The Acropolis of Athens was a strongly fortified citadel well before the city’s history began to be recorded in the seventh century B.C.E. Athens became the chief city of the district of Attica and dominated an area of some 1,000 square miles [2,500 sq km], bounded by mountains and sea. The city’s name seems to be related to that of its patron goddess, Athena.
In the sixth century B.C.E., an Athenian legislator named Solon reformed the social, political, juridical, and economic structures of the city. He improved the lot of the poor and laid the basis for a democratic form of government. It was a democracy only for the free, however, and a large part of the city’s population was made up of slaves.
Following Greek victories over the Persians in the fifth century B.C.E., Athens became the capital of a small empire that extended its maritime trade from Italy and Sicily in the west to Cyprus and Syria in the east. At the height of its splendor, Athens was the cultural center of the ancient world, excelling in art, drama, philosophy, rhetoric, and science. Many public buildings and temples adorned the city. Its skyline was dominated by the Acropolis, a commanding hill on which stood the Parthenon and its 40-foot [12m] gold and ivory statue of Athena.
Athens was conquered first by the Spartans, then by the Macedonians, and finally by the Romans, who stripped the city of its wealth. Even so, in the time of the apostle Paul, Athens still enjoyed a privileged status because of its illustrious past. In fact, the city was never incorporated into any Roman province but was granted juridical authority over its own citizens and exemption from Roman taxes. Though its greatest glories were gone, Athens remained a university city, where the sons of the wealthy were sent to study.
EPICUREANS AND STOICS
The Epicureans and Stoics were followers of two separate schools of philosophy. Neither believed in a resurrection.
The Epicureans believed in the existence of gods but thought that the gods had no interest in men and would neither reward nor punish them, so prayer or sacrifice was useless. Epicureans held pleasure to be the supreme good in life. Their thinking and actions were devoid of moral principle. Moderation was urged, however, on the grounds that it prevented the negative consequences of overindulgence. Knowledge was sought only to rid a person of religious fears and superstition.
The Stoics, on the other hand, believed that all things were part of an impersonal deity and that the human soul emanated from such a source. Some Stoics held that the soul would eventually be destroyed along with the universe. Other Stoics believed that the soul would ultimately be reabsorbed by this deity. According to Stoic philosophers, happiness was to be obtained by following nature.