Athens was the principal city of the region Attica. The city is dominated by the citadel on top of the hill, called the Acropolis.
Athens would play an important role in ancient history during the Classical period (500-332 BC), where it became the centre of culture, commerce and imperial power.
Classical Athens was also creator of the new government system known as democracy. Doing away with monarchy and tyrants, the power rested with the citizens' ability to vote their government officials. Their fleets of triremes (war galleys) made them a major naval power, allowing them to forge and rule a great empire in the Aegean (480-404 BC).
As a centre of culture, Athens became one of the leading cities, producing genius in philosophy, science, medicine, literature, art and architecture.
From their literature they produced one of the richest myths, where they once had great and powerful kings ruled their city during the Bronze Age.
|The Early Kings of Athens|
|Procne and Philomena|
|Creusa and Ion, see the Aeolids|
|Cephalus and Procris, see Tales of Lovers|
|Cecrops II and Pandion II|
|Aegeus and Theseus|
|Athens After Theseus|
Genealogy: House of Athens
|Early Kings of Athens|
There is some confusion of who were the earliest rulers of Athens. Attica was probably originally called Acte or Actaea, after its first king, Actaeüs (Actaeus). Cecrops had married Actaeus' daughter Agraulus. Without a son of his own, Actaeus was succeeded by Cecrops, who renamed the region from Acte (Attica) to Cecropia. Sometimes writers think that Cecrops was the first king of Attica.
Cecrops was said to be an earth-born creature, half-man half-serpent. He had a legs and tail of a serpent. Cecrops and Agraulus had three daughters named Pandrosus, Agraulus II and Herse. Cecrops also had a son named Erysichthon, but he probably outlived his son, because Cranaüs (Cranaus) succeeded Cecrops. Some even say that Cecrops was the founder of the city, Athens, but this honour was usually given to his successor.
It was during his reign in Cecropia (Attica) that Poseidon and Athena contested for the patronage of Attica or Athens. Poseidon showed his power by striking a boulder at the Acropolis with his trident, causing sea water to gush out of the rock. Athena, on the other hand, caused an olive tree to grow out of rocky soil. Cecrops and the people thought that olive tree was more useful than salt-water well, so they awarded the city to the goddess and named the city after her – Athens. Poseidon was enraged with the decision and flooded Attica.
It was also during Cecrops' reign, when Hephaestus the smith-god tried to ravish Athena, the virgin war-goddess. Athena fought Hephaestus off, causing the god's semen to fall on the earth at the Acropolis. Hephaestus' semen had impregnated Gaea (Earth), causing an earth-born creature to be born; an infant with legs and tail of a serpent. (According to Apollodorus, Erichthonius was the son of Hephaestus and Atthis, daughter of Cranaüs, but Apollodorus also included the possibly that Athena might be Erichthonius' real mother.)
Athena took the infant and named him Erichthonius. The goddess placed the infant in the chest. She gave the chest to Pandrosus, Herse and Agraulus II, warning Cecrops' daughters not to open the chest. Curious to what was hidden within the box, Herse and Agraulus opened the chest.
Either Athena inflicted them with madness, for disobedience to order, or the horror of seeing Erichthonius drove them mad. Whichever was the case; they threw themselves off the cliff and died. (According to Ovid, they did not die, because Herse became the mother of Cephalus by Hermes, while Agraulus was seduced by Ares and bore a daughter named Alcippe.)
Cecrops' successor, Cranaüs had renamed the Cecropia to Attica, in honour to his daughter Atthis, who died as a young girl. Cranaüs had two other daughters named Cranae and Cranaichme by his Spartan wife, Pedias. Cranaüs lived in the time of Deluge. Cranaüs was probably the founder and the first ruler of Athens, before Amphictyon, Cranae's husband, deposed him.
Amphictyon was the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha (see Deluge). Amphictyon had married Cranae and deposed of his father-in-law from the throne of Athens. Amphictyon was in turn deposed by Erichthonius after only twelve years reign.
