ATTICA, a district of ancient Greece, triangular in shape, projecting in a south-easterly direction into the Aegean Sea, the base line being formed by the continuous chain of Mounts Cithaeron and Parnes, the apex by the promontory of Sunium. It was washed on two sides by the sea, and the coast is broken up into numerous small bays and harbours, which, however, are with few exceptions exposed to the south wind. The surface of Attica, as of the rest of Greece, is very mountainous, and between the mountain chains lie several plains of no great size, open on one side to the sea. On the west its natural boundary is the Corinthian Gulf, so that it would include 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."
The position of Attica was one main cause of its historical importance. Hence in part arose the maritime character of its inhabitants; and when they had once taken to the sea, the string of neighbouring islands, Ceos, Cythnos and others, some of which lay within sight of their coasts, and from one to another of which it was possible to sail without losing sight of land, served to tempt them on to further enterprises. Similarly on land, the post it occupied between northern Greece and the Peloponnese materially influenced its relation to other states, both in respect of its alliances, such as that with Thessaly, towards which it was drawn by mutual hostility to Boeotia, which lay between them; and also in respect of offensive combinations of other powers, as that between Thebes and Sparta, which throughout an important part of Greek history were closely associated in their politics, through mutual dread of their powerful neighbour.
The mountains of Attica, which form its most characteristic feature, are a continuation of that chain which, starting from Tymphrestus at the southern extremity of Pindus, passes through Phocis and Boeotia under the names of Parnassus and Helicon; from this proceeds the range which, as Cithaeron in its western and Parnes in its eastern portion, separates Attica from Boeotia, throwing off spurs southward towards the Saronic Gulf in Aegaleos and Hymettus, which bound the plain of Athens. Again, the eastern extremity of Parnes is joined by another line of hills, which, separating from Mount Oeta, skirts the Euboic Gulf, and, after entering Attica, throws up the lofty pyramid of Pentelicus, overlooking the plain of Marathon, and then sinks towards the sea at Sunium to rise once more in the outlying islands. Finally, at the extreme west of the whole district, Cithaeron is bent round at right angles in the direction of the isthmus, at the northern approach to which it abuts against the mighty mass of Mount Geraneia, which is interposed between the Corinthian and the Saronic Gulf. Both Cithaeron and Parnes are about 4600 ft. high, Pentelicus 3635, and Hymettus 3370, while Aegaleos does not rise higher than 1534 ft. At the present day they are extremely bare, and in this respect almost repellent; but the lack of colour is compensated by the delicacy of the outlines, the minute articulation of the minor ridges and valleys, and the symmetrical grouping of the several mountains.
The soil is light and thin, and requires very careful agriculture not only on the rocky mountain sides but to some extent also in the maritime plains. This fact had considerable influence on the inhabitants, both by enforcing industrious habits and by leading them at an early period to take to the sea. Still, the level ground was sufficiently fertile to form a marked contrast to the rest of the district. Thucydides attributes to the nature of the soil (i. 2 ), which presented no attraction to invaders, the permanence of the same inhabitants in the country, whence arose the claim to indigenousness on which the Athenians so greatly prided themselves; while at the same time the richer ground fostered that fondness for country life, which is proved by the enthusiastic terms in which it is always spoken of by Aristophanes. That we are not justified in judging of the ancient condition of the soil by, the aridity which prevails at the present day, is shown by the fact that out of the 182 demes (see Cleisthenes) into which Attica was divided, one-tenth were named from trees or plants.
The climate of Attica has always been celebrated. 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, which in modern times is called , or that which sets towards shore, moderates the heat in summer. The Attic comedians and Plato speak with enthusiasm of their native climate, and the fineness of the Athenian intellect was attributed to the clearness of the Attic atmosphere. It was in the neighbourhood of Athens itself that the air was thought to be purest. So Euripides describes the inhabitants as "ever walking gracefully through the most luminous ether" (Med. 829); and Milton -
"Where, on the Aegean shore, a city stands,
Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil -
Athens, the eye of Greece."
Or 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. i. 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 which is so conspicuous in an Athenian sunset 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. This otherwise perfect climate is slightly marred by the prevalence of the north wind. This is expressed on the Horologium of Andronicus Cyrrhestes, called the Temple or Tower of the Winds, at Athens, where Boreas is represented as a bearded man of stern aspect, thickly clad, and wearing strong buskins; he blows into a conch shell, which he holds in his hand as a sign of his tempestuous character.
