imports with money earned by export. Neither the export of olive oil, Attic wine, nor manufactured goods was able to generate substantial profits. In the fifth century Athens was rich from the tribute paid by the subject states and could pay for its imports. In the fourth century it had to rely on the export of silver, taxation, and the revenue from duties and tolls levied on the maritime traffic in its ports. Increasingly Athens also attracted visitors eager to participate in her intellectual life, and also ordinary tourists, whose money was beneficial to the economy.

Second Peloponnesian War. The major changes in the wake of the Second Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.e.) were political. Sparta replaced Athens as the dominant power and was itself replaced by Thebes. Intermittent warfare continued down to 338, devastating fields and dislocating farmers. Farmers and veterans of the war sought employment as mercenaries. The collapse of the Athenian empire at the end of the fifth century added to the unemployment: the craftsmen, artists, and builders whom Athens had employed with the money extracted from the empire sought work in more stable states in Asia or in Sicily and Italy. Colonization like that in the Archaic Period could no longer provide a safety valve for overpopulation.

Lean Times. In Athens itself there was a certain physical recovery from the devastation of the countryside during the long Peloponnesian War. Nonetheless, the early fourth century was a period of lean times financially, and for the remainder of the century the Athenians were less prosperous than they had been during the days of their great empire. The problems of the preceding era remained, but in a more acute form, the overriding among them being the need to feed a population that had decreased somewhat but was poorer. A declining capacity to import grain and other vital commodities, despite the organization of a new maritime league, meant that Athens no longer had the same control of the sea as in the preceding century.

Survival. Despite these problems, there was no permanent crisis of the kind alleged by Marxist historians, either in the farmlands or in urban society. No landgrab-bing by big capitalist proprietors took place, either in Attica or in Greece in general. Attica continued to be a land of small estates, which on the whole managed to sustain themselves. On the “industrial” side there is some evidence of an increase in entrepreneurial activity, chiefly in the mining of silver.


Antony Andrewes, The Greeks (New York: Knopf, 1967).

M. M. Austin and P. Vidal Naquet, Economic and Social History of Ancient Greece: An Introduction, translated by Austin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977).

Moses I. Finley, The Ancient Economy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

Simon Hornblower, The Greek World 479-323 BC (London & New York: Methuen, 1983).

Nicholas F. Jones, Ancient Greece: State and Society (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997).

Russell Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982).

J. Perlin and Borimir Jordan, “Running Out: 4,200 Years of Wood Shortages,” Co-Evolution Quarterly, 37 (1983): 18-25.

Anthony M. Snodgrass, Archaic Greece: The Age of Experiment (London: Dent, 1980).


views updated May 14 2018


ATHENS , city in Greece. In ancient Jewish history, Athens occupied a position of secondary importance, especially when compared to Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, even Cyrene, and other known cities in Asia Minor. Nevertheless, it must be noted that relations between Athens and Palestine can be traced as far back as the beginning of the sixth century b.c.e. Large quantities of Attic dark-visaged and red-visaged potsherds have been found in various places in the region which was exposed, during the Persian era, to the economic influence of Athens. Coins minted during the occupation of Judea by Persian governors were inscribed "Yahud," and had the image of an owl imprinted upon them, bearing a definite likeness to the Attic drachma.

After the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great, there was, apparently, an increase in the activities of the Athenians in the conquered land, though there is only limited information on this phase. The presence of an Athenian in Palestine is evidenced by a contract entered into by an Athenian in the purchase of a female slave in Transjordania, dating to the year 259 b.c.e. Among the signatories who witnessed the document, appears the name of "Heraklitus son of Phillip the Athenian" (Tcherikover, Corpus, 1 (1957), 119–20), who was in the service of Apollonius, minister of the treasury under Ptolemy ii. There was an Athenian in command of the troops sent by Antiochus Epiphanes to Palestine to enforce his religious policies (ii Macc. 6:1).

