In the late Neolithic (3500-3000BC) a small population lived around the Acropolis. A palace and
defensive wall existed 2000 years later when Athens was already an important settlement in . After the collapse of the
Mycenean civilization Athens slowly declined and there is only limited evidence of habitation between 1100 and 700BC.
The first reliable historical information about Athens relates to an incident some time after 640BC when a certain
Kylon (once an Olympic champion) attempted a coup during a religious festival. The coup failed. He escaped but his followers were
killed. The mythical story of Athens goes back to Theseus who was credited with much of the city-state's legal system and
city council. In fact, the region of Attica - unusually large for a city-state - took centuries to unify.
From the supposed time of Theseus, the city was initially ruled by aristocrats who held the nine
arkhon positions. Typical of the oligarchies of Greece, power lay in the hands of the wealthy. During the 7th century BC the poorer
classes expressed dissatisfaction with an unfair system of land tenure which could lead to crippling debts and possible enslavement. The
arkhon Solon offered a more moderate system, including a council of the people's representatives with 400 members.
During the mid-500s BC Peristratos and his son Hippias became tyrants of the city, their rule interspersed with
periods of more conventional aristocratic authority. Finally, in 510BC Spartan forces drove out the family fom Athens. A
new system of government was created by Kleisthenes on the basis of ten phulai (geographical but unrelated tribes)
made up of village units (demoi) across Attica.
Athenian confidence rose to an unprecedented height after the battle of Marathon in 490 when the Athenians and their allies defeated
the Persians. Under Themistocles Athens' navy was massively increased and Piraeus made a fortified naval base. They played a significant part in the
defeat of Xerxes' Persian fleet at Salamis.
Themistocles was also instrumental in rebuilding Athens' city walls and the 'long walls' down to
In the mid-fifth century BC, Pericles influenced the political system with a further increase in democratic
representation and the introduction of payments for jury service. After 450 a massive expansion of construction on new
public buildings took place, including the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis.
Towards the end of the century a disastrous conflict with Sparta and a devastating plague, together with the death of
Pericles led to a period of decline. The historian Thucydides dismissed the leades of the time as mere rabble-rousers.
Later, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule would remove Athens' independence until it became capital of an independent
Greece in the nineteenth century.