From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


Athens, which St. Paul visited in the autumn of a.d. 48 (Harnack), or 50 (Turner), or 51 (Ramsay), was now in some respects very different from the city of Pericles and Plato. Her political and commercial supremacy was gone. Greece had for two centuries been the Roman province of Achaia, of which Athens was not the capital. The governor had his residence at Corinth, and the merchant-princes had forsaken the Piraeus for Lecheum and Cenchreae. Rut Athens was still the most beautiful and brilliant of cities, the home of philosophy, the shrine of art, the fountain-head of ideals. As the metropolis of Hellenism she had, indeed, a wider and more pervasive influence than over, which the Roman conquerors, like the Macedonians before them, did their best to extend. ‘From the Philhellenic standpoint, doubtless, Athens was the masterpiece of the world’ (T. Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire 2, London, 1909, i. 258). To be among her citizens was to breathe the atmosphere of culture. Her Lyceum by the Ilissus, her Academy by the groves of Cephissus, her Porch in the Agora, and her Garden near at hand, were still frequented by Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics, and Epicureans. Her University drew to itself a host of foreign students, especially from Rome, and became the model of the younger foundations of Alexandria, Antioch, and Tarsus.

Neither the Republic nor the Empire ever fully applied the subject-relation to Greece, and the Athenians were always treated with special kindness. ‘The Romans, after their conquest, finding them governed by a democracy, maintained their independence and liberty’ (Strabo, ix. i. 20). Even in the Mithridatic war, when an ordinary town behaving as Athens did would have been razed to the ground, ‘the citizens were pardoned, and, to this time, the city enjoys liberty, and is respected by the Romans’ ( ib. ).

The outward aspect of Athens was little altered in St. Paul’s time. Plutarch, who wrote half a century later, says in regard to Pericles’ public edifices: ‘In beauty each of them at once appeared venerable as soon as it was built; but even at the present day the work looks as fresh as ever, for they bloom with an eternal freshness which defies time, and seems to make the work instinct with an unfading spirit of youth’ ( Pericles , xiii.). Cicero conveys the impression which the city made upon every cultivated mind in his time: ‘Valde me Athenae delectarunt, urbe dumtaxat et urbis ornamento, … sed multum ea philosophia’ ( Ep. ad Att . v. 10). The Philhellenism of the Empire surpassed that of the Republic, and of all the Roman benefactors of Athens the greatest was Hadrian, who not only completed the temple of Zeus Olympius, which had remained unfinished for 700 years, but embellished the city with many other public buildings, and gave the name of Hadrianopolis to a new quarter.

But, though Athens was outwardly as splendid as ever, she was inwardly decadent, being, in philosophy, letters, and art, a city living upon traditions. Her first-rate statesmen and orators, poets and thinkers, did not outlive the nation’s freedom.

‘The self-esteem of the Hellenes, well-warranted in itself and fostered by the attitude of the Roman government … called into life among them a cultus of the past, which was compounded of a faithful clinging to the memories of greater and happier times and a quaint reverting of matured civilisation to its in part very primitive beginnings.… The bane of Hellenic existence lay in the limitation of its sphere; high ambition lacked a corresponding aim, and therefore the low and degrading ambition flourished luxuriantly’ (Mommsen, op. cit. i. 280, 283).

The decay of Athens was due less to the exhaustion of her creative energy, with the substitution of imitative for original work, than to the simple fact that the thought and art of her citizens were no longer wedded to noble action and brave endurance. Full of aesthetes and dilettantes, loving the reputation more than the reality of culture, letting a restless inquisitiveness and shallow scepticism take the place of high aspiration and moral enthusiasm, she became blind to the visions, and deaf to the voices, which redeem individual and collective life from vanity.

The devouring appetite of the Athenians for news had long been one of their best-known traits.

Demosthenes ( Phil . i. p. 43) pictures them bustling about the Agora inquiring if any newer thing is being told (πυνθανόμενοι κατὰ τὴν ἀγοράν εἴ τι λέγεται νεώτερον), the tragedy being that, while they were talking, philip was acting. Thucydides (iii. 38) makes Cleon say to them: ‘So you are the best men to be imposed on with novelty of argument, and to be unwilling to follow up what has been approved by you, being slaves of every new paradox, and despisers of what is ordinary. Each of you wishes above all to be able to speak himself.… In a word, you are overpowered by the pleasures of the ear, and are like men sitting to be amused by rhetoricians rather than deliberating upon State affairs.’

Among the philosophers of St. Paul’s time the penchant for news took the form of an eagerness to hear the latest novelty in speculation or religion which any σπερμολόγος (picker-up of scraps of information) might have to publish ( Acts 17:21), in order that they might exercise their nimble wits upon it, and most probably hold it up to ridicule.