Of the flora of Attica, the olive is the most important. This tree, we learn from Herodotus (v. 82), was thought at one time to have been found in that country only; and the enthusiastic praises of Sophocles (Oed. Col. 700) teach us that it was the land in which it flourished best. So great was the esteem in which it was held, that in the early legend of the struggle between the gods of sea and land, Poseidon and Athena, for the patronage of the country, the sea-god is represented as having to retire vanquished before the giver of the olive; and at a later period the evidences of this contention were found in an ancient olive tree in the Acropolis, together with three holes in the rock, said to have been made by the trident of Poseidon, and to be connected with a salt well hard by. The fig also found its favourite home in this country, for Demeter was said to have bestowed it as a gift on the Eleusinian Phytalus, i.e. "the gardener." Both Cithaeron and Parnes must have been wooded in former times; for on the former are laid the picturesque silvan 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 of the Acharnians of Aristophanes (348). From the thymy slopes of Hymettus came the famous Hymettian honey. Among the other products we must notice the marble - both that of Pentelicus, which afforded a material of unrivalled purity and whiteness for building the Athenian temples, and the blue marble of Hymettus - the trabes Hymettiae of Horace - which used to be transported to Rome for the construction of palaces. But the richest of all the sources of wealth in Attica was the silver mines of Laurium, the yield of which was so considerable as to render silver the principal medium of exchange in Greece, so that "a silver piece" was the Greek equivalent term for money. Hence 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, 1106). The reputation of these coins for purity of metal and accuracy of weight was so great that they had a very wide circulation, and in consequence it was thought undesirable to make any alteration in the types lest their genuineness should be doubted. This accounts for the somewhat inartistic character which the Athenian coins maintained to the last (see further Numismatics: Greek, § Athens). In Strabo's time, though the mines had almost ceased to yield, silver was obtained in considerable quantities from the scoriae; and at the present day a large amount of lead is got in the same way, the work being chiefly carried on by two companies, one of which is French and the ether Greek. In the ancient workings, many of which are in the same condition as they were left 1800 years ago, there are in all 2000 shafts and galleries.
Plain of Megara
It has been already mentioned that the base line of Attica is formed by the chain of Cithaeron and Parnes, running from west to east; and that from this transverse chains run southward, dividing Attica into a succession of plains. The westernmost of these, which is separated from the innermost bay of the Corinthian Gulf, called the Mare Alcyonium, by an offshoot of Cithaeron, and is bounded on the east by a ridge which ends towards the Saronic Gulf in a striking two-horned peak called Kerata, is the plain of Megara. It is only for geographical purposes that we include this district under Attica, for both the Dorian race of the inhabitants, and its dangerous proximity to Athens, caused it to be at perpetual feud with that city; but its position as an outpost for the Peloponnesians, together with the fact of its having once been Ionian soil, sufficiently explains the bitter hostility of the Athenians towards the Megarians. The great importance of Megara arose from its commanding all the passes into the Peloponnese. These were three in number: one along the shores of the Corinthian Gulf, which, owing to the nature of the ground, makes a long detour; the other two starting from Megara, and passing, the one by a lofty though gradual route 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 the plain of Megara lies that of 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" of Sophocles (Oed. Col. 1049). The deep bay which here runs into the land is bounded on its southern side by the rocky island of Salamis, which was at all times an important possession to the Athenians on account of its proximity to their city; and the winding channel which separates that island from the mainland in the direction of the Peiraeus was the scene of the battle of Salamis, while on the last declivities of Mt. Aegaleos, which here descends to the sea, was the spot where, as Byron wrote -
"A king sate on the rocky brow
Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis."
The eastern portion 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, which is the most extensive of all, 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, which owe their fertility to the waters of the Cephisus. This river is fed by copious sources on the side of Mt. Parnes, and thus, unlike the other rivers of Attica, has a constant supply of water, which was diverted in classical times, as it still is, into the neighbouring plantations (cf. Sophocles, Oed. Col. 685). The position of Colonus itself is marked by two bare knolls of light-coloured earth, which caused the poet in the same chorus to apply the epithet "white" to that place. On the opposite side of the plain runs the other river, the Ilissus, which rises from two sources on the side of Mt. Hymettus, and skirts the eastern extremity of the city of Athens; but this, notwithstanding its celebrity, is a mere brook, which stands in pools a great part of the year, and in summer is completely dry. The situation of Athens relatively to the surrounding objects is singularly harmonious; for, while it forms a central point, so as to be the eye of the plain, and while the altar-rock of the Acropolis and the hills by which it is surrounded are conspicuous from every point of view, there is no such exactness in its position as to give formality, since it is nearer to the sea than to Parnes, and nearer to Hymettus than to Aegaleos. The most striking summit in the neighbourhood of the city is that of Lycabettus, on the north-eastern side; and the variety is still further increased by the continuation of the ridge which it forms for some distance northwards through the plain. Three roads lead to Athens from the Boeotian frontier over the intervening mountain barrier - the easternmost over Parnes, from Delium and Oropus by Decelea, which was the usual route of the invading Lacedaemonians during the Peloponnesian War; the westernmost over Cithaeron, by the pass of Dryoscephalae, or the "Oakheads," leading from Thebes by Plataea to Eleusis, and so to Athens, which we hear of in connexion with the battle of Plataea, and with the escape of the Plataeans at the time of the siege of that city in the Peloponnesian War; the third, midway between the two, by the pass of Phyle, near the summit of which, on a rugged height overlooking 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 Peiraeus. It was probably at one time an island; this was Strabo's opinion, and at the present day the ground which joins it to the mainland is low and swampy, and seems to have been formed by alluvial soil brought down by the Cephisus. On one side of this, towards Hymettus, lay the open roadstead of Phalerum, on the other the harbour of Peiraeus, a completely land-locked inlet, safe, deep and spacious, the approach to which was still further narrowed by moles. The eastern side of the hill was further indented by two small but commodious havens, which were respectively called Zea and Munychia.
