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ATTICA, a triangular district of ancient Greece, with the chain of Mts. Cithaeron and Parnes as its base and Sunium as its apex. It is washed on two sides by the Aegean sea, and the coast is broken up into small bays and harbours, exposed to the south wind. Attica is very mountainous, and between the moun tain chains lie several small plains open to the sea. On the west its natural boundary is the Corinthian gulf, so that it would in clude Megaris; indeed, before the Dorian invasion, which resulted in the foundation of Megara, the whole country was politically one, in the hands of the Ionian race. This is proved by the column which, as we learn from Strabo, once stood on the Isthmus of Corinth, bearing on one side in Greek the inscription, "This land is Peloponnesus, not Ionia," and on the other, "This land is not Peloponnesus, but Ionia." Mountains.—The mountains of Attica continue the chain from Tymphrestus at the south end of Pindus, through Phocis and Boeotia (Parnassus and Helicon) ; from this proceeds the range which, as Cithaeron (4,600ft.) in the west and Parnes (4,600f t.) in the east, separates Attica from Boeotia, throwing off spurs southward towards the Saronic gulf in Aegaleos t.) and Hymettus (3,3 7of t. ), which bound the plain of Athens. The east end of Parnes is joined by another line of hills, which, separating from Mt. Oeta, skirts the Euboic gulf, and, after entering Attica, throws up the lofty pyramid of Pentelicus (3,635ft.), overlooking the plain of Marathon, and then sinks towards the sea at Sunium to rise once more in the outlying islands, Finally, in the extreme west, Cithaeron bends round at right angles in the direction of the isthmus, at the northern ap proach to which it abuts against the mighty mass of Mt. Geraneia, between the Corinthian and the Saronic gulf.

Soil.—The soil is light and thin, and requires very careful agri culture on the rocky mountain sides and in the maritime plains. This enforced industrious habits on the inhabitants and encour aged seafaring. The level ground was sufficiently fertile to form a marked contrast to the rest of the district. Thucydides attributes to the unattractive nature of the soil (i. 2 To XE7rT0-yEWV), the permanence of the same inhabitants in the country, whence arose the claim to indigenousness on which the Athenians prided them selves; while at the same time the richer ground fostered that fondness for country life spoken of by Aristophanes. The fact that out of the 182 demes (see CLEISTHENES) into which Attica was divided, one-tenth were named from trees or plants points to less aridity in ancient times.


In approaching Attica from Boeotia a change of temperature is felt as soon as a person descends from Cithaeron or Parnes, and the sea breeze moderates the heat in summer. So Euripides describes the inhabitants as "ever walking gracefully through the most luminous ether" (Med. 829).

Again Xenophon says "one would not err in thinking that this city is placed near the centre of Greece—nay, of the civilized world—because, the farther removed persons are from it, the severer is the cold or heat they meet with" (Vectigal. 1. 6). The air is so clear that one can see from the Acropolis the lines of white marble that streak the sides of Pentelicus. The brilliant colouring of the Athenian sunsets is due to the same cause. The epithet "violet-crowned," used of Athens by Pindar, is due either to the blue haze on the surrounding hills, or to the use of violets (or irises) for festal wreaths. The prevalence of the north wind is expressed on the Horologium of Andronicus Cyrrhestes, called the Temple or Tower of the Winds, at Athens.


Sophocles (Oed. Col. 700) shows that the olive flourished specially in Attica (see also Herodotus v. 82). In the legend of the struggle between Poseidon and Athena, for the pat ronage of the country, the sea-god is represented as having to retire vanquished before the giver of the olive ; and the evidences of this contention were an ancient olive tree in the Acropolis, to gether with three holes in the rock, said to have been made by the trident of Poseidon. The fig also throve and Demeter was said to have bestowed it as a gift on the Eleusinian Phytalus, i.e., "the gardener." Cithaeron and Parnes were formerly wooded ; for on the former are laid the picturesque sylvan scenes in the Bacchae of Euripides, and it was from the latter that the wood came which caused the neighbouring deme of Acharnae to be famous for its charcoal—the avOpaKEs HapviiaLoc of the Acliarnians of Aristophanes (348). From the thymy slopes of Hymettus came the famous Hymettian honey.


The pure white marble of Pentelicus used for the Athenian temples, and the blue marble of Hymettus—the trabes Hymettiae of Horace, used for Roman palaces, were famous. The silver mines of Laurium rendered silver the principal medium of exchange in Greece, so that "a silver piece (apybpLov) was the Greek name for money. Aeschylus speaks of the Athenians as possessing a "fountain of silver" (Pers. 235), and Aristophanes makes his chorus of birds promise the audience that, if they show him favour, owls from Laurium (i.e., silver pieces with the emblem of Athens) shall never fail them (Birds, 11o6). The purity and accurate weight of the Laurium coins gave them a wide circula tion. (See further NUMISMATICS: Greek, § Athens.) In Strabo's time the mines had almost ceased to yield, but silver was ob tained from the scoriae ; and at the present day lead is got in the same way, chiefly by two companies, one of which is French and the other Greek. Two thousand shafts and galleries of the ancient mines remain.