Though St. Paul spoke the language of Hellas, and acknowledged himself a debtor to the Hellenes ( Romans 1:14), yet Athens does not seem to have exercised any fascination over him. She did not beckon him like Rome; he did not see her in his dreams, or pray that he might be prospered to come to her; he never exclaimed, with a sense of destiny, ‘I must see Athens.’ That he ever visited her at all was apparently the result of an accident. He was hurried away from Berœa before he had time to mature his plans of future action, and he merely waited at Athens for the arrival of his friends, Silas and Timothy ( Acts 17:15 f.). To picture him wandering among temples and porticos, lost in admiration of works of genius, and ‘perhaps witnessing the performance of a play of Euripides,’ is to misunderstand him. He did not spend his leisure in Athens, any more than Luther in Rome, in appraising the masterpieces of plastic and dramatic articleThey were both ‘provoked’*[Note: παροξύνομαι often used in the LXX to express a burning Divine (and prophetic) indignation against idolatry ( Hosea 8:5,  Zechariah 10:3).] by what they saw as they passed by. They were consumed with the prophetic zeal which seeks to replace a false or imperfect religion with a true and perfect one. St. Paul, indeed, knew the Hellenic world too well to imagine that, while the city was ‘full of idols’ (κατείδωλον), its men of culture were given to idolatry. In their case the worship of the gods survived only in that cultus of physical beauty to which innumerable sculptured forms bore silent witness, while such spiritual faith as they still retained found expression rather in altars Ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ; to the existence of which Pausanias (i. i. 4) and Philostratus ( Vit. Apollon . vi. 2) testify (see Unknown God).

St. Paul’s address before the court or council of Areopagus ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) is a noble attempt to find common ground with the Athenian philosophers, an appreciation of what was highest in their religion, an expression of sympathy with their sincere agnosticism, an appeal to that groping, innate sense of spiritual realities, that universal instinct of monotheism, which lead to the true God who is near to all men, and who, though unseen, is no longer unknown. Renan suggests that St. Paul was ‘embarrassed’ by all the wonders that met his eyes in Athens, as if Athene herself had perhaps cast her spell upon him and made him somewhat doubtful of the Galilaean; but there is no sort of foundation for such a fancy. It is certain, however, that the Apostle had a new experience of a different kind in Athens. Faced by an audience half-courteous and half-derisive, he was first ridiculed and then ignored, when he would have preferred to be contradicted and persecuted. Not driven from the city by hostile feeling, but quitting it of his own accord, too unimportant to be noticed, too harmless to be molested, he departed with a crushing sense of failure, and, apparently as a consequence, began his mission in Corinth ‘in weakness and fear and much trembling’ ( 1 Corinthians 2:3). It is possible that he felt he had made a mistake. All that he said to the philosophers of Athens was true, but ineffective. It did little or nothing to storm the enemy’s citadel. In a modern phrase, it was magnificent, but it was not war. Another power was needed to humiliate the wise, as well as to end the long reign of the gods of Greece. It is significant that in Corinth the Apostle determined-not, indeed, for the first time, but certainly with a new emphasis-not to know anything save Jesus Christ and Him crucified ( 1 Corinthians 2:2), who was for both Jews and Hellenes the power of God and the wisdom of God (1:24).

The Athenian synagogue ( Acts 17:17), in which St. Paul met some ‘devout persons’-σεβόμενοι, Gentiles more or less influenced by Judaism-was probably small, for the university city did not attract his compatriots like Corinth, the seat of commerce. His reasoning ‘in the Agora every day with those who met him’ naturally recalls those Socratic disputations in the same place, of which Grote gives a lively account in his History of Greece (London, 1869, viii. 211f.). That the address before the Council of the Areopagus was not entirely fruitless is proved by the conversion of a man holding so important an official position as Dionysius the Areopagite ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ).

Literature.-W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul , new ed., London, 1877, i. 405f.; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen , London, 1895, p. 237f.; A. C. McGiffert, Apostolic Age , Edinburgh, 1897, p. 257f.; E. Curtius, Gesammelte Abhandlungen , Berlin, 1894, ii. 528f.; A. Mommsen, Athenœ Christianœ , Leipzig, 1868; J. P. Mahaffy, Greek Life and Thought , London, 1887, and The Silver Age of the Greek World , do. 1906; A. Holm, History of Greece , Eng. translation, London, 1894-98.

James Strahan.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Ath'ens. (City Of Athene). The capital of Attica, and the chief seat of Grecian learning and civilization during the golden period of the history of Greece.