With the establishment of the Hasmonean state, Athens was one of the cities to enter into relations with the new state. Josephus records (Ant., 14:149 ff.) a resolution adopted by the Athenian people in honor of Hyrcanus the high priest, ethnarch of the Jews. The decree stated that Hyrcanus had always maintained friendly relations with the Athenians, and always received them cordially when they came to him, and therefore it was resolved to bestow upon him a crown of gold, and to place his statue in bronze in the temple of Demos and the Graces in the city. Josephus himself relates this document to Hyrcanus ii, but most modern scholars are inclined to attribute it to Hyrcanus i, specifically to the year 106/5 b.c.e. (the year in which Agathocles served as archon in Athens). Herod also continued the traditional friendship with Athens, to the advantage of the city (Jos., Wars, 1:425). There are documents extant substantiating the existence of friendly relations between Athens and the House of Herod.

Concrete information about a Jewish community in Athens is available only from the beginning of the first century c.e. Agrippa i, in a letter to Gaius Caligula, mentions the land of Attica among other places inhabited by Jews (Philo, Legat., 281). Similarly, when Paul came to a synagogue in Athens, he found there, beside the Jews, many devout Gentiles who revered the Jewish religion (Acts, 17:17). Inscriptions testify that Samaritans lived at Athens (I.G., ed. minor, vol. 2–3, part 3/2, nos. 10219–22) as well as Jews (no. 12609) including one Jerusalemite (no. 8934).

Much attention has been lavished in Judeo-Hellenistic literature on Athens as the most celebrated city in Greek civilization. Philo refers to Athens with profound respect, in a style customary with Greek writers (see Prob. 140); he also mentions famous figures in the history of Athens, such as Solon (Spec. 3:22), as well as historic events relating to Athens, including the conflict between the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians (Spartans; Mos. 2:19). Josephus often refers to Athens and its customs especially in his Contra Apionem.

Athens also occupies a place in the talmudic-midrashic literature. The Midrash on Lamentations contains in its introduction many stories the intention of which is to emphasize the superior wit and wisdom of the Jerusalem Jews over the Athenians. Many such stories begin with the phrase: "An Athenian came to Jerusalem." The Babylonian Talmud relates the story of the tanna, Joshua b. Hananiah, who at the advice of the Roman emperor came to Athens and challenged the elders of the city to a dispute and defeated them (Bek. 8b).

[Menahem Stern]

Turkish Period and Greek Independence

After the Turkish conquest of Athens (1456) Muhammad ii the Conqueror granted its inhabitants the right to prohibit Jewish residence. However, a number of exiles from Spain and their descendants took refuge there after 1492. In 1705 a French traveler found some 15–20 Jewish families living in Athens.

The Jewish community in Athens was one of those destroyed at the time of the Greek uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1821–29). A community with a corporate identity and interests developed after 1834, with the establishment of Athens as the capital of independent *Greece. A number of Jewish families from Germany were attracted to Athens; the financier Max de Rothschild was included in the retinue of the new king, Otto i. A large site for building a synagogue was acquired (1843) through the duchess of Plaisance, Sophie Barbé Marbois, who settled in Athens in 1831 and developed a deep sympathy for Judaism through her intensive Bible studies. In 1847 the Greek authorities banned a popular religious procession during which an effigy of Judas Iscariot was customarily burned, since it might have offended the Baron de Rothschild, then staying in Athens. In revenge, an angry mob sacked the house of David Pacifico, a British subject and honorary consul of Portugal, who was responsible for the completion of the duchess' plans. The British government pressed for his indemnification, and finally the foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, sent a fleet to Piraeus in 1850, which seized a number of ships. In 1852 the municipality rescinded the gift of the site for the planned synagogue.

Jewish settlement in Athens increased from 60 in 1878 to about 250 in 1887. The Athens community was officially recognized in 1889. In 1890, Charles de Rothschild (1843–1918) became its president, and three small synagogues were established in Athens. In the first decade of the 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire deteriorated, economic decline set in, and there was a fear of political instability and eventual military conscription; many Jews migrated from Ioannina to Athens, eventually establishing their own synagogue.

