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The Athenian Golden Age


Under the democratic reforms of Pericles, a new and exalted notion of the Athenian citizen emerged. This was a man who could shoulder political responsibility while also playing a part in the cultural and religious events of the time. The latter assumed ever-increasing importance. The city’s Panathenaic festival, honouring the goddess Athena, was upgraded along the lines of the Olympic Games to include drama, music and athletic contests. The next five decades were to witness a golden age of cultural development during which the great dramatic works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the comedies of Aristophanes were written. Foreigners such as Herodotus, considered the inventor of history, and Anaxagoras, the philosopher, were drawn to live in the city. Thucydides wrote The Peloponnesian War, a pioneering work of documentation and analysis, while Socrates posed the problems of philosophy that were to exercise his follower Plato and to shape the discipline to the present day.

But it was the great civic building programme that became the most visible and powerful symbol of the age. Under the patronage of Pericles, the architects Iktinos, Mnesikles and Kallikrates, along with the sculptor Fidias, transformed the city. Their buildings included the Parthenon and Erechtheion on the Acropolis; the Hephaisteion and several stoas (arcades) around the Agora; a new odeion (theatre) on the South Slope of the Acropolis hill; and, outside the city, the temples at Soúnio and Ramnous.

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