Description. - Athens is situated about three miles from the seacoast, in the central plain of Attica. In this plain, rise several eminences. Of these, the most prominent is a lofty insulated mountain with a conical peaked Summit, now called the Hill of St. George, and which bore in ancient times the name of Lycabettus. This mountain, which was not included within the ancient walls, lies to the northeast of Athens, and forms the most striking feature in the environs of the city. It is to Athens, what Vesuvius is to Naples, or Arthur's Seat, to Edinburgh. Southwest of Lycabettua, there are four hills of moderate height, all of which formed part of the city.

Of these, the nearest to Lycabettus and at the distance of a mile from the latter, was the Aeropolis, or citadel of Athens, a square craggy rock rising abruptly about 150 feet, with a flat summit of about 1000 feet long from east to west, by 500 feet broad from north to south. Immediately west of the Aeropolis is a second hill of irregular form, the Areopagus (Mars' Hill). To the southwest, there rises a third hill, the Pnyx, on which the assemblies of the citizens were held. South of the city was seen the Saronic Gulf, with the harbors of Athens.

History. - Athens is said to have derived its name from the prominence given to the worship of the goddess Athena (Minerva) by its king, Erechtheus. The inhabitants were previously called Cecropidae, from Cecrops, who, according to tradition, was the original founder of the city. This, at first, occupied only the hill or rock which afterwards became the Acropolis; but gradually, the buildings spread over the ground at the southern foot of this hill. It was not till the time of Pisistratus and his sons, (B.C. 560-514), that the city began to assume any degree of splendor.

The most remarkable building of these despots was the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus or Jupiter. Under Themistocles, the Acropolis began to form the centre of the city, round which the new walls described an irregular circle of about 60 stadia or 7 1/4 miles in circumference. Themistocles transferred the naval station of the Athenians to the peninsula of Piraeus, which is distant about 4 1/2 miles from Athens, and contains three natural harbors. It was not till the administration of Pericles that the walls were built which connected Athens with her ports.

Buildings. - Under the administration of Pericles, Athens was adorned with numerous public buildings, which existed in all their glory when St. Paul visited the city. The Acropolis was the centre of the architectural splendor of Athens. It was covered with the temples of gods and heroes; and thus, its platform presented not only a sanctuary, but a museum containing the finest productions of the architect and the sculptor, in which the whiteness of the marble was relieved by brilliant colors, and rendered still more dazzling by the transparent clearness of the Athenian atmosphere.

The chief building was the Parthenon (that is, House of the Virgin), the most perfect production of Grecian architecture. It derived its name from its being the temple of Athena Parthenos, or Athena, The Virgin, the invincible goddess of war. It stood on the highest part of the Acropolis, near its centre. It was entirely of Pentelic marble, on a rustic basement of ordinary limestone, and its architecture, which was of the Doric order, was of the purest kind.

It was adorned with the most exquisite sculptures, executed by various artists under the direction of Phidias. But the chief wonder of the Parthenon was the colossal statue of the virgin goddess executed by Phidias himself: The Acropolis was adorned with another colossal figure of Athena, in bronze, also the work of Phidias. It stood in the open air, nearly opposite the Propylaea. With its pedestal, it must have been about 70 feet high, and consequently towered above the roof of the Parthenon, so that the point of its spear and the crest of its helmet were visible off the promontory of Sunium to ships approaching Athens. The Areopagus, or Hill Of Ares (Mars), is described elsewhere. See Mars' Hill .

The Pnyx, or place for holding the public assemblies of the Athenians, stood on the side of a low rocky hill, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile from the Areopagus. Between the Pnyx on the west, the Areopagus on the north and the Acropolis on the east, and closely adjoining the base of these hills, stood the Agora or "Market," where St. Paul disputed daily. Through it ran the road to the gymnasium and gardens of the Academy, which were situated about a mile from the walls. The Academy was the place where Plato and his disciples taught. East of the city, and outside the walls was the Lyceum, a gymnasium dedicated to Apollo Lyceus, and celebrated as the place in which Aristotle taught.

Character. - The remark of the sacred historian respecting the inquisitive character of the Athenians  Acts 17:21 is attested by the unanimous voice of antiquity. Their natural liveliness was partly owing to the purity and clearness of the atmosphere of Attica, which also allowed them to pass much of their time in the open air. The Athenian carefulness in religion is confirmed by the ancient writers. Of the Christian church, founded by St. Paul at Athens, according to ecclesiastical tradition, Dionysius, the Areopagite, was the first bishop. See Dionysius .

Present Condition. - (The population of Athens in 1871 was 48,000. Its university has 52 professors and 1200 students. Educational institutions are very numerous. A railway connects the Pirzeus or port with the city and its terminus stands in the midst of what was once the Agora. - Editor).