As a result of the improved economic situation following the Balkan Wars (1912–13), a number of Jews from old Greece and Asia Minor – in particular from Salonika – moved to Athens. The migration increased after the great Salonika fire of 1917, and by the eve of World War ii there were 3,000 Jews in Athens. Most of the wealthier businessmen were Ashkenazim while the Sephardi immigrants, originally from other parts of Greece and Turkey, were often peddlers, rag dealers, or small shopkeepers.

[Simon Marcus]

Holocaust and Postwar Period

The numbers of Jews in Athens increased with an influx of refugees from Salonika who fled the Italian air raids of 1940. When Germany invaded Greece in 1941, Greece was subdivided into German, Italian, and Bulgarian zones of occupation; Athens was under the relatively benign rule of the Italians, who, despite their alliance with Germany, were less interested and less disciplined about imposing the "Final Solution." After July 1942, when the Nazis carried out a manhunt of Jews in Salonika until August 1943, about 3,000 fled to Athens. Though Athens was under Italian occupation, the Gestapo began arrests of Jewish leaders in the city, expropriated the congregational records, and requested that the Italians surrender their authority over the Jewish inhabitants. The Italians, however, claimed their authority and tried to prevent Nazi persecution. After the fall of *Mussolini in September 1943, the Germans, having wiped out the congregations of Macedonia, began exterminating the Jews on the Greek mainland and in the islands, at which time Dieter Wisliceny, *Eichmann's assistant, arrived in Athens and tried to force Rabbi Elijah Barzilai to cooperate with him. The rabbi fled to Karpenisia in the mountains with the help of the leftist Communist-leaning elas-eam Greek Resistance movement. Many Jews followed his example and were saved by the Greeks. A Council of Jews was set up by the Germans to organize the local Jewish community. On Oct. 7, 1943, General Jurgen *Stroop published an order dated October 3, ordering Athens Jews to register at the synagogue. The vast majority of them managed to go into hiding, aided by the Greek police and by the Greek Orthodox Church, on the instructions of Archbishop Damaskinos. The local Catholic Church assisted hundreds of Jews in Athens through its rescue stations and harbored Jews in monasteries, found them hiding places, and assisted them financially and with food. Hundreds of families escaped by means of small boats to the shores of Asia Minor, making their way from there to Palestine. However, a significant number did fall into Nazi hands. On March 24, 1944, a total of 800 Jews were captured by the Nazis in the vicinity of the Athens synagogue, after the Nazis had announced that flour for unleavened bread and sugar were to be distributed at the synagogue. They were interned in a camp at Haidari and on April 2 sent to Auschwitz along with other Jews who were caught in Athens. Most of the Jews sent from Athens arrived at Auschwitz; 155 Spanish nationals and 19 Portuguese nationals were sent to *Bergen-Belsen. A total of 1,500 Jews were sent from Athens.

When Greece was liberated from German occupation, about 4,500–5,000 Jews emerged from hiding to reassemble in Athens, but over 1,500 later immigrated to Ereẓ Israel in 1945–46 via illegal immigration boats from the Sounion coast. The Joint Distribution Committee enabled Athenian and Greek Jewry to recover economically from their losses in World War ii. In 1957–58 there were over 2,500 Jews in Athens, and in 1968, 2,850, about half the total Jewish population of Greece. Many of those who returned were able to build themselves good positions in business, industry, and the professions. The community had a synagogue (Sephardi), a cemetery, a club, and an elementary school, and an ort vocational school and welfare institute as well. In 1979, the Jewish Museum of Greece was established in Athens, and a Holocaust memorial was established in the late 20th century. At the outset of the 21st century there were about 3,000 Jews living in Athens.

