Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Attica

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From volume III of the work.
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ATTICA, the most famous district of ancient Greece, is a triangular piece of ground projecting in a south-easterly direction into the Ægean Sea, the base line being formed by the continuous chain of Mounts Cithæron and Parnes, the apex by the promontory of Sunium.

Sketch Map of Attica.

It is washed on two sides by the sea, and this feature seems to have given rise to the name; for, notwithstanding the unusual letter-change, Άττική probably stands for Άκτική, since Strabo and other ancient writers inform us that the country originally bore both this name and that of Άκτή. The latter designation was frequently used by the Greeks to describe an extensive tract reaching into the sea, especially when, as in the case of Attica and the Argolic Acte, it was joined to the continent by a broad base. The coast is broken up into numerous small bights and harbours, which, however, are with few exceptions exposed to the south wind; the irregularity of the outline accounts for its great length in comparison of the superficial area of the country. The surface of Attica, as of the rest of Greece, is very mountainous, and between the mountain chains lie several plains of no great size, open on one side to the sea. On the west its natural boundary is the Corinthian Gulf, so that it would include the district of Megaris; and, as a matter of fact, before the Dorian invasion, which resulted in the foundation of Megara, the whole of this country was politically one, being in the hands of the Ionian race. This is proved by the column which, as we learn from Strabo, once stood on the Isthmus of Corinth, bearing on one side the inscription, "This land is Peloponnesus, not Ionia"

τάδ΄έστὶ Πελοπόννησος, υύκ Ίωνία

and on the other, "This land is not Peloponnesus, but Ionia"—

τάδ΄ούχὶ Πελοπόννησος, άλλ΄ Ίωνία

Central position. The central position of Attica in Greece was one main cause of its historical importance. When K. O. Müller compares Greece to a body, whose members are different in form, while a mutual connection and dependence naturally exist between them, he speaks of Attica as one of the extremities which served as the active instruments of the body of Greece, and by which it was kept in constant connection with other countries. Hence in part arose the maritime character of its inhabitants; and when they had once taken to the sea, the string of neighbouring islands, Ceos, Cythnos, and others, some of which lay within sight of their coasts, and from one to another of which it was possible to sail without losing sight of land, served to tempt them on to further enterprises. Similarly on land, the post it occupied between Northern Greece and the Peloponnese materially influenced its relation to other states, both in respect of its alliances, such as that with Thessaly, towards which country it was drawn by mutual hostility to Bœotia, which lay between them, a friendship of great service to Athens, because it brought to her aid the Thessalian cavalry, an arm with which she herself was feebly provided; and also in respect of offensive combinations of other powers, as that between Thebes and Sparta, which throughout an important part of Greek history were closely associated in their politics, through mutual dread of their powerful neighbour.

Mountains.The mountains of Attica, which form its most characteristic feature, are to be regarded as a continuation of that chain which, starting from Mount Tymphrestus at the southern extremity of Pindus, passes through Phocis and Bœotia under the well-known names of Parnassus and Helicon; from this proceeds the range which, as Cithaaron in its western and Parues in its eastern portion, separates Attica from Bœotia, throwing off spurs southward towards the Saronic Gulf in Ægaleos and Hymettus, which bound the plain of Athens. Again, the eastern extremity of Parnes is joined by another line of hills, which, separating from Mount Œta, skirts the Euboic Gulf, and, after entering Attica, throws up the lofty pyramid of Pentelicus, overlooking the plain of Marathon, and then sinks towards the sea at Sunium to rise once more in the outlying islands. Finally, at the extreme west of the whole district, Cithaeron is bent round at right angles in the direction of the isthmus, at the northern approach to which it abuts against the mighty mass of Mount Geraneia, which is interposed between the Corinthian and the Saronic Gulf. The elevation reached by some of these is considerable, both Cithaeron and Parnes being about 4600 feet, Hymettus 3360, and Pentelicus 2560, while Ægaleos does not rise higher than 1536 feet. At the present day they are extremely bare, and, to one who is accustomed to Italian scenery, their severity is apt at first to be almost repellent; but after a time the eye is delighted with the delicacy of the outlines, the minute articulation of the minor ridges and valleys, and the symmetrical way in which nature has grouped the several mountains so as to form a balance between them. The appearance thus produced can be best described as classical.