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [3]

The city of Minerva, the chief city of Attica in Greece, situated on the Saronic Gulf, forty-six miles east of Corinth, and about five miles from the coast. The city was in a plain extending to the sea on the southwest, where it had three ports, the passage to which was defended by long and broad walls. Several rocky hills rose in the plain, the largest of which was the citadel, or Acropolis. Around this the city was built, most of the buildings spreading towards the sea. The summit of the hill was nearly level, about eight hundred feet long and four hundred wide. The only way to the Acropolis was through the Propylea, a magnificent gateway on the western side, adorned with two temples decorated with the finest pieces of sculpture and painting. These splendid portals crowned an ascent by marble steps to the summit of the hill, on which were erected the temples of the guardian divinities of Athens. On the left was the temple of Pallas Athene, (Minerva,) regarded as the protectress of the city. Under the same roof was the temple of Neptune. In the area, on a high pedestal, stood a bronze statue of Minerva seventy feet high. On the right arose the Parthenon, the glory of Athens, the noblest triumph of Grecian architecture. From whatever quarter the traveller arrived, the first thing he saw was the Parthenon rearing its lofty head above the city and the citadel. Its ruins, still sublime in decay, are the first object that attracts the eye of a stranger. It was of the Doric order of architecture, built of beautiful white marble, and was about one hundred feet wide, two hundred and twenty-six feet deep, and seventy feet high. There was a double portico of columns at the two fronts, and a single row along each side. There was an architrave, or frieze, along the exterior of the nave, beautifully sculptured, with the representation of a procession in honor of Minerva. Within the temple was a statue of Minerva, by Phidias, celebrated for its exquisite beauty. It was make of gold and ivory, and was nearly forty feet high. The goddess was represented erect, covered with her aegis, holding in one had a lance, and in the other a figure of victory. At the foot of the Acropolis, on one side was the Odeum, or music hall, and the theatre of Bacchus: on the other side was the Prytaneum, where the chief magistrates and most meritorious citizens were entertained at a table furnished at the public expense. A small valley lay between the Acropolis and the hill on which the Areopagus held its session; it also separated the Areopagus from the Pnyx, a small rocky hill on which the general assemblies of the people were held. Here the spot is yet pointed out from which the eminent orators addressed the people. It is cut in the natural rock. In this vicinity also was the agora, or marketplace,  Acts 17:17 , an open square surrounded by beautiful structures; while on every side altars, shrines, and temples were seen, some of them exceedingly magnificent. This beautiful city was also celebrated for the military talents and the learning, eloquence, and politeness of its inhabitants. It was the very flower of ancient civilization; its schools of philosophy were the most illustrious in the world, and its painters, sculptors, and architects have never been surpassed. Yet no city was so "wholly given to idolatry." The apostle Paul visited it about the year A. D. 52, and though alone among its proud philosophers, preached Jesus and the resurrection to them with fidelity and success,  Acts 17:15 -  34 . See Areopagus . At present Athens is comparatively in ruins, and has a population of about 28,000 addicted to the superstitions of the Greek Church.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [4]

a celebrated city of Greece, too well known to be here described. St. Paul's celebrated sermon, Acts xvii, was preached on the Areopagus, or Hill of Mars, where a celebrated court was held which took cognizance of matters of religion, blasphemies against the gods, the building of temples, &c. ( See Areopagus . ) The inscription on the altar, "to the unknown God," which St. Paul so appropriately made the text of his discourse, was adopted on the occasion of the city having been relieved from a pestilence; and they erected altars to "the God unknown," either as not knowing to which of their divinities they were indebted for the favour, or, which is more probable, because there was something in the circumstances of this deliverance, which led them to refer it to a higher power than their own gods, even to the supreme God, who was not unfrequently styled, the "unknown," by the wiser Heathens. The existence of such altars is expressly mentioned by Lucian. On the place where the great Apostle bore his noble testimony against idols, and declared to them the God whom they ignorantly worshipped, Dr. E. D. Clarke, the traveller, remarks, "It is not possible to conceive a situation of greater peril, or one more calculated to prove the sincerity of a preacher, than that in which the Apostle was here placed; and the truth of this, perhaps, will never be better felt than by a spectator, who from this eminence actually beholds the monuments of Pagan pomp and superstition by which he, whom the Athenians considered as the setter forth of strange gods, was then surrounded: representing to the imagination the disciples of Socrates and of Plato, the dogmatist of the porch, and the skeptic of the academy, addressed by a poor and lowly man, who, ‘rude in speech,' without the ‘enticing words of man's wisdom,' enjoined precepts contrary to their taste, and very hostile to their prejudices. One of the peculiar privileges of the Areopagitae seems to have been set at defiance by the zeal of St. Paul on this occasion; namely, that of inflicting extreme and exemplary punishment upon any person who should slight the celebration of the holy mysteries, or blaspheme the gods of Greece. We ascended to the summit by means of steps cut in the natural stone. The sublime scene here exhibited is so striking, that a brief description of it may prove how truly it offers to us a commentary upon the Apostle's words, as they were delivered upon the spot. He stood upon the top of the rock, and beneath the canopy of heaven. Before him there was spread a glorious prospect of mountains, islands, seas, and skies; behind him towered the lofty Acropolis, crowned with all its marble temples. Thus every object, whether in the face of nature, or among the works of art, conspired to elevate the mind, and to fill it with reverence toward that Being who made and governs the world,   Acts 17:24;  Acts 17:28; who sitteth in that light which no mortal eye can approach, and yet is nigh unto the meanest of his creatures; in whom we live, and move and have our being."