[Joseph Nehama /

Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]


C.S. Clermont-Ganneau, Recueil d'archéologie orientale (1888), 9312–9900; L. Robert, in: Hellenica, 3 (Paris, 1946), 101; L.B. Urdahl, in: Symbolic' Osloenses, 43 (1968), 39 ff.; Schuerer, Hist, index; Juster, Juifs, 1 (1914), 187; C. Bayet, DeTitulis Atticae Christianis Antiquissimis… (1878), 122 ff.; H. Kastel, in: Almanac Israelit (1923), 49–58; Rosanes, Togarmah, 4 (1935), 37, 412; J. Nehama, In Memoriam: Hommage aux victimes Juives des Nazis en Grèce, 2 (1949), 155–7 and passim; M. Molcho, in: J. Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 231–9; Friedman, ibid., 241–8. add. bibliography: Y. Kerem, "Nisyonot Haẓalah be-Yavan be-Milḥemet ha-Olam ha-Sheniyah, 1941–1944," in Pe'amim, 27 (1986), 77–109; B. Rivlin (ed.), Pinkas Kehillot Yavan (1999), 67–86.


views updated May 18 2018



Athens became the capital of Greece in 1834. At the time, it was a small town of around twelve thousand people without economic significance, but it was chosen because of its associations with Greece's glorious ancient history. In the nineteenth century Athens was the administrative center of the country but the centers of economic dynamism (such as commerce, manufacturing, shipping) were located either in other Greek cities like Patras and Ermoúpolis (Syros island) or beyond the borders, in cities of the Ottoman Empire where vibrant Greek communities lived. In the beginning of the twentieth century Athens developed rapidly. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the urban development of Athens (and its port, Piraeus) exceeded that of other Greek cities. Between 1900 and 1920 the population of Athens grew yearly by 5.6 percent, and in 1920 there were 292,991 people living in the capital. The limits of the city extended and the fields around Athens were divided into small plots and houses were built hastily without any planning. The lower classes lived in the center of the city, in very old homes with unhygienic conditions. In 1924 a committee drafted the first comprehensive city plan for Athens, but it was never taken into consideration; for the next decades the city grew through the integration of small areas that had been divided into plots, and building occurred without prior permission from the authorities.

The 1920s represented a turning point in the history of Athens (and of Greece in general) because of the arrival of Greek refugees from Asia Minor (1922) and the compulsory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in the wake of World War I. While most of the refugees settled in rural areas in northern Greece, a considerable number of them (130,000) settled in Athens. The settlement of the refugees presented the government with an unprecedented challenge, and it was one of the few instances in which the government worked out and materialized plans for urban and housing development. The Refugee Settlement Commission oversaw the construction of twelve large and thirty-four minor settlement areas in the outskirts of Athens, and the government facilitated the construction of new houses by providing public land and loans to individuals with favorable terms. Most of the refugees (63 percent) were housed in settlement areas. The arrival of the refugees and a growing wave of internal migration nearly doubled the size of the population of the city of Athens and the number of people living in the surrounding areas also rose spectacularly. In 1928 there were 459,211 people living in Athens, or 802,000, if one includes Piraeus and the areas around Athens.

In the 1920s and 1930s Athens was also transformed from being the administrative to the industrial center of Greece. The refugees provided abundant cheap labor that proved to be crucial for the industrial development of Athens. Nearly half of the refugees were employed in the growing industrial sector while some of the refugee settlement areas were turned into industrial sites, especially for textile and carpet factories. The economic development, however, was fragile and the endemic unemployment of a large number of workers would only grow worse with the world economic crisis of the early to mid-1930s. Class differences became apparent in the residential areas of the city: the upper classes lived in the very center of the city and in the new "garden cities" in the north, whereas the lower classes were concentrated in the new suburbs of Piraeus and in the east and northwest of the capital. At the same time the rise of the population extended the city limits geographically, from 3,264 hectares (8,062 acres) in 1920 to 11,400 hectares (28,158 acres) in 1940. Overcrowding in the center of the city and changing trends in architecture opened the way for the construction of apartment blocks and high-rise buildings, which had been rare before World War II.