Soil.The soil of Attica is light and thin, and requires very careful agriculture to develop its produce. This feature belongs not only to the rocky mountain sides, but to some extent also to the maritime plains, and had considerable influence on the development of the inhabitants, both by enforcing industrious habits, and in leading them at an early period to take to the sea. Still, the level ground was sufficiently fertile to form a marked contrast to the rest of the district, and this fact is represented in the mythical genealogy of the early kings, which embodies several geographical features. Thus, while first we find the name of Actaeua or Action, who represents the CIKTT^ or sea-coast, later on occurs Cranaus, a personification of the rocky ground, whence both Pindar and Aristophanes apply the epithet Kpavaai to Athens; and further we meet with Erichthonius, whose name is intended to express the fruitful plains. Thucydides attributes to the nature of the thin soil (i. 2, TO AeTrroyecov), which presented no attraction to invaders, the permanence of the same inhabitants in the country, whence arose the claim to indigenousness on which the Athenians so greatly prided themselves; while at the same time the richer ground fostered that fondness for country life, which is proved by the enthusiastic terms in which it is always spoken of by Aristophanes, and by the discontent of the people of Attica at being forced to betake themselves to the city at the commencement of the Peloponnesian War. That we are not justified in judging of the ancient condition of the soil by the aridity which prevails at the present day, is shown by the fact that out of the 174 demos into which Attica was divided, at least one-tenth were named from trees or plants.

Climate.But whatever drawbacks the people of Attica experienced in respect of the soil were more than compensated by the fineness of the climate. In this point they enjoyed a great advantage over their neighbours the Boeotians; and while at the present day travellers speak of the excessive heat in summer and cold in winter which they have experienced in Bœtia, Attica has always been famous for its mildness. In approaching this district from the north, a change of temperature is felt as soon as a person descends from Cithoeron or Parnes, and the sea breeze, which in modern times is called 6 e/z/Jar???, or that which sets towards shore, moderates the heat in summer. Both the Attic comedians and Plato speak with enthusiasm of their native climate, and the fineness of the Athenian intellect was attributed to the clearness of the Attic atmosphere. It was in the neighbourhood of Athens itself that the air was thought to be purest. This is what Euripides refers to in the well-known passage where he describes the inhabitants as "ever walking gracefully through the most luminous æther" (Med., 829); and Milton, who is always an admirable exponent of Greek literature, in like manner says—

"Where, on the Ægean shore, a city stands,
Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil,—
Athens, the eye of Greece."