People's Dictionary of the Bible [5]

Athens ( Ăth'Enz ). The chief town of Attica (now Greece); was visited by Paul on his second missionary journey, after he had been Bent away, for safety, from Berea.  Acts 17:13-15. Athens, in the time of the apostle, was included in the Roman province of Achaia, but was a free city, retaining some of the forms which had belonged to it in its palmy days. The Athenians, curious and inquisitive, as they had ever been, mockingly desired Paul to give them some account of the new doctrine he was Betting forth. For both in the Jews' synagogue, and also in the agora or marketplace, he had disputed with those who came to him, and had preached the gospel of Jesus, raised by God's mighty power from the dead. Within the city were four notable hills, three northward, forming almost a semicircle. The Acropolis, or citadel, was the most easterly of these: it was a rock about 150 feet high. Next, westward, was a lower eminence, the Areopagus or Mars' Hill, and then the Pnyx, where the assemblies of the people were held. To the south of these three hills was a fourth, the Museum. The agora lay in the valley between the four. It has been supposed that there were two market-places, but it is now satisfactorily proved that there was but one. The localities, therefore, which Paul frequented, are readily understood. He was taken from the agora, and brought up to the Areopagus, where he delivered his wonderful address.  Acts 17:18-31. His preaching made no great impression: the philosophers despised it Some, however, clave to him; and a Christian community was formed of whom were Dionysius the Areopagite,  Acts 17:32-34, Damaris and others. Modern Athens, situated about five miles from the sea, its port being the Piraeus, has been made the capital of the present kingdom of Greece.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [6]

Capital of Attica, the center of Grecian refinement and philosophy. Paul visited it in journeying from Macedonia, and stayed sometime ( Acts 17:14, etc.; Four-Drachm Of Athens  1 Thessalonians 3:1). Four hills are within it, the Acropolis, N.E., a square rock 150 feet high; W. of it is the Areopagus. (See Areopagus .) S.W. is the Pnyx, or Assembly Hill. S. of this is the Museum Hill. The Agora where Paul disputed was in the valley between the four. The newsmongering taste of the people ( Acts 17:21) is noticed by their great orator Demosthenes, "Ye go about the marketplace asking, Is there any news?"

Their pure atmosphere, open air life, and liberal institutions, stimulated liveliness of thought. Pausanias (1:24, sec. 3) confirms Paul's remark on their religiousness even to superstition: "the zeal devoted by the Athenians to the rites of the gods exceeds that of all others." (See Altar ; AREOPAGUS.) Dionysius the Areopagite convert of Paul was, according to tradition, the first bishop of an Athenian church. Theseus' temple is the most perfect of the remaining monuments. The Parthenon or temple of Minerva, built of Penrelic marble, 228 feet long, 102 broad, 66 high, with 8 Doric columns on each front and 17 on each side, was the masterpiece of Athenian architecture. The colossal statue of Minerva Promachus, Phidias' workmanship, was 70 feet high, so as to be seen towering above the Parthenon by the mariner in doubling Cape Suniurn. Lord Elgin deposited in the British Museum several of the finest sculptures.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [7]

