Athens City Life in the Classical World (Unit A351) Exhaustive Revision Notes

These are my exhaustive revision notes on Ancient Athens for Unit A351 of the J280/J080 syllabus of OCR GCSE Classical Civilisation.

I have compiled the notes using multiple sources (including, in special acknowledgement, the textbook published by OCR and several resources previously published on Get Revising) in full compliance with the specification.

I hope that you find these revision notes useful. Although I'd like to think that these notes should contain everything, please beware that, being human, it's not impossible that I've made mistakes or left parts out.

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I. The Importance of Religion in Ancient Athens
The gods were an important part of Ancient Athenian civilisation. Ancient Athenians saw their fates in this life and
in the afterlife as in control of the gods; this is because Ancient Athenians believed that a good relationship with a
god would lead to good fortunes whereas a bad relationship with a god would lead to awful misfortunes.
It is important to understand, in this respect, that the gods were not believed to be omnibenevolent like the gods
of today's religions: Ancient Athenian gods were seen to have emotions with literature and mythology showing
their illicit affairs, blasts of anger and disputes in interrelations, contributing to a complex construct of gods. This,
in turn, meant that Ancient Athenian society was more able to develop new ideas because it meant that artisans
were not bound by monotheistic codes of religious law, but were moreover free to explore various philosophical
ideas without such a constraint.
Additionally, priests were an important part of Ancient Athenian civilisation: they often functioned as a police
force and as tax and tariff collectors at city ports. This made religion an important part of law and order in society,
as breaking the local law was not only bound to bring the disfavour of the gods, but was also tantamount to
Ancient Athenians therefore made sure to worship the gods, construct and pay tithes to temples, perform
sacrifices and libations at temples and thank the gods whenever their divine intervention secured a feat. To
exemplify this latter note, generals successful in battle would customarily fund temples to the god(s) to whom
they prayed before the victorious battle, or otherwise show their gratitude to them.
Furthermore, festivals and feast days to the gods were an important part of Greek life as they meant a day off
work for all citizens, showing how important the gods were to Ancient Athenian lives and how much Ancient
Athenians revered them. Ancient Athenians in fact had over 120 festival days every year, most of which were
during the summer (in part because of the insufferable summer weather in Ancient Greece for working).
Many Athenian houses had hearths dedicated to gods for private worship. Temples were instead important for
public worship.
II. The Olympian Gods
Across the Ancient Greek world, a whole variety of gods and demigods were worshipped. Some deities were
worshipped only in certain areas of the Ancient Greek world (these usually being kings, local rivers, local
mountains, etc.) but across the Ancient Greek world and in Athens, the twelve Olympian gods were universally
worshipped. These twelve Olympian gods were believed to live in Mount Olympus, over 250 kilometres from
Athens. The distance between Athens and Mount Olympus was in part what ensured the survival of the
polytheistic religion: because Mount Olympus was so far away, the Ancient Athenians were unable to see that the
gods did not actually exist.
The twelve Olympian gods were Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, Hephaistos, Apollo, Artemis, Athene, Aphrodite,
Ares, Hermes and Dionysos. It is necessary to know their responsibilities and how they are typically represented in
Greek art.
God Responsibilities Symbols Festivals
King of the gods Eagle
God of lighting Bull
Zeus God of the sky Oak The Olympic Games
God of law, order and justice Crown
Protecting foreign travellers Sceptre

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Queen of the gods Diadem
Hera Goddess of marriage Cow The Heraean Games
Goddess of women and birth Lily
Goddess of fertility Cake
Demeter The Thesmophoria
Goddess of agriculture Grain
God of the sea Fish
God of storms Dolphin
Poseidon White horses The Isthmian Games
God of earthquakes
God of horses Golden chariot
God of fire Hammer
Hephaisto God of metalworking Anvil The Chalkeia; The
s God of masonry Tongs Hephaisteia
God of sculpture Quail…read more

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Ares God of war and destruction Chariot Sacrifices before battle
Messenger of the gods Talaria
Guide to the Underworld Tortoise
God of commerce Lyre
God of thieves Rooster
Hermes God of travellers Snake The Day of the Pots
God of sports and athletes Caduceus or wand
God of messengers Winged sandals
God of border crossings Traveller's hat or winged
God of fish helmet
God of wine Grapevines
God of theatre Vines or ivy
Dionysos…read more

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During the festival, which succeeded days of sexual abstinence and abstinence from certain foods, women
were also known to hurl insults and abuse known as aischrologia at one another in order to improve fertility.
Poseidon, god of the sea and brother of Zeus, was particularly important to Ancient Athenians because the city
relied on its port trade for commerce. Storms and earthquakes were said to be the results of his bad temper.…read more

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Gods were worshipped in temples built for them in and around Ancient Greek cities. It was common for Athenians
to spend their money on funding temples honouring their favourite gods, therefore enabling temples to have
sophisticated architectures.
Each temple was part of a sanctuary ( temenos ), which was regarded as holy ground that required reverent
conduct in respect of the gods. Every temenos had a sanctuary wall with an entrance, known as a propylaea,
which encouraged this reverent frame of mind.…read more

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Everyone in the procession would be in their smartest clothes and crowned with a garland of twigs.
o If the animal moved hesitantly, it was seen as a bad omen and the sacrifice would be called off.
3. At the sanctuary, a fire was lit at the altar. The congregation would form a circle around it, wash their
hands in holy water and take some grain from the basket.
4.…read more

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V. Libations and Votive Offerings
Libations were liquid offerings often performed in supplication for a favour from the god or goddess of the
temple. Sailors and soldiers were known to form libations before voyages and battles respectively.
There were two types of libations in Ancient Greece: choê libations were dedicated to chthonic beings, with the
liquid tipped into the earth in one go whilst spondê libations were dedicated to the Olympian gods, with the liquid
carefully poured into the ground.…read more

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The order of procession was the following:
1. Arrephoroi (the four young girls)
2. Priestesses
3. Sacrificial animals
4. Wealthy metoikoi
5. Bearers of holy water, flautists and lyre players
6. The peplos
7. Old men, charioteers, infantrymen, cavalrymen, games visitors
8. Ancient Athenian citizens by deme.…read more

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The Parthenon Frieze adorned the upper part of the Parthenon 's naos and has depictions of the Great
Panathenaia on it. Scenes depicted on it are sometimes mythological, but it provides some insight as to what took
place during the Great Panathenaia .
VII. The Ancient Athenian Theatre
The Theatre of Dionysos Eleuthereus was the central theatre in Athens.…read more

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Only three main actors could be in a play, so in order to act our various different characters, actors wore masks
covering the entirety of their heads. These masks were made of linen, cork or wood and often had some hair at
the top.…read more


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