Thus it is hardly hyperbole in Xenophon to say "one would not err in thinking that this city is placed near the centre of Greece nay, of the civilised world, because, the farther removed persons are from it, the severer is the cold or heat they meet with" (Vectigal., i. 6). To the clearness of the atmosphere must be referred the distinctness with which distant objects can be discerned, for from the Acropolis the lines of white marble that streak the sides of Pentelicus are visible, and also the brilliant colouring which is so conspicuous in an Athenian sunset. Thus Dean Stanley speaks of "the flood of fire with which the marble columns, the mountains, and the sea are all bathed and penetrated;" "the violet hue which Hymettus assumes in the evening sky, in contrast to the glowing furnace of the rock of Lycabettus, and the rosy pyramid of Pentelicus." And M. Bursian says" Amongst the most beautiful natural scenes that I have beheld I reckon the sight of Hymettus from Athens at sunset, whilst the entire range, as soon as the sun begins to sink, quivers with the loveliest rosy red, which gradually passes through the most varied gradations into the deepest violet. No one who has not enjoyed this spectacle can understand the purpureos colles florcntis Ilymctti of Ovid." This otherwise perfect climate is slightly marred by the prevalence of the north wind. This is expressed on the Horologium of Antonius Cyrrhestes, called the Temple or Tower of the Winds, at Athens, where Boreas is represented as a bearded man of stern aspect, thickly clad, and wearing strong buskins ; he blows into a conch shell, which he holds in his hand as a sign of his tempestuous character. This also explains the close connection between him and this country in mytho logy, especially in the legend of Orithyia, who is the daughter of the Cephisus, thus representing the mists that rise from the streams, and whom he carries off with him and makes his wife. One of their offspring is called Chione, or the Snow Maiden. n. When we turn to the vegetation of Attica, the olive first calls for our attention. This tree, we learn from Hero dotus (v. 82), was thought at one time to have been found in that country only ; and the enthusiastic praises of Sophocles ((Ed. Col., 700) teach us that it was the land in which it nourished best. So great was the esteem in which it was held, that in the early legend of the struggle between the gods of sea and land, Poseidon and Athena, for the patronage of the country, the sea-god is represented as having to retire vanquished before the giver of the olive : and at a later period the evidences of this contention were found in an ancient olive tree in the Acropolis, together with three holes in the rock, said to have been made by the trident of Poseidon, and to be connected with a salt well hard by. The fig also found its favourite home in this country, for Demeter was said to have bestowed it as a gift on the Eleusinian Phytalus, i.e., "the gardener." Both Cithasron and Parnes must have been wooded in former times ; for on the former are laid the picturesque silvan scenes in the Bacchce of Euripides, and it was from the latter that the wood came which caused the neighbour ing deme of Acharnae to be famous for its charcoal the av@pa.Kes Ilapvwrioi of the Acharniansoi Aristophanes (348). It was the thymy slopes of Hyraettus, too, from which came the famous Hymettian honey. Among the other products we must notice the marble both that of Pen- telicus, which afforded a material of unrivalled purity and whiteness for building the Athenian temples, and the blue marble of Hymettus the trabes Hymettice of Horace which used to be transported to Rome for the construction of palaces. But the richest of all the sources of wealth in Attica was the silver mines of Laureium, the yield of which was so considerable as to render silver the principal medium of exchange in Greece, so that "a silver piece" (apyvptov) was the Greek equivalent term for money. Hence ^Eschylus speaks of the Athenians as possessing a " fountain of silver" (Pers., 235), and Aristophanes makes his chorus of birds promise the audience that, if they show him favour, owls from Laureium, i.e., silver pieces with the emblem of Athens, shall never fail them (Av., 1 106). In Strabo s time, though the mines had almost ceased to yield, silver was obtained in considerable quantities from the scoriae ; and at the present day a large amount of lead is obtained in the same way, the value of what was exported in 1869 having been 177,000 sterling. Having thus noticed the general features of the country, 511. let us proceed to examine it somewhat more in detail. It has been already mentioned that the base line is formed by the chain of Cithaeron and Parnes, running from west to east ; and that from this transverse chains run southward, dividing Attica into a succession of plains. The western most of these, which is separated from the innermost bay of the Corinthian Gulf, called the Mare Alcyonium, by an offshoot of Cithseron, and is bounded on the east by a ridge which ends towards the Saronic Gulf in a striking two-horned peak called Kerata, is the plain of Megara. It is only for geographical purposes that we include this district under Attica, for both the Dorian race of the in habitants, and its dangerous proximity to Athens, caused it to be at perpetual feud with that city ; but its position as an outpost for the Peloponnesians, together with the fact of its having once been Ionian soil, sufficiently explains the bitter hostility of the Athenians towards the Megarians. The great importance of Megara arose from its commanding all the passes into the Peloponnese. These were three in number : one along the shores of the Corinthian Gulf, which, owing to the nature of the ground, makes a long detour ; the other two starting from Megara, and passing, the one by a lofty though gradual route over the ridge of Geraneia, the other along the Saronic Gulf, under the dangerous precipices of the Scironian rocks. The town of Megara, which was built on and between two low hills rising out of the plain rather more than a mile from the sea, had the command of both gulfs by means of its two ports that of Pegae on the Corinthian, and that of Nicaea on the Saronic. The necessities of the case occasionally brought the Megarians and their powerful neighbours together ; for the former greatly depended on Athens for their supplies, as we see from their famished state, "as described by Aristophanes in the Acharnians (729 seq.), when excluded from the ports and markets of that country. To the east of the plain of Megara lies that of Eleusis, Plain of bounded on the one side by the chain of Kerata, and on Eleusis, the other by that of /Egaleos, through a depression in which was the line of the sacred way, where the torchlight processions from Athens used to descend to the coast, the "brightly-gleaming shores" (Aa/u.7ra8cs d/crat) of Sophocles (CEd. Col., 1049). Here a deep bay runs into the land, opposite to which, and separated from it by a strait, which forms a succession of graceful curves, was the rocky island of Salamis, at all times an important possession to the Athenians on account of its proximity to their city. The scene of the battle of Salamis was the narrowest part of this channel, where the island approaches the extremity of yEgaleos ; and it was on the last declivities of that moun tain that " A king sate on the rocky brow "Which, looks o er sea-born Salamis." The eastern portion of this plain was called the Thriasian plain, and the city of Eleusis was situated in the recesses of the bay. The coast-line of this part, between the sanctuary of Poseidon at the isthmus, which was originally Ionian, and Athens, is the principal scene of the achieve ments of Theseus, a hero who holds the same relation to the lonians of Greece proper as Hercules does to the Greeks at large, viz., that of being the great author of improvements in the country. In this instance his feats seem to describe the establishment of a safe means of communication. On the isthmus itself he destroys the monster Sinis, the "ravager," otherwise called Pityocamptes, or the " pine-bender," which names imply that he is the embodiment of a violent wind, though the legend grew up that he fastened his victims to the bent branches of two pines, by the rebound of which they were torn in sunder. His next exploit is near Crommyon, where he destroys a wild sow, called Phrea, or " the dusky," which probably means that he checked a torrent, since violent water courses are often represented by that animal in Greek mythology. Then follows the struggle with the brigand Sciron, who signifies the dangerous wind, which blows with such violence in this district that at Athens the north-west wind received the name of Sciron from the neighbouring Scironian rocks ; the pass, which skirts the sea at the base of the cliffs, is now known by the ill-omened title of Kake Seal a, and is -still regarded as a perilous transit. Finally, between Eleusis and Athens, Theseus overcomes Procrustes, or " the racker," who apparently represents the dangers of the pass between Eleusis and Athens, now called Daphne ; for the ridge of Mount yEgaleos hard by was in ancient times called Corydallus, and this, we are told by Diodorus (iv. 59), was the scene of the contest.

