Athens during the Classical era
  • The city-state of Athens (5th and 4th centuries BCE) valued intellectual pursuits and open inquiry. That lead to the development of philosophy (the love of wisdom).
  • The ancient Athenians' focus on understanding themselves and the world around them provided an intellectual breakthrough in history. Debate and seeking the truth inspired thinkers and influenced the world we live in today.
  • Athens likely was named after the Olympian goddess of wisdom, Athena, who was also the city's patron deity. Athena was also the goddess of war and peace, as well as the goddess of craftsmanship and weaving.

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The Acropolis is a distinctive feature of today's Athens that was built in the 5th century BCE. It is a cluster of buildings on a rocky outcrop. The famous Parthenon temple on the Acropolis was built to honor Athena and to serve the city's treasury.

Athens during the 5th century BCE was lively. The heart of Athens was its marketplace, or Agora (a place where people gather.) The structures surrounding the Agora's market stalls included stone benches, various altars, and temples, a building named the Aiakeion where laws and legal decisions were displayed, and various stoas or covered porticos.

Athens was an unusually open society. It was open to foreign goods, foreigners that were able to attain high-status roles, and the exchange of strange ideas.

Athens borrowed many ideas, such as the Phoenician alphabet, Egyptian medicine and sculpture techniques, Babylonia mathematics, and Sumerian literature, and then improved upon it.

Slavery was prevalent throughout the ancient world. Most of the enslaved people in Athens were from abroad, often captured in conflicts from farther north.

However, boundaries were often blurred between enslaved and free people. Some persons classified as slaves gathered great wealth, while some free people were poor.

  • In the 5th century BCE, Athens housed a significant number of geniuses and innovators, such as the playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the historians Thucydides and Herodotus, the physician Hippocrates, and philosophers Socrates and Plato.
  • Socrates is known for the Socratic method of inquiry, which uses questions to draw out critical thinking. Plato became the father of idealism and is often thought to be the father of Western political philosophy.
  • By the 4th century BCE, philosopher Aristotle was added to the luminaries of Athens. Athens also became home to the forerunners of modern universities, such as Plato's Academy, an institution of higher learning, and the Lyceum, a temple that served as a center for education, debate, and scholarship.

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The city's population grew to around 300,000 people. It remained the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, as well as Roman and Byzantine Egypt, for almost a thousand years.

Alexandria was designed by the architect Dinocrates of Rhodes, using a Hippodamian gridiron street plan. The city was cosmopolitan and diverse. It consisted of Greeks, Jew, and Egyptian Arabs.

Innovative banking practices like bills of exchange (to facilitate-out-of-city payments) and double-entry bookkeeping, along with the flourishing cloth industry made Florence the wealthiest city in Europe.

The city, flush with wealth, started to focus on art, humanism, creation, enjoyment of life’s pleasures, and intellectual pursuits. It framed itself as ‘The New Rome’ and was a true Renaissance city due to it’s elevated and classist thinking that offered freedom, prosperity and knowledge.

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