Athens is the capital of Greece. It is situated on the coast of the eastern peninsula. Throughout history it has been the center of Greek culture, art and philosophy and the center of western civilization. In this essay, I’m going to explain more fully the significance of Greece through-out history, both in Bible times and today.
Modern archeologists say that the site of Athens may have been inhabited as long ago as 3000 B. C. This may or may not be true, as the scriptures do not speak of Athens until the time of Paul.
The earliest buildings in the area date back to around 1200 B. C. At this time the Acropolis was the citadel of Athens.
Around 1000 B. C. the city was expanded northwest.
In 530 B. C. a large temple was built to Athena Polias (guardian god of the city). Inside it had large marble sculptures representing battles between the gods and giants. Besides this temple there were many smaller ones and because of this the Acropolis became the sanctuary of many Greek gods.
In 480 B. C. the Persians captured and destroyed Athens. The Acropolis and many houses in the lower town were destroyed. Only a few houses were spared to house the Persian leaders.
The Athenians returned in 479 B. C. It was about this time that the Period of Greatness started. During this time, Athens was at its greatest in regards to art, philosophy and literature. Some of the great people who lived during this period were Plato, Socrates, Xenophon, Demosthenes and Pericles. When Pericles was the head of state Athens reached its peak of economic and political power.
When the Athenians returned in 479 B. C. they immediately set about re-building the fortification walls. They not only made the previous walls bigger and thicker, but 20 yrs. later they completed the Long Wall. This wall connected Athens to its port, Piraeus, four miles away.
The Acropolis was not rebuilt because an oath was sworn before the Battle of Platea, in 479 B. C. This oath stated that the sanctuaries that were destroyed by the Barbarians would not be rebuilt but left as memorials of their lack of religiousness. However in 449 B. C. peace with Persia was officially established and the oath was done away with.
Thus, the Acropolis was entirely rebuilt over a period of 40 yrs. The first section to be rebuilt was the Parthenon (Home of the Virgin). It was built in gleaming white marble mined from Mt. Pentelicus, ten miles north of the city. The Parthenon was considerably larger than a normal temple having 8 columns across the ends and 17 columns on the side, compared to the average 6 by 13. Inside it was filled with sculptures made from gold and ivory, the largest sculpture being of Athena. The Propylea (entrance to the temple) was nearly complete when all work was stopped by the Peloponnesian Wars against Persia in 431-404 B. C.
After these wars the great age of Athens ended. Athens was slow in recovering from these wars but slowly the town and walls were rebuilt. They never regained political power but for some centuries it remained the intellectual and cultural center of Greece. Many Greeks and Romans still went to Athens to be educated. Then Athens, with the rest of Greece, became subject to the Romans and later to the successor of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines. After the time of the Byzantine Empire, Athens lost its importance. During the Middle Ages, it was ruled by French, Italian and Spanish noblemen. The magnificent buildings of the Acropolis fell into ruin. Athens was then ruled by Turkey. Athens gained independence from Turkey in 1830 and it became the capital of Greece in 1833. In World War I it was the scene of the happenings that led to the desposition of King Constantine, by the allies. In World War II it was occupied by German troops but it wasn’t bombed.
Although Athens is only mentioned 5 times in the Bible it is still of important significance. Paul visited Athens on his 2nd missionary journey. Paul describes Athens as being “wholly given to idolatry.” Acts 17:16 His reason being that there were idols everywhere you looked. In fact, as one commentator says, “it was easier to find an idol than a person.”
While in Athens Paul preached on Mars Hill. Mars Hill or the Areopagus was southwest of the Acropolis. It is a rock with a leveled top and it was used for senate meetings and criminal trials. Today it is known as Areos Pagos, after the Greek war god, Ares.
The rulers and philosophers took Paul to the Areopagus and demanded that he tell them about the doctrine he brought. Then he preached to them. The people listened interestedly until he spoke about this. Then they began to mock him with contemptuous words. Despite this, a few believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris.
Dionysius was a former archon, which means he was one of the 9 chief magistrates of Athens. He was also a member of the supreme court. He is said to have followed Paul to Rome. By tradition, he is said to be the first bishop of Athens. A set of mystical writings, found later in history, were said to have been written by him and they had a strong influence in the Middle Ages. Dionysius is now the Roman patron saint of Athens. The little Christian community established by Paul remained small, surrounded by the wickedness of Athens. However, Christianity was officially established in the 5th and 6th centuries. After pagan worship was abolished, churches were built. Approximately 22 churches were known to have been built during this period.
Today Athens is the capital of Greece. More than four million people (40% of the national population) cram into the noisy, crowded metropolitan area. Athens is the business, trading and shipping center of Greece. Its main resources are textiles, soap, clothing, chemicals and tourism. Away from the bustle of the city areas are some fascinating tourist sites, which include the ruins of the Acropolis, the ancient ruins of the Agora and many other ruins and temple.
It is clear that even in this worldly city God brought a man to bring the gospel.
- Berlitz, Blueprint Greece, by Jack Altman
- Collins independent travelers guide, Mainland Greece, by Victor Walker
- A commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. Ill, New Testament, by Matthew Poole
- The New Educator Encyclopedia Vol. I.
- Encyclopedia Britianica Vol. I