Classical Athens saw the rise of an achievement unparalleled in history. Perikles, Aischylos, Sophokles, Plato, Demosthenes, and Praxiteles represent just a few of the statesmen and philosophers, playwrights and orators, historians and artists who flourished there in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., when Athens numbered among the most powerful and influential city-states in Greece. Collectively they were responsible for sowing the seeds of Western civilization.
Of the many gifts passed down to us by the Athenians, including philosophy, theater, painting, sculpture, and architecture, none is more significant than their chosen form of government: democracy, rule by the people. Indeed, it can be convincingly argued that all the other achievements depended first on how the city was governed, on the open and free society that respected the dignity, rights, and aspirations of the individual.
The two books presented here (The Birth of Democracy and The Athenian Citizen) illustrate and tell the story of the development and practice of democracy in Athens. Most of the material presented comes from the excavations of the Athenian Agora, carried out by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 1931 until today.
The Athenian Agora c. 500 B.C. Model by Petros Demetriades and Kostas Papoulias, Athens, Agora Museum. Around the sides of this great square, the Athenians built most of their civic buildings; hence the Agora became the center of the Athenian democracy. The Agora seems to have been laid out as a public area late in the 6th century B.C., presumably under the tyrant Peisistratos and his sons. In 500 B.C., soon after the Kleisthenic reforms, new buildings were added. Most important, perhaps, was the Bouleuterion (Senate House), where the newly created senate of 500 members representing the ten "tribes" of Athens met most days to consider legislation for the city. Also built at about the same time was the Royal Stoa which housed the offices of the king archon, the official in charge of religious matters and the laws.
The Athenian Agora c. 400 B.C. Model by Fetros Demetriades and Kostas Papoulias, Athens, Agora Museum. The 5th century B.C. saw the rise of Athens to a position of extraordinary prominence. During this century the Athenians fought and defeated the Persians, refined their democratic system under the leadership of Perikles, and built the great temples on the Acropolis. The last decades of the century saw them engaged in a terrible and costly war with Sparta, a war that was the democracy's harshest test. The model of the Agora in 400 B.C. shows the civic center at a time when Athens had provided herself with all the public buildings necessary for the functioning of the fully developed democratic system. The buildings shown on the model served in one form or another for the next several generations.