Next in order to the plain of Eleusis came that of Athens, which is the most extensive of all, reaching from the foot of Parnes to the sea, and bounded on the west by ^Egaleos, and on the east by Hymettus. Its most con spicuous feature is the broad line of dark green along its western side, formed by the olive-groves of Colonus and the gardens of the Acadernus, which owe their fertility to the waters of the Cephisus, by which they are irrigated. This river is fed by copious sources on the side of Mount Parnes, and thus, unlike the other rivers of Attica, has a constant supply of water; but it does not reach the sea, nor did it apparently in classical times, having been diverted, then as now, into the neighbouring plantations; for this is what Sophocles means when he speaks of " the sleepless fountains of Cephisus, which stray forth from their channels" ((Ed. Col., 685 seq.) The position of Colonus itself is marked by two bare knolls of lightcoloured earth, which caused the poet in the same chorus to apply the epithet "white" (d/jy^ra) to that place. On the opposite side of the plain runs the other river, the Ilissus, which rises from a beautiful fountain in Mount Hymettus, and skirts the eastern extremity of the city of Athens; but this, notwithstanding its celebrity, is a mere brook, which stands in pools a great part of the year, and in summer is completely dry. The situation of Athens relatively to the surrounding objects is singularly harmonious; for, while it forms a central point, so as to be the eye of the plain, and while the altar-rock of the Acropolis and the hills by which it is surrounded are conspicuous from every point of view, there is no such exactness in its position as to give for mality, since it is nearer to the sea than to Parnes, and nearer to Hymettus than to ^Egaleos. The most striking summit in the neighbourhood of the city is that of Lycabettus, now Mount St George, on the north-eastern side; and the variety is still further increased by the continua tion of the ridge which it forms for some distance north wards through the plain. Three roads lead to Athens from the Boeotian frontier over the intervening mountain barrier the easternmost over Parnes, from Delium and Oropus by Deceleia, which was the usual route of the in vading Lacedaemonians during the Peloponnesian War; the westernmost over Cithseron, by the pass of Dryoscephalae, or the " Oakheads," leading from Thebes by Plataea to Eleusis, and so to Athens, which we hear of in connection with the battle of Plataea, and with the escape of the Plataeans at the time of the siege of that city in the Pelo ponnesian War; the third, midway between the two, by the pass of Phyle, near the summit of which, on a rugged height overlooking the Athenian plain, is the fort occupied by Thrasybulus in the days of the Thirty Tyrants. On the sea-coast to the south-west of Athens rises the hill of Munychia, a mass of rocky ground, forming the acropolis of the town of Piraeeus, which was once separated from the mainland; for Strabo (i. 3, 18) speaks of it as having been formerly an island. On one side of this, towards Hymettus, lay the open roadstead of Phalerum, on the other the harbour of Piraeeus, a completely land-locked inlet, safe, deep, and spacious, the approach to which was still further narrowed by moles. The eastern side of the hill was further indented by two small but commodious havens, which were respectively called Zea and Munychia.