ATHENS . In the earliest times, Athens, on the Gulf of Ægina, consisted of two settlements, the town on the plain and the citadel on the hill above, the Acropolis, where the population fled from invasion. Its name and the name of its patron-goddess Athene (Athenaia) are inextricably connected. She was the maiden goddess, the warlike defender of her people, the patroness of the arts. The city lies about 3 miles from the seacoast on a large plain. When Greece was free, during the period before b.c., 146 Athens was the capital of the district Attica, and developed a unique history in Greece. It first gained distinction by the repulse of the Persian invasions in b.c. 490 and 480, and afterwards had a brilliant career of political, commercial, literary, and artistic supremacy. It was in the 5th cent. b.c. the greatest of Greek democracies, and produced the greatest sculptures and literary works the world has ever seen. In the same century Socrates lived and taught there, as did later Plato and Aristotle. The conflict with Sparta, the effects of the Macedonian invasion, and ultimately the Roman conquest of Greece, which became a Roman province under the name ‘Achaia’ (wh. see), lessened the political importance of Athens, but as a State it received from Rome a position of freedom and consideration worthy of its undying merits. Athens remained supreme in philosophy and the arts, and was in St. Paul’s time (  Acts 17:15 to   Acts 18:1 ,   1 Thessalonians 3:1 ) the seat of a famous university.

A. Souter.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [8]

The chief city of Attica, and the seat of Grecian learning and art. The city was wholly given to idolatry, and the people spent their time in strolling about and asking 'what news?' Paul laboured alone in Athens, while he waited for Silas and Timothy, and sought to reason with the Jews in their synagogue and in the market daily; then certain philosophers took him to Mars' Hill, where he delivered his memorable address to polished but heathen hearers. There was some fruit of his labours.  Acts 17:15-22;  Acts 18:1;  1 Thessalonians 3:1 . Athens was an ancient city, and experienced many changes and different forms of government. It surrendered to Sulla the Roman general in B.C. 86 and became a part of the Roman empire, but in A.D. 267 it was besieged by the Goths, and in 396 was taken by Alaric, king of the Visigoths. Taken by Mahomet II. in 1456, and became the capital of the kingdom of modern Greece in 1833. It gradually lost all its renown, and the houses became roofless and in ruins. In 1834 the Greek king Otho encouraged the rebuilding of the city, and from that date it has again gradually become a populous city.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Acts 17:21

On his second missionary journey Paul visited this city ( Acts 17:15; Compare  1 Thessalonians 3:1 ), and delivered in the Areopagus his famous speech (17:22-31). The altar of which Paul there speaks as dedicated "to the [properly "an"] unknown God" (23) was probably one of several which bore the same inscription. It is supposed that they originated in the practice of letting loose a flock of sheep and goats in the streets of Athens on the occasion of a plague, and of offering them up in sacrifice, at the spot where they lay down, "to the god concerned."

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [10]

In the time of the New Testament, Athens was the world’s great centre of learning. It was famous also for its magnificent architecture, seen in its many temples and public buildings. There is only one recorded occasion on which Paul visited the city, and on that occasion his evangelism was only moderately successful ( Acts 17:15-34). Concerning Paul’s debate with the philosophers of the city see Areopagus ; Epicureans ; Stoics .

Holman Bible Dictionary [11]

 Acts 17:15-34

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [12]

A′thens. This celebrated city, as the birthplace of Plato, and through him so widely influential on Judaism and Christianity, deserves something else than a geographical notice here. We shall briefly allude to the stages of her history, and remark on some of the causes of her pre-eminent greatness in arms, arts, and intellectual subtlety.

The earlier and more obscure period of the Grecian province named Attica reaches down nearly to the final establishment of democracy in it. Yet we know enough to see that the foundations of her greatness were then already laid. To a king named Theseus (whose deeds are too much mixed with fable to be narrated as history) is ascribed the credit of uniting all the country-towns of Attica into a single state, the capital of which was Athens. This is the first political event that we can trust as historical, although its date and circumstances are by no means free from obscurity.

The population of this province was variously called Pelasgian, Achaian, and Ionian, and probably corresponds most nearly to what was afterwards called Æolian. The first name carries the mind back to an extremely primitive period. When the Dorians, another tribe of Greeks of very different temperament, invaded and occupied the southern peninsula, great numbers of its Achaian inhabitants took refuge in Attica. Shortly after, the Dorians were repulsed in an inroad against Athens, an event which has transmitted to legendary renown the name of King Codrus; and thenceforward Athens was looked upon as the bulwark of the Ionian tribes against the barbarous Dorians. Overloaded with population, Attica now poured forth colonies into Asia; some of which, as Miletus, soon rose to great eminence, and sent out numerous colonies themselves; so that Athens was reverenced as a mother of nations, by powerful children scattered along the western and northern coasts of Anatolia.

