Athens was one of the most powerful and important city states in the ancient Greek world. Many people know that the city was named after the Goddess Athena, but why exactly was that? It’s time to find out…
Athens in Ancient Greece
The country that we know as Greece today did not exist in the same form 2000 years ago. Instead, numerous city states vied for power against each other.
Whilst these city states would combine forces when attacked by outsiders such as the Persians, for the most part they were fiercely independent of one another.
Thebes, Sparta and Corinth were all big players, but Athens was considered to be one of the most important.
The Acropolis offered an almost impregnable defence, and the surrounding lands were fertile. Nearby silver mines contributed to the city’s wealth, and the port area provided trade links throughout the Mediterranean.
Over many centuries, the residents of the city developed democracy and philosophy, art and literature. Their legacy still lives on to this day, and it is through writers such as Herodotus, Apollodorus, and Ovid that we know how Athens was named.
The Origins of Athens
Athens has been inhabited continuously for at least 5000 years, and it is likely that the legends associated with how Athens was named have been around just as long.
The citizens of this ancient city would have grown up surrounded by myths and legends, and ceremonies and rituals to appease the Gods would have been part of daily life.
Thanks to those early writers and historians, versions of the Greek myth concerning the naming of Athens have been preserved to this day. The most common one concerns a competition between Poseidon and Athena over who would become the patron of the city.
Athena vs Poseidon
It was said that Athens was once ruled by a King called Cecrops. This ruler, who may have been half man and half snake, helped make Athens so beautiful that it caught the attention of the Gods themselves.
Each one saw the city and its lands, and wanted to become its patron, and it was the source of much discussion and argument on Olympus.
The two strongest contenders were Poseidon and Athena, and so Zeus decided that they should compete against one another by offering gifts to the city. Whichever one that Cecrops and the people of the city saw the most value in, would determine the winner.
Athena and Poseidon on the Acropolis
Athena and Poseidon descended from Olympus, and led a crowd from the city up to the top of the Acropolis. It was here that they intended to offer their gifts.
Poseidon was the first to present his gift. Raising his mighty trident high into the air, he brought it down hard on the ground, which cracked beneath it! Immediately, a spring of water emerged from the ground, which made the excited crowd cheer loudly.
A good water source was very important for the ancient Greeks, and so they were eager to try it. However, the citizens of the city were not so impressed after they tried tasting the water. It was very salty, because Poseidon was the God of the Sea, and was not good to drink.
Then, it was Athena’s turn. She quietly knelt down and planted something into the ground. Immediately, an olive tree sprang up in its place, which made the crowd cheer loudly.
They recognised that the olive tree could provide olives for food and olive oil, that the leaves might provide shade, and that less productive trees could provide wood to either burn or turn into tools. Athena had certainly proved that she was the Goddess of Wisdom, and the joyful citizens immediately named the city after her – Athena!
Temples on the Acropolis
Whilst Athena may have won the competition between the gods on who should become the patron of Athens, the citizens of the city were a practical bunch!
The Erechtheion, one of the main temples on the Acropolis which was built around 400 BC is dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Perhaps they didn’t want to annoy the powerful God of the Sea too much after he had lost the competition!
As victor though, Athena had her own temple built in her honour at around the same time – The Temple of Athena Nike. The fabulous Parthenon is of course also dedicated to the Goddess and patron of Athens, and was constructed when Athens was at the height of its power.
Greek Mythology Tour of the Acropolis
The best way to fully understand the connection between Greek mythology and the Acropolis, as well as the rest of Athens, is to take a Greek Mythology tour.
All of our guides are experts in both the archaeological sites and the myths themselves. In addition, they’ve also read all the Percy Jackson books, so if your kids are fans, they can explain the links between the books and the real myths!
here are many intricate details on the temples of the Acropolis which most people either never see or fail to realise their significance. In the company of out expert guides, your family will have a more deeper understanding of this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site in Athens, and definitely have a more enjoyable time in the city!
More Greek Mythology Tours
Ancient Greek Mythology is very often connected to the landscape, as is the case with how Athens got it name. This also applies to other parts of Greece, especially with places like Knossos in Crete.
If you are planning a trip to Greece and would like to find out more about Greek Mythology, we have several tours you may be interested in. From Percy Jackson inspired day tours in Athens, to Greek Mythology tour packages, we specialize in providing our clients with an unparalleled experience.
All of our guides and staff are specially selected for their kid-friendly approach, and have additional training for family tours with a Percy Jackson theme. These are one of a kind tours that you won’t find anywhere else!
Contact us today for more details, and start planning your mythology tour of Greece.