Erichthonius had established the Panathenaic festival in honour of Athena, his foster-mother. Erichthonius had also erected a wooden image of Athena. Erichthonius married a nymph named Praxithea and became the father of Pandion (Pandion I).
Pandion (Pandion I; Πανδίων) was the king of Athens, succeeding his father Erichthonius. Pandion married Zeuxippe, sister of his mother Praxithea. Pandion became the father of two sons, Erechtheus (Ἐρεχθεύς) and Butes (Boutes), and of two daughters, Procne and Philomena.
Pandion became involved in a war against Labdacus, the king of Thebes. Pandion was aided in the war by Tereus, the son of Ares and king of Thrace. Pandion rewarded his ally by giving his daughter Procne in marriage to Tereus. See Procne and Philomena.
Pandion made Erechtheus his heir, while Butes became the high priest of the temple of Athena and Poseidon. Erechtheus became king at his death.
|Procne and Philomena|
Procne (Πρόκνη) and Philomena (Φιλομήλα) were the daughters of King Pandion I of Athens. When Tereus, the king of Thrace, aided their father in the war against Labdacus, the king of Thebes, Pandion gave Procne to Tereus in marriage.
At first the marriage between Tereus and Procne was happy. She bore her husband a son, which they named Itys. The problem in their marriage began when Philomena visited her sister in Thrace. Philomena, who was beautiful maiden, became the object of Tereus' violent lust.
During his wife's absence, Tereus raped his sister-in-law. To prevent anyone knowing of his crime, he cut out Philomena's tongue and threw Philomena in his dungeon. Upon Procne's return, Tereus claimed that her sister had returned home.
Several years past and Philomena was still in dungeon. During those years, Philomena weaved a robe for his sister. Her artistic skill in weaving, allowed her to give a realistic representation of her ordeal, clearly showing how Tereus had raped her during her sister's absence, how he had cut out her tongue and sit helplessly in prison.
Somehow she managed to give this robe to Procne. Procne was shocked to see the graphic account on the robe and the suffering of her sister. Without Tereus' awareness, Procne secretly went to the dungeon and found her sister.
Recovering his sister, Procne began to plan for her revenge upon her callous husband. Procne killed her own son Itys, served his flesh to Tereus during supper. Once Tereus ate his son's flesh, Procne appeared with Philomena and told her husband, he had eaten his own son. Horrified, Tereus drew his sword, with the intention of killing his wife and sister-in-law, pursued Procne and Philomena out into the forest.
Before they were overtaken, the two sisters prayed to the gods. Procne was transformed into nightingale, while Philomena became a swallow. Tereus was frustrated with their escape, was transformed into hoopoe.
After this event, relationship between Athens and Thrace had become strained.
Erechtheus was the son of Pandion and Zeuxippe. Erechtheus succeeded his father, and became king of Athens. Erechtheus married Praxithea, the daughter of Phrasimus and Diogeneia. Erechtheus was the father of Cecrops, Pandorus and Metion, as well as a number of daughters, including Creüsa (Creusa, Κρέουσα), Oreithyia and Procris (Πρόκρις).
Relationship between Athens and Thrace was strained. Boreas (Βορέας) was the son of Astraeus and Eos, and resided in Thrace. Boreas was a minor god of the north wind. Boreas wanted to become a suitor of Oreithyia, which Erechtheus and his Athenians disapproved. The Athenians never trusted the Thracians again, after Tereus had raped Erechtheus' sister, Philomena. See Procne and Philomena.
Situation worsened Athens and Thrace when Boreas abducted Oreithyia. Oreithyia (Ὀρείθυια) had been playing by the River Ilissos, when Boreas carried Oreithyia off to Sarpedon's Rock, Thrace, where he had raped her. Boreas then married her, and Oreithyia became the mother of two daughters named Cleopatra and Chione, and the winged twins, Zetes and Calais. Zetes and Calais were known Boreades, and they had sailed with the Argonauts and drove away the Harpies.