On 6 April 1941 Nazi Germany invaded Greece and on 27 April German troops entered Athens. During the winter of 1941–1942 the population of Athens suffered from a terrible famine. The cessation of imports of cereals from overseas, due to the naval blockade, and the economic dislocation that the war and occupation brought deprived the population of the capital of the necessary foodstuffs. About forty thousand people died in Athens from hunger and related causes during the winter months. The situation improved in the following years thanks to the relief aid that the International Red Cross imported and distributed to the population. The distribution of relief in the capital and the destruction in the countryside caused by the occupation forces in campaigns against the resistance forces brought several thousands of destitute people to Athens—it is estimated that about 1.5 million people lived in Athens during the occupation. The leftist resistance organization, the National Liberation Front (EAM), gained a mass following among the population of the capital and often the demonstrations were violently suppressed by the occupation forces. After the liberation of the country (October 1944), Athens became the site of a civil war in December 1944 that broke out between the largely leftist resistance and government troops supported by the British army. After thirty-three days of bitter street fighting the leftist forces evacuated the capital and surrendered their arms.

The economic development in the postwar years accelerated the process of urbanization and contributed to the rapid growth of Athens. The concentration of major industries in greater Athens, and the employment opportunities that the expanding public sector offered, attracted thousands of people from villages and towns to the capital. Between 1951 and 1971 the population of greater Athens almost doubled (from 1.3 million in 1951 to 2.5 million in 1971). Internal migration increased the demand for housing and as a result Athens was once more expanded as plots of land were turned into sites of (unplanned) housing construction. Moreover, in these two decades a large part of Athens was eventually rebuilt and the architectural profile of the capital changed completely. The old houses were demolished and were replaced by apartment blocks that could house a large number of families. The construction of apartment blocks was not undertaken by the state or real estate developers but by the individuals who owned the plot of land. In this way housing construction became the best investment for the moderate savings of the middle classes. The growth of the housing sector had a positive impact on the economy in general because it contributed to the development of the related industries, like cement factories, metallurgy, chemical plants, and others. However, it was in the postwar years that the growth of Athens underlined the structural problems in the modernization of Greece. Internal migration created an uneven urbanization. Athens concentrated a disproportionately high percentage of the population of Greece, as one out of four inhabitants of the country lived in the capital. The growth of the capital together with the overcentralization of the state bureaucracy led to the demographic decline of other cities (except Salonica, which in a much smaller scale became the center in northern Greece) and the widening of the gap in regional differences between Athens and the rest of the country.

The rapid expansion and the unplanned growth of Athens were accompanied with several housing and environmental problems that became apparent in the 1980s. Air pollution, heavy traffic, and the lack of parks and communal spaces drove many Athenians out of the city center to the suburbs. The population living in the municipality of Athens fell from 885,000 in 1981 to 772,000 in 1991, whereas the population living in greater Athens rose from 2.1 million to 2.3 million in the same period. At the same time the character of economic activities changed. The economic crisis of the 1980s was coupled with de-industrialization, and numerous factories in Athens and Piraeus closed down, while at the same time there was an expansion of the commerce and, most importantly, of the service sector. In the 1990s Athens faced two major challenges. The first was that Athens had been named the host of the 2004 Olympics. There had been major construction and infrastructure projects (peripheral highways, new subway lines, new airport) that eased the transportation and improved the traffic conditions, while there were critical interventions in the city planning of the center. The second change was the arrival of economic migrants, mostly from Albania. In 2005 there were 132,000 immigrants living in the municipality of Athens, and they constituted 17 percent of the local population. Although there is a high concentration of immigrants in some neighborhoods of the center of Athens and there have been instances of xenophobia, in the early twenty-first century there are no signs of "ghettoization" as the immigrants are integrated into the social fabric, thereby adding economic dynamism and cultural diversity to the life of the capital.

See alsoAlbania; Greece; Olympic Games; Papandreou, Andreas; World War II.


Burgel, Guy. Athina. I anaptyxi mias mesogeiakis proteuousas. Athens, 1976. Translated as Croissance urbaine et développement capitaliste: le "miracle" athénien. Paris, 1981.

Hirschon, Renée. Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1989.

Leontidou, Lila. Mediterranean City in Transition: Social Change and Urban Development. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1990.