Dim tradition shows us isolated priesthoods and elective kings in the earliest times of Attica; these however gradually gave way to an aristocracy, which in a series of years established themselves as a hereditary ruling caste. But a country 'ever unravaged' (and such was their boast) could not fail to increase in wealth and numbers; and after two or three centuries, while the highest commoners pressed on the nobles, the lowest became overwhelmed with debt. The disorders caused by the strife of the former were vainly sought to be stayed by the institutions of Draco; the sufferings of the latter were ended, and the sources of violence dried up, by the enactments of Solon. Henceforth the Athenians revered the laws of Solon as the groundwork of their whole civil polity; yet they retained by the side of them the ordinances of Draco in many matters pertaining to religion. The date of Solon's reforms was probably B.C. 594.

The usurpation of Pisistratus and his sons made a partial breach in the constitution; but upon their expulsion, a more serious change was effected by Cleisthenes, head of the noble house of the Alcmæonidæ (B.C. 508), almost in the same year in which Tarquin was expelled from Rome. An entirely new organization of the Attic tribes was framed, which destroyed whatever remained of the power of the nobles as an order, and established among the freemen a democracy, in fact, as well as in form. Out of this proceeded all the good and all the evil with which the name of Athens is associated; and though greatness which shot up so suddenly could not be permanent, there can be no difficulty in deciding that the good greatly preponderated.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

( Ἀθῆναι , plural of Ἀθήνη , Minerva, the tutelary goddess of the place), mentioned in several passages of Scripture ( 2 Maccabees 9:15;  Acts 17:15 sq.;  Acts 18:1;  1 Thessalonians 3:1), a celebrated city, the capital of Attica and of the leading Grecian republic, and the seat of the Greek literature in the golden period of the nation (M Ü ller, Topog. Of Athens, trans. by Lockhart, Lond. 1842; Kruse, Hellas, Lpz. 1826, II, 1:10 sq.; Leake, Topography Of Athens, Lond. 1841, 2d ed.; Forchhammer, Topographie Von Athen, Kiel, 1841; Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterth. 1, 1783 sq.; Grote, Hist. Of Greece, 6, 20 sq.; Wordsworth, Athens And Attica, Lond. 1836; Stuart and Revelt, Antiquities Of Athens, Lond. 1762-1816, 4 vols., and later; Dodwell, Tour Through Greece, Lond. 1819; Pittakis, Αἱ Παλαιαὶ Αθῆναι Athens, 1835; Prokesch, Denkwiurdigkeiten, Sttuttg. 1836, 2; Mure, Journal of a Tour in Greece. Edinb. 1842, 2; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul, 1, 344 sq.), belonged in the apostle's time to the Roman province of Achsea (q.v.). The inhabitants had the reputation of being fond of novelty ( Acts 17:21; comp. A Elian, Var. Hist. 5, 13; Demosth.  Philippians 1:4; Schol. Ad Thuc. 2, 38; Ad A ristopb. Plut. 338: see Wetstein, 2:567), and as being remarkably zealous in the worship of the gods ( Acts 17:16; comp. Pausan. 1:24, 3; Stralbo, 10:471; Philostr. Apol. 6:3; 4:19; AElian, Var. Hist. 5. 17; Himer, in Phot. cod. 243; see Eckhard, Athenae superstitiosc, Viteb. 1618); hence the city was full of temples, altars, and other sacred places (Liv. 45:27). Paul visited Athens on his second missionary journey from Bercea ( Acts 17:14 sq.; comp.  1 Thessalonians 3:1), and delivered in (but not before) the Areopagus (q.v.) his famous speech ( Acts 17:22-31).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

ath´enz Ἀθῆναι , Athḗnai In antiquity the celebrated metropolis of Attica, now the capital of Greece. Two long walls, 250 ft. apart, connected the city with the harbor (Peiraeus). In Acts 17 we are told what Paul did during his single sojourn in this famous city. He came up from the sea by the new road (North of the ancient) along which were altars of unknown gods, entered the city from the West, and passed by the Ceramicus (burial-ground), which can be seen to this day, the "Theseum," the best preserved of all Greek temples, and on to the Agora (Market-Place), just North of the Acropolis, a steep hill, 200 ft. high, in the center of the city. Cimon began and Pericles completed the work of transforming this citadel into a sanctuary for the patron goddess of the city. The magnificent gateway (Propylaea), of which the Athenians were justly proud, was built by Mnesicles (437-432 bc). A monumental bronze statue by Phidias stood on the left, as one emerged on the plateau, and the mighty Parthenon a little further on, to the right. In this temple was the famous gold and ivory statue of Athena. The eastern pediment contained sculptures representing the birth of the goddess (Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum), the western depicting her contest with Poseidon for supremacy over Attica. This, the most celebrated edifice, architecturally, in all history, was partially destroyed by the Venetians in 1687. Other temples on the Acropolis are the Erechtheum and the "Wingless Victory." In the city the streets were exceedingly narrow and crooked. The wider avenues were called πλατεῖαι , plateı́ai , whence English "place," Spanish "plaza." The roofs of the houses were flat. In and around the Agora were many porticoes stoaı́ ̌ . In the Stoa Poecile ("Painted Portico"), whose walls were covered with historical paintings, Paul met with the successors of Zeno, the Stoics, with whom he disputed daily. In this vicinity also was the Senate Chamber for the Council of Five Hundred, and the Court of the Areopagus, whither Socrates came in 399 bc to face his accusers, and where Paul, five centuries later, preached to the Athenians "the unknown God." In this neighborhood also were the Tower of the Winds and the water-clock, which must have attracted Paul's attention, as they attract our attention today.

