Athens, Ancient Greek City-State Illustration

Ancient Greek City-State of


Athenians thought of themselves as the best city-state in all of ancient Greece. They recognized that other city-states had value and were Greek, but they were the best. Ask any ancient Athenian and they would tell you that Athens had the best literature, the best poetry, the best drama, the best schools - and truly, they were a leading city-state.

Many other city-states compared themselves to Athens. You'd hear people from other city-states say things like, "Our schools are good as those in Athens." Athens was the measuring stick. There was one exception - the city-state of Sparta. No other city-state in ancient Greece was like Sparta. Whereas Athens was famous for their arts and sciences, Sparta was famous for their military strength.

The ancient Greeks believed that each city-state had one or two gods keeping a special eye on that city-state. The god in charge of Athens was Athena, goddess of wisdom.

Education was very important in Athens. From their mothers, girls learned how to cook and sew and run a home, and how to be a good wife and mother.

Boys went to school. They memorized poetry and learned to play a musical instrument, usually the lyre. They studied public speaking and drama and reading and writing. Sons of nobles went to high school - four more years of learning about the sciences and the arts and politics and government.

Each city-state in ancient Greece had their own form of government. Most city-states were ruled by kings. Some were ruled by councils, a small group of people. But in Athens, for about 100 years, Athens was ruled by direct democracy! It was an experiment. It didn't last long, but a form of democracy was invented in Athens, one more gift we received from the ancient Greeks.

Citizens of Athens had many rights, including the right to stand trial and the right (when Athens was a direct democracy) to vote. But not all people in ancient Athens were citizens. Originally, a free maile would be a citizen if his father was a citizen. But Pericles changed that rule in 450 BCE. The new law stated that both father and mother be Athenians for a child to be an Athenian. Out of the Athenians, only men had full citizenship. Women had partial citizenship, which basically meant they had few if any rights. Pericles changed this rule to give Athenian women more status. It worked. Even though Athenian women had no power of their own, their status made them more likely to contract a good marriage.  

Athena, Poseidon, and Athens (myth)

City of Athens for Kids

Athens (British Museum)

Athens Thinks Twice

Life in Athens

The Court of Athens (Justice System)


Greek Democracy in Athens

See Also: Daily Life

Ancient Greece Q&A Interactive