Polymeris Voglis


views updated Jun 27 2018


Type of Government

During its golden age the Greek city-state of Athens was governed by a direct democracy. Its central institution was the Ecclesia (Assembly), which was open to all citizens and carried out most decision-making functions. This body was supported by the Boule (Council of Five Hundred), a deliberative council that handled the day-to-day governance of the city-state. Judicial matters were handled by dikasteria (jury courts), archons (magistrates), and a council called the Areopagus.


Athens was a Greek city-state located in the territory of Attica, which was bordered by mountains to the east, west, and north and by the Aegean Sea to the south. Archaeological evidence suggests that Athens was inhabited as early as 3000 BC and that it was an important site of the Mycenaean civilization during the second century BC. Athens emerged as a city-state during the eighth century BC.

The political history of Athens is marked by progressive democratic reforms that took place over several centuries. Early Athens was ruled by kings who were advised by the Areopagus. During the eighth century BC, however, the royalty was eclipsed by the aristocracy. The kingship was replaced by a board of elected archons, who held executive power. This board was made up by the archon proper (the chief magistrate), the polemarch (commander in chief), and the basileus (religious leader), as well as six thesmothetae (junior magistrates), who handled minor judicial matters. The archons were drawn from the eupatridae (noble classes) and maintained a political monopoly. During this time Athens was ruled by a number of tyrannical archons—most notably Draco (seventh century BC), who became infamous for his harsh legal code (hence the English word draconian). The Ecclesia was also established during this period.

The first democratic reforms were implemented in 594 BC by the Athenian lawmaker Solon (c. 630–c. 560 BC). Solon’s reforms, which were codified in a new constitution, were a mixture of economic and political changes premised on the idea that the state should be guided by its citizens. The constitution sought to limit the power of the aristocracy and expand political rights. Solon divided Athenians into four classes based on wealth and military service, giving the poorest class greater rights to participate in civic life and easing their economic burden. The powers of the Areopagus were curtailed, but the aristocracy retained its political grip, because only members of the highest classes could serve as archons or as members of the Areopagus. Solon is also credited with establishing the Boule and opening the Ecclesia to all citizens.

The next significant round of democratic reforms took place in 508 BC. The statesman Cleisthenes (c. 570–500? BC), a champion of democracy, sought to break up the class-based political system. Thus, he did away with Solon’s four classes, replacing them with ten tribes. The tribes were further divided into demes. The deme became the basic unit of local governance in Athens and crossed all social divisions. Each tribe elected members to the Boule, which was expanded from four hundred to five hundred members.

Athenian democracy reached its peak under Pericles (c. 495–429 BC), the most important statesman of the fifth century BC. Pericles maintained the structure of government established by Cleisthenes but also introduced payments to the poor for public service, believing that civic participation should be as broad as possible. Indeed, he argued, “Our constitution favors the many instead of the few.” Under Pericles, Athens became the most important power in ancient Greece.

Government Structure

During its golden age in the fifth century BC, Athens was governed by a direct democracy. Citizenship was extended to all males over eighteen following completion of military training; women, slaves, and metics (foreign residents) were excluded from political participation. Full political rights, including the rights to stand as a candidate for office and to serve on the courts, were extended at age thirty.

The central institution of the Athenian democracy was the Ecclesia; participation was open to all citizens, and service was voluntary. The Ecclesia was responsible for making executive decrees, passing legislation, conducting political trials, and electing government officials. Issues were openly debated at meetings (held forty times each year), and votes were taken by a simple majority. By 403 BC the first six thousand members (the number required for a quorum) were paid for their service.

The Boule comprised fifty representatives from each of the ten tribes of Athens. Members were elected annually by citizens over the age of thirty. The Boule prepared legislation for the Ecclesia to vote on, organized Ecclesia meetings, and carried out some executive functions. The presidency of the Boule rotated monthly among the ten tribes (the political calendar was ten months long). Each day, one member was selected by lots to serve as epitastes, chairing the day’s meeting, holding the keys to the treasury, and greeting foreign emissaries. The Boule was also responsible for the daily operations of the city-state and enforced legislation passed by the Ecclesia.