Athens became further embroiled with the Thracians, when Erechtheus became involved in a war against their neighbouring town, Eleusis. The Thracian king, Eumoplus, supported the Eleusinian cause. Athens' former ally was now their enemy; Thrace supported Eleusis in the war. Athens gained support from the Thessalians led by Xuthus, who was the son of Hellen.
When Erechtheus heard that he could only win the war only if he sacrifices one of his daughters. When Erechtheus killed his youngest (unnamed) daughter, her sisters killed themselves as well, since they had sworn pact to die together (this doesn't include Creusa, Oreithyia and Procris).
After fierce fighting, Erechtheus killed Eumoplus. Though Athens had by then won the war, Poseidon killed Erechtheus with his trident, because Eumoplus was his son.
Xuthus was given Creüsa as his wife, for his aid in the war (according to Euripides, it was the war against Euboea, not Eleusis, that he was given Creüsa in marriage). Erechtheus' three sons asked Xuthus to help decide who would succeed their father. Xuthus chose Erechtheus' eldest son, Cecrops. The other brothers were angry with Xuthus' choice, so they drove him out of Athens. Xuthus took Creüsa with him into the exile, possibly to Aegialus, in northern Peloponnesus. See Creüsa and Ion.
|Cecrops and Pandion II|
Cecrops (Cecrops II; Κέρκωψ) was the eldest son of Erechtheus and Praxithea. When Poseidon killed his father, Cecrops and his brothers, Pandorus and Metion, asked their brother-in-law, Xuthus, to judge who was best to rule Athens as king. Xuthus chose Cecrops. Cecrops' rivals banished Xuthus from Athens. Not much is known about the second Cecrops except that he married Metiadusa, the daughter of Eupalamus. Cecrops was the father of the second Pandion (Pandion II).
It is believed that Cecrops II was a late invention, to fill the gap over the confusion of the early generation. Cecrops II should not be confused with Cecrops I; Cecrops II was completely human, whereas as Cecrops I had head and upper body of man, but lower body of that a reptile.
Pandion (Pandion II; Πανδίων) was the son of Cecrops II and Metiadusa, the daughter of Eupalamus. Pandion succeeded his father at his death, but the sons of his uncle Metion rebelled against his rule. Pandion was driven into exile, while they set their father (Metion) as king of Athens.
Pandion fled to Megara, where he married Pylia, daughter of King Pylas. Later, Pylas went into voluntary exile to Messenia, because he had killed his uncle, Bias. Pylas set his son-in-law as king of Megara. Pylia bore four sons for him, Nisus, Pallas, Lycus and Aegeus. However, most believed that Aegeus was the son of Scyrius, but Pandion had adopted Aegeus.
Pandion left the kingdom to his eldest son, Nisus, as king of Megara. His other sons returned to Athens, and drove out the sons of Metions. See Aegeus and Theseus.
Like his father, Cecrops II, Pandion was possibly a late invention to fill in the gap over the confusion of the early generation. Pandion II should not be with his great grandfather, Pandion I.
|Aegeus and Theseus|
Some writer say that Aegeus (Αἐγεύς) was the son of Pandion II, the exiled king of Athens, and Pylia, daughter of Pylas, but the usual tales say that Aegeus was only Pandion's adopted son. This version says that Aegeus was actually the son of Scyrius. Aegeus' brothers were Nisus, Pallas and Lycus.
At Pandion's death, as the eldest son, Nisus inherited the throne in Megara. Aegeus and his brothers decided to drive out the sons of Metion out of Athens, and shared the kingdom among them. Though, they drove out the sons of Metion, Aegeus secured the throne for himself.
While Pallas and his fifty sons, known as the Pallantids, tried to stir the Athenians into rebellion against Aegeus' rule, and to depose his brother. So, Aegeus was desperate to sire an heir.
