CITIES OF ALEXANDER: ANCIENT ATHENS AND THE LEAGUE OF CORINTH

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The Acropolis

Today Athens is the largest city in Greece and one of the biggest metropolises in the world. Back in Alexander’s time, Athens dominated the Aegean and even today is referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. The city is surrounded by mountains to the north and east and the Saronic gulf to the south and west. The seaport of Piraeus gave ancient Athens control over the seas and her navy dominated the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea for centuries.

Athens, often referred to as “the glorious city” was a city-state, a centre for the arts, learning and philosophy. Socrates made speeches in the agora,  Plato’s Academy was here and Aristotle’s Lyceum. Today you can still visit the ruins of these famous centres and the alleged ‘prison’ of Socrates which is in a cave below Filopappou Hill.

During my years of research for SHADOW OF THE LION I lived in Athens and it has become my second home. It’s a thrill to be able to visit the ancient sites and imagine what it must have been like back in Alexander’s time.  There is still a classical feel to the city and the ancient monuments and works of art have been preserved. The Parthenon still dominates the city, a key landmark going back to the early civilization. The Acropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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 ATHENA

The name “Athens” comes from the ancient Greek name “Athena” the goddess who was the patron goddess of the city. Her symbol was the olive tree which symbolized peace and prosperity. The Sacred Rock of the Acropolis dates back to the 5th century BC, during what was known as the Golden Age of Pericles. If you are visiting Athens, try and attend the Sound and Light show on the Pnyx Hill as it explains the whole history of the city.

During Alexander’s time, the city states were often at war. In 338 a sacred war had been declared on the little town of Amphissa for allegedly trespassing on the property of Apollo. King Philip of Macedon was asked to assume leadership of the war. His army blocked the highway to Thebes and Athens and he hoped this tactic would bring the enemy to their senses. However, against the advice of their general, Phocion, and on the insistence of the orator Demosthenes, the Athenians joined with the Thebans and met the Macedonians at a famous battle in a wide valley at Charonea. Philip was a fearless warrior and astute strategist. With his 18 year old son Alexander commanding the west wing of cavalry, the Macedonian army easily vanquished the Athenians. Alexander and the cavalry completely obliterated the Sacred Band of Thebes. Demothenes fled the battle scene but later committed suicide on the island of Paros off the Peloponnesian west coast.

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Philip I of Macedon

This battle marked the end of the city states and Philip was free to organize Greece.  In 337, Philip formed the League of Corinth. Most of the country except for Sparta submitted to him.  Although Athens had opposed the Macedonians they received many favors and concessions. Knowning that Athens controlled the sea, Philip dared not risk a confrontation but, respecting their past glory, he freed Athenian prisoners, and left the city with her constitution and territories, although Athens had to ally herself with Philip and forgo her confederacy. Philip sent Alexander to meet with the Athenians, which was the only time Alexander actually visited the city.

The Constitution of the Corinthian League incorporated in it a treaty between Athens and Macedon. The city states should be independent and self-governing; illegal executions or banishments were forbidden, no state could harbor military exiles and all were to keep the peace.

Philip established military garrisons throughout Attika and at Athens. The Macedonians moved into an army garrison on the Hill of Munychia which overlooks Phaliron and guarded the western coastline of Attika.  You can still visit Munychia, which is one of the settings in SHADOW OF THE LION.  There are some ruins there, mainly Byzantine era but others that are a reminder of the military strength Macedon had over the Athenians.

A year later, in 336, Philip was assassinated at Aigai during a wedding celebration for his daughter leaving Alexander to claim the kingship.

The occupation of Macedonians in Athens created much political strife and resulted in the murders and executions of several well-known Athenian politicians including Phocion, and the expulsion of many of its citizens.  If you visit the ancient Agora you can find the remnants of the Bouletarian and other civic buildings where debates were held over the occupation of Macedonians in the city.

In “Blood on the Moon” Volume One there are various scenes set in the Agora of Athens and the military garrison of Munychia.  Athens is also featured in Volume Two “The Fields of Hades”.