The north-eastern boundary of the plain of Athens is formed by the graceful pyramid of Pentelicus, which received its name from the deme of Pentele at its foot, but was far more commonly known as Brilessus in ancient times. This mountain did not form a continous chain with Hymettus, for between them intervenes a level space of ground 2 m. in width, 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"), which was so called because it girdles and protects the neighbouring harbour; but in consequence of the name, a legend was attached to it, to the effect that Latona had loosed her girdle there. From this promontory to Sunium there runs a lower line of mountains, and between these and the sea a fertile strip of land intervenes, which was called the Paralia. Beyond Sunium, on the eastern coast, were two safe ports, that of Thoricus, which is defended by the island of Helene, forming a natural breakwater in front of it, and that of Prasiac, now called Porto Raphti ("the Tailor"), from a statue at the entrance to which the natives have given that name. In the north-east corner is the little plain of Marathon (q.v.), the scene of the battle against the Persians (490 B.C.). It lies between Parnes, Pentelicus and the sea. The bay in front is sheltered by Euboea, and on the north by a projecting tongue of land, called Cynosura. The mountains in the neighbourhood were the home of the Diacrii or Hyperacrii, who, being poor mountaineers, and having nothing to lose, were the principal advocates of political reform; while, on the other hand, the Pedieis, or inhabitants of the plains, being wealthy landholders, formed the strong conservative element, and the Parali, or occupants of the sea-coast, representing the mercantile interest, held an intermediate position between the two (see Cleisthenes). Finally, there was one district of Attica, the territory of Oropus, which properly belonged to Boeotia, as it was situated to the north of Parnes; but on this the Athenians always endeavoured to retain a firm hold, because it facilitated their communications with Euboea. The command of that island was of the utmost importance to them; for, if Aegina could rightly be called "the eyesore of the Peiraeus," Euboea was quite as truly a thorn in the side of Attica; for we learn from Demosthenes (De Cor. p. 307) that at one period the pirates that made it their headquarters so infested the neighbouring sea as to prevent all navigation.
The place in Attica which has been the chief scene of excavations (independently of Athens and its vicinity) is Eleusis (q.v.), where the remains of the sanctuary of Demeter, the home of the Eleusinian Mysteries, together with other buildings in its neighbourhood, were cleared by the Greek Archaeological Society in 1882-1887 and 1895-1896. Of the other classical ruins in Attica the best-known is the temple of Athena at Sunium, which forms a conspicuous object on the headland, to which it gave the name of Cape Colonnae, still used by the peasants. It is in the Doric style, of white marble, and eleven columns of the peristyle and one of the pronaos are now standing. At Thoricus there is a theatre, which was cleared of earth by the archaeologists of the American School in 1886. In the neighbourhood of Rhamnus are the remains of two temples that stood side by side, the larger of which was dedicated to Nemesis, the smaller probably to Themis, of which goddess a fine statue was discovered in its ruins in the course of the excavations of the Greek Archaeological Society in 1890. The same Society, in 1884,1886 and 1887, excavated the sanctuary of Amphiaraus, 4 m. from Oropus; in ancient times this was the resort of numerous invalids, who came thither to consult the healing divinity. Within it were found a temple of Amphiaraus, a large altar, and a long colonnade, which may have been the dormitory where the patients slept in hope of obtaining counsel in dreams. There were also baths and a small theatre, and numerous inscriptions relating to the arrangement and observances of the sanctuary and oracle. The walls and towers also of the city of Eleutherae and the fortress of Phyle are fine specimens of Hellenic fortifications.
Of the condition of Attica in medieval and modern times little need be said, for it has followed for the most part the fortunes of Athens. The population, however, has undergone a great change, independently of the large admixture of Slavonic blood that has affected the Greeks of the mainland generally, by the immigration of Albanian colonists, who now occupy a great part of the country. The district formed part of the nome (administrative division) of Boeotia and Attica until 1899, when it became a separate nome.
Bibliography. - J.G. Frazer, 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, Geographic von Griechenland, vol. i. (Leipzig, 1862); Baedeker's Greece (4th Eng. ed., Leipzig, 1908); Karten von Attica, published by the German Archaeological Institute of Athens, with explanatory text, chiefly by Professor Milchhofer (1875-1903); see also Athens, Eleusis and Greece: Topography.
(H. F. T.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)