The dikasteria, which handled both public and private suits, were a central component of the Athenian legal process. They were staffed by citizens over the age of thirty, who were selected annually from a pool of six thousand citizens. The dikasteria were viewed as a direct expression of the people’s will, as there was no higher authority than the jury. Specialized judicial cases were argued before other bodies—notably the archons, who handled religious and military cases, and the Areopagus, which decided on murder cases.

Political Parties and Factions

Unlike twenty-first-century politics, Athens had no political authorities or party loyalties—in fact, there is no word in classical Greek to denote political parties—although some members of the Ecclesia may have formed alliances or groups of opinions centered on particular policies or people. Rather, the chief divisions in Athenian society were based on wealth and class. Democratic reformers such as Cleisthenes and Pericles sought to remove such divisions to ensure the broadest possible participation in civic life.

Major Events

Two political coups are notable in Athenian history. The first, in the mid-sixth century BC, saw the tyrant Peisistratus (d. 527 BC) seize control of Athens. At the time, tyranny was defined more in terms of force than repression. Indeed, under Peisistratus’s rule, the Athenian navy became the strongest in the Aegean, Athenian households became wealthier, and Athens was established as a center of Greek culture. Out of the chaos following the collapse of the Peisistratid tyranny, Cleisthenes emerged as a prominent statesman.

The second coup occurred in 411 BC, amid the unrest of the Peloponnesian Wars (460–404 BC), when a group known as the Four Hundred took control of Athens and established an oligarchy (government by the few). The government was short lived, however, as it was overturned within a year, and democracy was fully restored.

Two wars bookend the heyday of the Athenian empire in ancient Greece. Furthermore, victories over the Persians during the 490s and 480s BC established Athens as the leading Greek city-state. By the end of the fifth century BC, however, Athens had been defeated by Sparta in the Second Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). In a stunning blow to Athenian democracy, Spartan forces established an oligarchy in Athens, known as the Thirty Tyrants, which ruled until 403 BC.


Politically, the Athenians’ defeat by the Spartans in 404 BC marked the end of their reign as the dominant city-state in Greece, though Athens remained an important center for Greek art, philosophy, and literature. In 322 BC Athens was absorbed into the vast empire of Macedonia, whose property requirements excluded many Athenians from civic participation. The vestiges of Athenian democracy persisted until 146 BC, when the city-state was conquered by the Romans.

Jones, A. H. M. Athenian Democracy. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Kagan, Donald. Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Sinclair, R. K. Democracy and Participation in Athens. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.


views updated May 17 2018


In 1789 Athens was neither the city that it was in antiquity nor the one it would become in modern times. Instead it was only a modest provincial town. Home to a mixed population of a few thousand souls consisting of Orthodox Greeks, Muslims, and a smattering of foreigners, it served as the capital of an Ottoman province and as a regional market for central Greece. Under the iron-fisted governorship of Hadji Ali Haseki (r. 1775–1795), the town grew in prominence and received an enceinte wall and a sizeable Ottoman garrison. The Acropolis was occupied exclusively by Muslims and the Parthenon served as a mosque. The lower town was divided into thirty-nine districts and its center was dominated by the market, the public baths, and the governor's residence. According to foreign observers in the early nineteenth century, Athens was a dirty, dusty, provincial backwater, noteworthy only for its antiquities.

During the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829), Athens was the scene of constant fighting as both sides vied for control of the Acropolis; at war's end, the town was a ruin. Its fortunes changed irrevocably when Greece's first monarch, Otto I (r. 1832–1862), decided that because of its antiquities and its ancient pedigree, Athens was the ideal site for the nation's capital. Even before the king relocated there in 1834, construction and in-migration had begun. During this growth phase, Athens expanded through the movement of wealthy Greeks from abroad, political office holders and functionaries, bureaucrats, and those members of the lower social orders needed to provide services to them. Athens became a small, bourgeois city replete with neoclassical public buildings and western-style townhouses, but with few other amenities.