The north-eastern boundary of the plain of Athens is formed by the graceful pyramid of Pentelicus, which re ceived its name from the deme of Pentele at its foot, but was far more commonly known as Brilessus in ancient times. This mountain did not form a continuous chain with Hy mettus, for between them intervenes a level space of ground two miles in width, which formed the entrance to the Mesogsea, an elevated undulating plain in the midst of the mountains, reaching nearly to Sunium. At the extremity of Hymettus, where it projects into the Saronic Gulf, was the promontory of Zoster, or " the Girdle," which was so called because it girdles and protects the neighbouring harbour; but in consequence of the name, a legend was attached to it, to the effect that Latona had loosed her girdle there. From this promontory to Sunium there runs a lower line of mountains, and between these and the sea a fertile strip of land intervenes, which was called the Paralia. Beyond Sunium, on the eastern coast, were two safe ports, that of Thoricus, which is defended by the island of Helene, forming a natural breakwater in front of it, and that of Prasiae, now called Porto Raphti, or "the Tailor," from a statue at the entrance to which the natives have given that name. But it still remains to mention the most famous spot of ground in Attica, the little plain of Marathon, which lay in the north-east corner, encircled on three sides by Parnes and Pentelicus, while the fourth faces the sea and the opposite coast of Euboca. It was on the mountain slopes that the Greeks were stationed, while the Persians with their ships occupied the coast; and on the two sides the marshes may still be traced by which the movements of the invader's host were impeded. The mound, which at once attracts the eye in the centre of the level plain, is probably the burial-place of the Athenians who fell in the battle. The bay in front is sheltered by Euboea, and is still more protected from the north by a projecting tongue of land, called Cynosura. The mountains in the neigh bourhood were the seat of one of the political parties in Attica, the Diacrii or Hyperacrii, who, being poor moun taineers, and having nothing to lose, were the principal advocates of change; while, on the other hand, the Pedieis, or inhabitants of the plains, being wealthy landholders, formed the strong conservative element, and the Parali, or occupants of the sea-coast, representing the mercantile in terest, held an intermediate position between the two. Finally, there was one district of Attica, that lay without its natural boundaries, the territory of Oropus, which pro perly belonged to Boeotia, as it was situated to the north of Parnes; but on this the Athenians always endeavoured to retain a firm hold, because it facilitated their communi cations with Euboea. The command of that island was of the utmost importance to them; for, if ^Egina could rightly be called " the eyesore of the Pirseeus," Euboea was quite as truly a thorn in the side of Attica; for we learn from Demos thenes (De Cor., p. 307) that at one period the pirates that made it their headquarters so infested the neighbouring sea as to prevent all navigation.

Of the condition of Attica in mediaeval and modern times Present little need be said, for it has followed for the most part conditior the fortunes of Athens. The population, however, has undergone a great change, independently of the large ad mixture of Slavonic blood that has affected the Greeks of the mainland generally, by the immigration of Albanian colonists, who now occupy a great part of the country. The most important of the classical ruins that remain out side Athens are those of the temple of Athena at Sunium, which form a conspicuous object as they surmount the headland, and gave rise to the name which it bore, until lately, of Cape Colonnse; it is in the Doric style, of white marble, and 13 columns of the temple and a pilaster are now standing. At Eleusis the foundations of the propyIcea of the great temple of Demeter and other buildings have been laid bare by excavation; at Thoricus there are remains of an ancient theatre; and at Rhamnus, northward from Marathon, at a little distance from the sea, are the basements and some of the columns of two temples in the same enclosure, which were dedicated to Nemesis and Themis. (H. F. T.)