n ancient Greek mythology Athens is named following a contest between Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, god of the sea. Both had their eye on the prize real estate, so it was agreed that whoever could come up with the more useful gift for mortals would win. The half-human, half-serpent king of Athens, Cecrops, acted as arbiter. First came Poseidon, who struck the rock of the Acropolis with his mighty trident and brought salt water gushing forth. Then it was Athena's turn. As she struck the rock an olive tree appeared, which proved more useful and valuable.Thus she acquired the position of the city's special protector. The actual history of the city-state of Athens is just as fascinating as its mythology. From around 2000 BC wandering bands filtered into Greece from Asia Minor. Known as Achaeans, they were the first Greek-speaking people in the area, and over the centuries they built many imposing fortresses and developed the rich Mycenaean civilisation, based in the Peloponnese. The citadel at Mycenae, seatof this most powerful of early Greek cultures, was erected to the South of Athens. Surrounded by a pair

of precipitous ravines, the imposing walls of the citadel were 12 m high and 6 m thick, virtually impregbable. The Achaeans' chief rivals and mentors were the dazzling Minoans of Crete, until about 1450 BC, when the Minoan empire was devastated, possibly by tidal waves caused by the eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (Santorini). From the seafaring Minoans, the Myceneans learned to make bronze by combining copper and tin and, with no written language of their own, they adpated the linear script used by Minoan scribes. For several centuries, the Mycenaeans dominated the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. A long series of conflicts, including the legendary siege of Troy, weakened these mighty mainland warriors. Arouns
1100 BC waves of Dorians swept into the area on horseback. Armed with iron spears and shields, they over powered the Bronze Age weapons of Mycenae and broke down the Peloponnesian bastions. The ensuing "dark age" lasted about three centuries lasted bout three centuries and resulted in large-scale ernigrations of Greeks around the Mediterranean. Athens

managed to escape the scourge, but only after 700 BC did it take over and lift to unimagined heights the heritage of Mycenae and Crete. Although they warredas often as they united, the citizens of Athens and surrounding city-states on the Attica peninsula, notably Sparta and Thebes, shared a sense of identity. They were all Greeks, they had a common language as well as an evolving pan-Hellenic religion, and at regular intervals they were brought together by the ritual athletic contest of the Olympian, Delphian and Isthmian games. Athens, the largest city-state, gradually embraced all of the Attica peninsula. King Theseus, the legendary ruler who slew the minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth, was revered by Athenians for bringing Attica's scattered and independent villages under the rule of the Acropolis. Countless urns and jars were decorated with drawings of his heroic exploits, but in fact he belongs to myth rather than to history. The villages actually merged with Athens in exchange for protection, a share of state offices, and full citizenship rights.

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