How The City Of Athens Really Got Its Name

Athens is a city steeped in rich and fascinating history. As Britannica reports, the Greek capital city lies in an area that has been settled for thousands of years, with its oldest buildings dating back to the Late Bronze Age. The tale of the Ancient Greek civilization revolves around Athens, alongside other city-states like Sparta.

These city-states seemed fond of waging long and devastating wars among themselves. The Peloponnesian War of 431-405 B.C.E., per History Cooperative, was fought between Athens and Sparta. Spartan soldiers were among the most fearsome and disciplined warriors in the world at the time, but Sparta lacked Athens' brilliant sailors. The city-states duked it out on land and at sea, together with their allies, but Sparta eventually prevailed after taking a more direct approach in raids on Athens.

Athens is often regarded as the birthplace of philosophy and democracy. As "Athenian Democracy: a brief overview" (a study first sponsored by theĀ Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University) states, "the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small." Athenian notions of freedom and equality were seemingly world firsts. Though the system absolutely wasn't perfect and wasn't always operating at its best, there's no denying just how much Athens has given and continues to give to the world. Let's delve even further back into the city's history and explore the origins of its very name.

Named for the goddess Athena herself

According to Culture Trip, Greek legend reports that Athens was originally known as Cecropia, after its legendary creator: a snake-human creature known as Cecrops. Cecropia prospered, the story goes, but did not show due deference to the gods. The Olympian Gods, being rather on the touchy side, offered to establish one among their number as a patron. The twist, Zeus himself apparently decided, was that the people would have to choose between front-runners Athena and Poseidon.

The legend goes that Athena won, as her gift to the people of Cecropia (a majestic olive tree) was preferred. Needless to say, the city surely wasn't founded by a snake person named Cecrops, but the city being named in honor of Athena could not have been a more appropriate choice.

As World History Encyclopedia explains, Athena was one of the most widely revered deities in the Ancient Greek pantheon. Goddess of crafts and wisdom, she reflected the brilliant creative minds that would find a home in Athens. She was also a goddess of war, being sometimes referred to by the name Promachos (which means 'of war'). This, too, mirrors the turbulent history of the city. The iconic Parthenon was built for Athena in 447-432 BC, World History Encyclopedia goes on, and it can still be seen today.