Aegeus had married to Meta, daughter of Hoples, and then later to Chalciope, daughter of Rhexenor. Neither wife could bear him a son, make him fearful of being without an heir. So Aegeus tried to find a solution to his problem of having a son, from the oracle in Delphi. However, the oracle had the king totally baffled, for the god said:
The bulging mouth of the wineskin, most excellent of men,
Aegeus went to Troezen, to seek Pittheus' advice. Pittheus was the son of Pelops and the brother of Atreus and Thyestes. Pittheus was considered to be one of the wisest rulers of his time. Pittheus immediately understood the oracle. Pittheus made Aegeus drunk with wine, before sending his daughter Aethra to Aegeus' bed. Aegeus was too intoxicated by the wine, but Poseidon, the great sea god, slept with Aethra, and she became pregnant.
Aegeus thinking that he had made Aethra pregnant, instructed her to send his son to Athens, only if his son could retrieve the sword and sandals he had placed underneath a large boulder. His son (Poseidon's son) was the great hero, Theseus.
Then Aegeus returned to Athens. Some years later, Androgeus, the son of Minos and Pasiphae, came to Athens as guest of Aegeus in the Panathenaic festival. Androgeus competed and won all games.
Aegeus foolishly sent Androgeus to confront the Marathonian Bull (originally called Cretan Bull) and the young Cretan was killed.
Hearing the news, Minos sent his army to Athens and defeated Aegeus in a war. Minos demanded that Aegeus to send seven youths and seven maidens, every nine years to Crete, as tribute. (A full treatment about the origin of the Cretan/Marathonian Bull, Athens' war and tributes to Minos, can be found in Minoan Crete. While the Theseus slaying the monster Minotaur, can be found in the page of Theseus.)
Aegeus later married Medea, the Colchisian sorceress, who had promised the king that she would be able to bear him a son. Aegeus became the father of Medus.
A few years later, a hero had travelled to Athens, defeating all the bandits that infested the Isthmian road to Athens. Aegeus did not recognise the young hero, but Medea knew his identity. Fearing that the hero would replace her son as heir to Athens' throne, Medea persuaded Aegeus to poison his guest. Aegeus recognised his sword that the stranger worn, immediately knocked the drink out of his guest's hand. Medea fled with her son to the East.
Aegeus found out that his guest was his son Theseus, whom he left Troezen before the hero was born. Aegeus publicly recognised Theseus as his son and heir. Theseus helped his father against the rebellion Aegeus' brothers – Lycus and Pallas, and Pallas fifty sons. Aegeus drove Lycus into exile, who fled east across the Aegean, to a region in southwest Asia Minor; the region was named after him, Lycia. Theseus killed Pallas and his sons.
Not long after this, Aegeus was due to send his periodic tribute to Minos. Learning of the reason for the tribute, Theseus decided to volunteer as one of the youths to feed the Minotaur. Theseus told his father of his intention to slay the Minotaur and ending the tribute to Minos. Aegeus agreed to his son's plan and told Theseus if he was to succeed he should return with the white sail hoisted. If the ship were to return with a black sail, then Aegeus would know that the Minotaur had killed his son Theseus.
Theseus had succeeded in killing the Minotaur, and was returning home triumphantly. However, in the excitement of his victory over the bull-headed monster, Theseus forgot to change the sails from black to white. Aegeus seeing the black sail thought his son had died in Crete. Grief-stricken over losing his son, Aegeus threw himself off the cliff. The sea was named after him, to the Aegean Sea. See Theseus and the Minotaur.
Theseus succeeded his father as king of Athens. Though, he proved to be a wise king, sometimes his love for adventures and rash boldness, clouded his judgement and wisdom, as his Cretan adventure had shown (eg. death of his father). His bravery and his sense of adventure sometimes proved to be a disaster, particularly when it concerned his family and his choice of wives/mistresses.
