Athens's mythological history began when the Olympian gods got in a tug-of-war over who would be the Attic city's patron and namesake. They decided that whoever gave it the best gift would earn the city. Poseidon struck the Acropolis with hi trident, and a sea water gushed forth from a well. But Athena's wiser gift, an olive tree, won the city's lasting admiration and worship. Rising to political power a early as the 16th century BC, Athens was united as a polis, or city-state, by the hero Theseus (onetime slayer of the Minotaur). By the 8th century, it had become the artistic center of Greece ; initial fame for geometric pottery foreshadowed a shining future.
Two centuries later, law-giver and poet Solon ended the servitude of native citizens and restored rights to some slaves. Maybe his most important contribution to Athenian government was his codification of the laws, thereby providing the grounding needed for a successful democracy: an informed populace able to take part in ruling. After victories over the Persians at Marathon and Salamis in the 5th century BC, Athens experienced a 70-year Golden Age under the democracy of Pericles, the era that produced the Parthenon; the masterpiece tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; and Aristophanes's ribald comedies.
Pericles's Athens fell apart during the bloody, drawn-out Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) against Sparta . Political power shifted north under Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, but Athens remained a cultural center throughout the 5th and 4th centuries BC. In this period, Athens produced three of the most influential philosophers in western history-Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle-as well as the orator Demosthenes. By the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire ruled the city. In AD 324, Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium , ignoring Athens , now an overtaxed backwater. It remained the center of Greek education, but its status (and buildings) lapsed into ruin when the emperor .Justinian banned the teaching of philosophy in 529.
Around AD 1000, Byzantine emperor Basil II visited Athens . After praying to the Virgin Mary in the Parthenon, Basil ordered craftsmen to restore Athens to its former glory. The city was reborn again and again under successive conquerors the Franks in 1205, the Catalans in 1311, the Accajioli merchant family in 1387, and the Ottomans, whose 400-year rule began in 1456. In 1821, Greek independence brought further waves of renovation and restoration, as well as a spirit of nationalism. Modem Athens 's plateias, wide boulevards, and National Garden follow the plan of architects hired by Greece 's first king, the German prince Otto.