The apostle disputed in the synagogue with the Jews ( Acts 17:17 ), and a slab found at the foot of Mount Hymettus (a range to the East of the city, 3,000 ft. high), with the inscription ρ Ο2 αὔτη ἡ πύλη τοῦ κυρίουπ ,δίκαιοι εἰσελεύσονται ἐν αὐτῇ (  Psalm 118:20 ), was once thought to indicate the site, but is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th century. Slabs bearing Jewish inscriptions have been found in the city itself.

The population of Athens was at least a quarter of a million. The oldest inhabitants were Pelasgians. Cecrops, the first traditional king, came from Egypt in 1556 bc, and by marrying the daughter of Actaeon, obtained the sovereignty. The first king was Erechtheus. Theseus united the twelve communities of Attica and made Athens the capital. After the death of Codrus in 1068 bc, the governing power was entrusted to an archon who held office for life. In 753 bc the term of office was limited to ten years. In 683 bc nine archons were chosen for a term of one year. Draco's laws, "written in blood," were made in 620 bc. Solon was chosen αρχον , archon in 594 bc and gave the state a constitution. The tyrant Pisistratus was in control permanently from 541 to 527 bc; his son Hipparchus was assassinated in 514. Clisthenes changed the constitution and introduced the practice of ostracism. In 490 bc the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, and again in 480 bc at Salamis. In 476 bc Aristides organized the great Athenian Confederacy. After his death Conon became the leader of the conservative party; and when the general Cimon was killed, Pericles became the leader of the people. In 431 bc the Peloponnesian War broke out and continued till 404 bc, when Athens succumbed to Sparta. An oligarchical government was set up with Critias and Theramenes at the head. War broke out again but peace was restored by the pact of Antalcidas (387 bc). In the Sacred War (357-355 bc) Athens exhausted her strength. When Philip of Macedon began to interfere in Greek affairs, Athens could neither resolve on war measures (to which the oratory of Demosthenes incited her), nor make terms with Philip. Finally, she joined Thebes in making armed resistance, but in spite of her heroic efforts at Chaeronea, she suffered defeat (338 bc). Philip was murdered in 336 bc, and Alexander the Great became master. After the subjugation of Greece by the Romans, Athens was placed under the supervision of the governor of Macedonia, but was granted local independence in recognition of her great history. As the seat of Greek art and science, Athens played an important role even under Roman sway - she became the university city of the Roman world, and from her radiated spiritual light and intellectual energy to Tarsus, Antioch and Alexandria. Philo, the Jew, declares that the Athenians were Ἑλλήνων ὀξυδερκέστατοι διάνοιαν ("keenest in intellect") and adds that Athens was to Greece what the pupil is to the eye, or reason to the soul. Although the city had lost her real independence, the people retained their old characteristics: they were still interested in art, literature and philosophy. Paul may possibly have attended theater of Dionysus (under the Southeast cliff of the Acropolis) and witnessed a play of the Greek poets, such as Euripides or Menander. Many gifts were received from foreign monarchs by Athens. Attalus I of Perg amum endowed the Academy, Eumenes added a splendid Stoa to theater and Antiochus Epiphanes began the Olympeium (15 columns of which are still standing), the massive sub-basement of which had been constructed by Pisistratus. Athens became a favorite residence for foreign writers who cultivated history, geography and literature. Horace, Brutus and Cassius sojourned in the city for some time. Josephus declares that the Athenians were the most god-fearing of the Greeks ( εὐσεβεστάτους τῶν Ἑλλήνων ). Compare Livy xlv.27.


See Wordsworth, Athens and Attica  ; Butler, Story of Athens  ; Ernest Gardner, Ancient Athens  ; Tucker, Life in Ancient Athens  ; A. Mommsen, Athenae Christianae  ; Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of Paul , chapter x; Gregorovius, Stadt Athen im Mittelalter  ; Leake, Grote, Thirlwall, Curtius, Wachsmuth, Holm, and Pausanias' Attica , recently edited by Carroll (Ginn and Co.), or in the large work of Frazer.