HIS 104 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2.4: Delian League, Steep Hill, Phidias
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~ Chapter Two: The School of Greece ~
Part 4: The Athenian Experiment (490-406 BCE)
o Culturally, the Athenian experiment succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams.
o An extraordinary range of new artistic and intellectual forms, new ideas, and new ways of
understanding the universe took shape in the city over the century that separated
Cleisthenes’ leadership from the end of the Peloponnesian War.
o The Athens of this period was not a quiet marble wonderland but a vast, messy debating hall.
o When the Athenians began rebuilding after the second Persian invasion, they set to work on
providing their city with public buildings worth of a great power.
o The Agora had been established in the 6th century in a central area where three roads joined
the city’s main road.
o It became the site of a council chamber and many other buildings including temples, a prison, and
o Especially magnificent were the projects that the sculptor Phidias carried out, with the political and
financial support of Pericles, on the Acropolis.
o Acropolis: The steep hill dominating the center of Athens that is home to many famous
structures, most notably the Parthenon. More generally, an acropolis is the uppermost part
of a city, usually where a fortress or citadel is positioned.
▪ After they made peace with Persia, the Athenians built on the foundations of an
earlier structure what has come to be seen as the classic Greek building, the
• Not only was it a grand architectural gesture but it was an Athenian
strongbox for the state’s wealth.
o The same building campaign created other structures in Athens.
o Temple of the caryatids
o Theater on the slope of the Acropolis
o Expanded Agora with a mint, courthouse, and large inscriptions that evoked the city’s
Grand Structures and Ideals
o The public buildings of Athens resembled those of Near Eastern states in their scale and beauty, but
their purposes, reflecting the society that created them, were different.
o Athenians described them as the clearest evidence of their ancestors’ patriotism and virtue.
o Pericles’ great buildings are ambiguous, at best, as symbols of the democratic state.
▪ They were built by a direct democracy, but the actual decisions were taken by
Pericles and other male leaders, since the democracy excluded women, metics, and
• The Parthenon served a religious purpose, showing that the Athenians felt
gratitude to their gods for the victory over the Persians, but Pericles used
the funds of the Delian League to find it.
o The idea that a popular government should house itself and its gods with such grandeur also belongs
to the heritage of the Athenian democracy.
The Boisterous Reality of Politics
o If the setting for public life was grand and orderly, its reality was often awkward and messy.
o The boisterous process was the core of Athenian direct democracy every time a public debate broke
out, the Assembly had to meet.
o Political and juridical processes in their system were noisy, chaotic, and subject to manipulation.
o Lies, threats, and unrealistic promises could sway the Assembly.
▪ Socrates’ pupil Plato despised his city’s democratic government, especially after one
of its juries condemned his teacher to death.
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