Was the 5th Century Bce a "Golden Age" for Athens?

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The

5th century BCE was a period of great development in Ancient Greece, and specifically

in Athens. The development of so many cultural achievements within Athens

and the Athenian Empire has led scholars to deem this period a "Golden Age."

It is true that his period had many achievements, but in the light of the

Athenians treatment of women, metics (non-Athenians living in Athens), and

slaves it is given to question whether or not the period can truly be called

"Golden."

The 5th century and the Athenian Empire gave birth to an amazing

amount of accomplishments. One such accomplishment was the minting of standard

Athenian coins that were used throughout the Athenian holdings as valid for

trade. The use of standard Athenian-minted coins helped the Athenians establish

and maintain control over their empire by helping to control trade and the

economy of the area to the Athenians' benefit.

Since Athens regularly received

tribute from the states it controlled, Pericles, the leader of Athens, began

a building project in Athens that was legendary. Athens had been sacked by

the Persians during the Persian Wars and Pericles set out to rebuild the city.

The city's walls had already been rebuilt right after the end of the second

Persian War so Pericles rebuilt temples, public grounds, and other impressive

structures. One of the most famous structures to result from Pericles' building

project was the Parthenon. The Parthenon and other such structures re-established

Athens's glory and while some Athenians criticized the projects as too lavish,

most Athenians enjoyed the benefits of the program. A major benefit to the

Athenian people was that there was an abundance of work in the polis.

The

5th century BCE was also an important time for Athenian thought. "Sophists,"

paid teachers, taught rhetoric amongst other subjects to wealthy Athenian citizens.

The Sophists were criticized by Athenians who thought that Sophists were destroying

Greek tradition by emphasizing rationalism over a belief in superstition, however

it was this rationalism that became so important to Greek philosophers such

as Socrates and Plato, both who belonged to the 5th century BCE. The Sophists

high regard for rhetoric was later of great use to citizen addressing the Assembly

in the developing Athenian democracy.

Athenian democracy is perhaps considered

the crowning achievement of the 5th century BCE. Democracy grew out of the

status that poorer Athenians were gaining as rowers for the ships of the large

Athenian fleet. Since these poorer Athenians now played a large part in the

Athenian military, they ga8ined more say in the Athenian government. This

led to a democratic government where "every male citizen over 18 years was

eligible to attend and vote in the Assembly, which made all the important decisions

of Athens in the 5th century BC…" (Demand 223). This democratic government

is considered by some scholars to show the full enlightenment of the Athenians

in the 5th century BCE.

This glorious enlightenment seems somehow less enlightening,

however, when one views this period from other than a male Athenian's eyes.

Athenian enlightenment and democracy was by and for male citizens. The underprivileged

of Athens included women, metics and slaves.

The position of Athenian wives

in Athenian society is clearly stated by Xenephon in his Oeconomicus. Ischomacus,

a young husband, is conversing with Socrates about the duties of husband and

wife. Ischomacus relates how he explained to his wife that the duties needed

to support a household consisted of "indoor" and "outdoor" activities. He

then explains to his wife, "And since labor and diligence are required both

indoors and outdoors…it seems to me that the god prepared the woman's nature

especially for indoor jobs and cares and the man's...
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