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Athens’ Acropolis and the Greek Golden Age


Around 500 BC, Athens thrived with its stately Acropolis temples, busy market (or agora), and civilization that provided a foundation for European culture that followed. Its surviving art and architecture tell the story.

Complete Video Script

[71, Temple of Hephaestus, c. 450 BC, Ancient Agora, Athens] From Egyptians to Minoans to Mycenaeans, the march of progress was on, and next, Athens would lead the way.

[72, Parthenon Temple, mid-fifth century BC, Acropolis, Athens] Rising up from the teeming heart of modern Athens, the Acropolis hill shines like a beacon of civilization. By the year 500 BC, here in the city of Athens, the Greek people were laying the foundations of what we know as "western civilization." Democracy, literature, theater, mathematics, science, philosophy, and art all flourished in Greece during its Golden Age. And this set a template for centuries of European culture that followed.

[73] Athens' Acropolis — literally its "high city" — was a place of worship and a refuge in war. And just below that, here in the agora, or market, civic life flourished, and Greek civilization thrived. The agora had all the basic features of urban Greek life, from shopping malls to temples.

[74, Stoa of Attalos, c. 150 BC, Ancient Forum, Athens] This covered portico, or "stoa," is totally rebuilt so we can better imagine it in action. Crowds would gather here to shop, socialize, or listen to the great philosophers of the age.

[75, Stoa of Attalos] Imagine, four centuries before Christ, hanging out in a place like this, celebrating the rise of creative thinking. You could bump into great philosophers like Aristotle or Socrates… "Hey, know thyself."

[76] But Socrates and Aristotle and the brilliance of ancient Greece's Golden Age didn't just pop out of nowhere. Burdened with a rugged, isolating landscape and endless intercity warfare, the Greeks spent centuries floundering in an earlier Dark Age.

[77] They had a warrior ethos, which you can see in their art: lots of battle scenes and conflict. Scenes of wild satyrs chasing human women or of humans battling centaurs reflected the Greeks' long struggle to rise above their warring heritage.