He abducted and married the Amazon princess, Antiope. Antiope gave him a son named Hippolytus. Either the Amazons came to rescue Antiope or they wished to punish Antiope for marrying Theseus. Whichever version was true, though Theseus defeated the Amazons, Antiope was killed. Some say that Antiope was killed by her sister; others say that Theseus had killed her.
When he married Minos' daughter, Phaedra, the sister of Ariadne, Phaedra had fatally fallen in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. When her love was rejected by Hippolytus, Phaedra committed suicide; she left a false letter that said her stepson raped her. Theseus believing in his wife's letter and his son's guilt, banished Hippolytus, and foolishly laid a curse upon his son. Poseidon, who fulfilled Theseus' curse/wish, mortally wounded Hippolytus. Theseus only found out later, that his son was innocent, when the goddess Athena appeared. See Hippolytus in Theseus.
Theseus was seriously lacking in wisdom when he befriended Peirithoüs (Peirithous), the king of the Lapiths. Theseus abducted Helen of Sparta, the young sister of Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux), who were better known as the Dioscuri. Helen was only a girl of nine, during the abduction. She may have become the mother of Iphigeneia.
The Dioscuri were the twin Spartan heroes, who were more than a match for Theseus. They brought an army to Athens, rescuing their sister. Since Theseus was absence, Athens surrendered without a fight, and the Dioscuri set Menestheus as the new king. See Helen and Persephone.
Theseus went into exile and died in court of Lycomedes, on the island of Scyrus. Lycomedes had probably murdered the aged hero.
|Athens After Theseus|
Theseus had died in exile, leaving Menestheus (Μενεσθεύς) to rule Athens. In the Iliad, Menestheus was listed as a suitor of Helen and became the commander of the Athenian fleet of fifty ships, during the Trojan War. Some say that Menestheus died in Troy or else migrated to the island of Melos, where he became king. In either case, Theseus' son regained the kingdom.
Theseus had two sons, Acamas (Ἀκάμας) and Demophon (Δημοφών), by Phaedra. They were living in Euboea, during Menestheus' reign. They accompanied Elephenor (Ἐλεφήνωρ, their cousin?), the king of the Abantes of Euboea, who brought forty ships to Troy. After the war, Demophon and Acamas returned to Athens, recovering the throne. Demophon became king.
It was during Demophon's reign, when Eurystheus persecuted the sons of Heracles (Heraclids) Iolaus. Since Theseus and Heracles were cousins, then so were Demophon and the Heraclids. Demophon thought it was his duty to protect the weak, like his father had done. Athens was the only kingdom that would accept the Heraclids as refugees. A struggle ensued, with Athenians defeating Eurystheus and his army.
According to another version told by Apollodorus, Demophon had never reached Athens after the war in Troy; therefore he never became king. He landed his small fleet in the land of the Thracian Bisaltians. The king's daughter, Phyllis fell in love with Demophon fell in love with him, so the king offered him his daughter and his kingdom, but Demophon wished to return home. Demophon promised to return to her after appointed time. He left Phylis at Nine Ways (Amphipolis), who gave him a box, which contained an artifact sacred to the mother goddess, Rhea. Phyllis told him not to open the box, unless he wasn't returning to her at the appointed time.
Demophon sailed away, not to Athens, but to Cyprus where he stayed. After the appointed time had passed, she knew that Demophon had deceived and betrayed her. Phyllis ran to the shore nine times (the reason why Amphipolis was named Nine Ways), where Phyllis madly cursed the unfaithful betrothed, and killed herself. Probably at the same time of her death, Demophon opened the box, and was inflicted with madness. He rode madly on the horse, until the horse died from exhaustion. Demophon was thrown off the horse, and fell on his own sword.
Theseus' descendants ruled Athens and Attica, until the arrival of the Ionian, descendants of Ion, during the Dorian invasion.
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