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Chapter 16 – Athens in the fifth century BC

Chapter Summary

Athens reached a high point of power and prosperity in the fifth century BC, accompanied by great achievements in architecture, visual arts, and literature. This chapter surveys the major material remains from the fifth century BC city: the Acropolis and the Agora. Of particular interest is exploring how the Acropolis monuments expressed Athenian civic pride.



Study guide

  1. Describe the larger historical context of the mid fifth century BC that led to the rebuilding of the religious sanctuary on the Athenian Acropolis.

  2. What are the main buildings of the Periklean program on the Acropolis? Can you locate them on a ground plan of the Acropolis?  When were they built? Who were their architects and sculptors?

  3. Describe the Parthenon: its architectural features and sculptural decoration.

  4. Today, we rarely see figural decoration on the outside of modern religious buildings.  Why did the ancient Greeks value this?

  5. What architecture and monuments were created by theatrical performance?

  6. What buildings, monuments, and functions characterized the Athenian Agora by the end of the fifth century BC?

  7. Deepen your understanding of Athens in the Archaic and Classical periods (ca. 600-330 BC), with some research beyond this book. After you have read Chapters 14 and 16, ask yourself what more you would like to learn about ancient Athens. What features of the city’s organization, appearance, and functioning have not been presented in this book? Where will you find information about these features? Evaluate the primary sources – archaeological and textual (which include inscriptions as well as historical, philosophical, literary and other writings): what information do they give us, and what do they not tell us? 


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