Plain of Megara.

The plain of Megara was geographically linked with Attica. It commanded the three passes into the Pel oponnese, one a long detour along the shores of the Corinthian gulf ; the other two starting from Megara, and passing, the one over the ridge of Geraneia, the other along the Saronic gulf, under the dangerous precipices of the Scironian rocks.

Plain of Eleusis.

To the east of Megara lies Eleusis, bounded on the one side by the chain of Kerata, and on the other by that of Aegaleos, through a depression in which was the line of the sacred way, where the torchlight processions from Athens used to descend to the coast, the "brightly gleaming shores" (Xas7r6.8Es aKTai) of Sophocles (Oed. Col. 1,049). The deep bay which here runs into the land is bounded on its southern side by the rocky island of Salamis. The winding channel which separates that island from the mainland in the direction of the Peiraeeus was the scene of the battle of Salamis. The east of the plain of Eleusis was called the Thriasian plain, and the city itself was situated in the recesses of the bay just mentioned.

Plain of Athens.

Next in order to the plain of Eleusis came that of Athens, the most extensive, reaching from the foot of Parnes to the sea, and bounded on the west by Aegaleos, and on the east by Hymettus. Its most conspicuous feature is the broad line of dark green along its western side, formed by the olive groves of Colonus and the gardens of the Academy, watered by the Cephisus. This river, unlike the other rivers of Attica, has a constant supply of water, from its sources on Mt. Parnes, which was diverted in classical times, as it still is, into the neighbouring plantations (cf. Sophocles, Oed. Col. 685) . The two bare knolls of light-coloured earth caused the poet in the same chorus to apply the epithet "white" (ap-yi ra) to Colonus. The Ilissus river, rising in Mt. Hymettus and skirting the east of Athens, is a mere brook, which disappears in summer. Three roads lead to Athens from the Boeotian frontier over the mountain barrier—the easternmost over Parnes, from Delium and Oropus by Decelea, the usual route of the invading Lacedaemonians during the Peloponnesian war; the westernmost over Cithaeron, by the pass of Dryosceph alae, or the "Oakheads," from Thebes by Plataea to Eleusis, and so to Athens, along which the Plataeans escaped during the siege of Plataea in the Peloponnesian war. The third, midway between the two, by the pass of Phyle, near the summit of which, over looking the Athenian plain, is the fort occupied by Thrasybulus in the days of the Thirty Tyrants. On the sea-coast to the south west of Athens rises the hill of Munychia, a mass of rocky ground, forming the acropolis of the town of Peiraeeus. The ground which joins it to the mainland is low and swampy, alluvial soil brought down by the Cephisus and according to Strabo was at one time an island. On one side of this, towards Hymettus, lay the open roadstead of Phalerum, on the other the harbour of Peiraeeus, a completely land-locked inlet, safe, deep and spacious, the ap proach to which was still further narrowed by moles. On the east are the small harbours of Zea and Munychia.

Eastern Attica.

The north-eastern boundary of the plain of Athens is formed by the graceful pyramid of Pentelicus, com monly known as Brilessus in ancient times. Between it and Hymettus intervenes a level space of ground 2m. wide, which formed the entrance to the Mesogaea, an elevated undulating plain in the midst of the mountains, reaching nearly to Sunium. At the extremity of Hymettus, where it projects into the Saronic gulf, was the promontory of Zoster ("the Girdle"), so called be cause it girdles and protects the neighbouring harbour. From this promontory to Sunium there runs a lower line of mountains, and between these and the sea is the fertile strip of land called the Paralia. Beyond Sunium, on the eastern coast, were two safe ports, Thoricus, defended by the island of Helene, forming a natural breakwater in front of it, and Prasiae, now called Porto Raphti ("the Tailor"), from a statue at the entrance. In the north-east corner between Parnes, Pentelicus and the sea is the little plain of Marathon (q.v.), the scene of the battle against the Persians (490 B.c.). The bay in front is sheltered by Euboea, and on the north by a projecting tongue of land, called Cynosura. One district of Attica, the territory of Oropus, belonged to Boeotia, as it was situated to the north of Parnes; but the Athenians always endeavoured to retain it, because it facilitated their communications with Euboea, which was of the utmost im portance to them ; for, if Aegina should rightly be called "the eye sore of the Peiraeeus," Euboea was quite as truly a thorn in the side of Attica ; Demosthenes (De Cor., p. 307) records the ravages of the Euboean pirates.

G. Fraze

r, Pausanias's Description of Greece, vols. ii. and v. (London, 1898) ; W. M. Leake, The Demi of Attica (2nd ed., London, 1841) ; Chr. Wordsworth, Athens and Attica (4th ed., London, 1869) ; C. Bursian, Geographie von Griechenland, vol. i. (Leipzig, 1862) ; Baedeker's Greece (4th Eng. ed., Leipzig, 1908) ; Karten von Attica, published by the German Archaeological In stitute of Athens, with explanatory text, chiefly by Prof. Milchhof er (1875-1903). See also ATHENS, ELEUSIS and GREECE: Topography.

athens, plain, parnes, hymettus and sea