A second, and far more profound, period of urban expansion began during the 1860s and then took off during the 1870s and 1880s. Between 1870 and 1890, Athens grew by 271 percent and manifested annual growth rates of an astonishingly high 5.17 percent. The flow of people into the city would continue, albeit at a slightly lower rate, until 1914. Unlike the earlier growth phase, the movement of peasants and workers fueled this second spurt. Land shortages and an overabundance of labor created such a tense rural situation that only a massive exodus could relieve it. Simultaneously, the Industrial Revolution slowly came to Greece and investors built factories in Athens and Piraeus. The latter developed as the port for the burgeoning conurbation. Jobs beckoned and rural migrants responded.

The result of this new movement was that alongside bourgeois Athens another city developed. This one was home to the lower classes. Housing shortages rose to crisis levels during the 1870s and 1880s as ten of thousands of people poured into Athens and Piraeus. Some migrants threw together shacks to house their families. Others built multiple dwelling houses with an eye to renting one or more of them to newcomers at very steep rates. The central core of bourgeois and "respectable" Athens became ringed with poorer neighborhoods and working-class slums.

As Athens and Piraeus grew in size and complexity, the usual social problems that accompanied nineteenth century urbanization developed. The crime rate, for example, soared. During the period of peak in-migration, the greater Athens area experienced a profound increase in homicides. During the years from 1888 to 1891, when the homicide rates in cities

such as London, Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam were less than two killings for every hundred thousand people, Athens recorded the extraordinary rate of 107. The overwhelmingly young male migrants brought with them the propensity to violence inculcated during their rural upbringing, except that circumstances in the city brought their violent tendencies more frequently to the fore.

Along with violence, other public order issues emerged. Street crimes such as robbery and larceny became a constant problem in Athens. Beggary, infant abandonment, vagabondage, and prostitution also became issues of social and political importance, as did a variety of environmental issues such as the need to supply water, build sewers, provide streetlights and pavement, and regulate traffic. All of these issues required direct state intervention.

Spurred on by events such as the Olympics of 1896 and the "unofficial" Olympics of 1906, both of which Athens hosted, the national government and private benefactors gave the city a face-lift. New public buildings were constructed, along with a public transportation system and new roads. The sewerage and water system was expanded to include some of the poorer neighborhoods. The initiative to transform Athens into a "western" city continued to the extent that by the eve of World War I it could be truly said that Athens had taken its place as a major European city.

See alsoCities and Towns; Greece.


Bastéa, Eleni. The Creation of Modern Athens: Planning the Myth. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Gallant, Thomas W. "Murder in a Mediterranean City: Homicide Trends in Athens, 1850–1936." Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 24 (1998): 1–27.

Leontidou, Lila. The Mediterranean City in Transition: Social Change and Urban Development. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.

Llewellyn Smith, Michael. Athens: A Cultural and Literary History. Northampton, Mass., 2004.

Thomas W. Gallant


views updated May 17 2018

Athens (Athínai) Capital and largest city of Greece, situated on the Saronic Gulf. The ancient city was built around the Acropolis, a fortified citadel, and was the greatest artistic and cultural centre in ancient Greece, gaining importance after the Persian Wars (500–449 bc). Athens prospered under Cimon and Pericles during the 5th century bc and provided a climate in which the great classical works of philosophy and drama were created. The most noted artistic treasures are the Parthenon (438 bc), Athena Parthenos (a Doric statue), the Erechtheum (406 bc), and the Theatre of Dionysus (c.500 bc, the oldest of the Greek theatres). Modern Athens and its port of Piraeus form a major Mediterranean transport and economic centre. Overcrowding and severe air pollution are damaging the ancient sites and the tourist industry. Other industries: shipbuilding, paper, steel machinery, textiles, pottery, brewing, chemicals and glass. Pop. (2002 est.) 757,400.


views updated May 29 2018

Athens the capital of Greece, originally a flourishing city state of ancient Greece, which was an important cultural centre in the 5th century bc.
Athens of America Boston.
Athens of the North Edinburgh.

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