The Golden Age
Like a flower in bloom, fifth century Attica is said to be the prime time of ancient civilizations. Much praise is given to the period, and it is coined to be the Golden Age of ancient western history. It is claimed that the Athenians of this time period were very successful in many areas, being “originators of democracy…art, history, philosophy, and science.” (Discovering 54) Comparatively I support the claim for Attica’s golden status because it was the most successful city state of its time: with a democratic government, military superiority, and free philosophical thought.
The government of Attica was historically the first ever democracy, pioneering ideas of equality and power divided amongst all. In Pericles’ funeral speech, he claims the Athenian “constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves.” (Discovering 59) Attican government and laws set the bar of standards of equality that others modeled their own law systems after. The original designers of democracy were highly successful in seeing to it that equal representation existed. It is said that “the laws… afford equal justice to all in their private differences.” (Discovering 59) Some would argue that the democracy was crude because only free, landowning male citizens were allowed to vote: which was true. However one living in Attica was not confined to a certain caste or rank in which they stayed their entire life. In fact, “class considerations… [were not] allowed to interfere with merit…if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.” (Discovering 59) Even consider the original Constitution of the United States, which says that only white male property owners could vote. (U.S. Constitution) For its time, this sort of thinking and government system was revolutionary and remarkable. Class mobility was a reality in Attica, and no person was kept down or permanently disadvantaged because of their social standing. It is clear that Attica was revolutionary, with laws on the books providing citizens with a say in their government and class mobility a very possible reality.
None could compare with the military strength and merciful practices of Attica. Upon besieging the isle of Melos, the Athenians gave a proclamation to the Melians. The offer was one of peace, with the rationale being that the Melians “would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.”(Discovering 62) With the island of Melos being a vulnerable point that Attica’s enemies could easily take advantage of, it would have been dangerous for the Athenians to let the Melian’s remain neutral. Attica offered for Melos to become a “tributary ally, without ceasing to enjoy the country that belongs to [the Melians]”, and to place Melos under the protection of “the greatest city in Hellas.” (Discovering 63) Peacekeeping and guardianship were tools of the Athenian military: they were not solely focused on outward and merciless conquest. Additionally as stated by Pericles, “we throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing.” (Discovering 60) This policy of openness, while other powers surely guarded their secrets, set Attica apart as a force of might that only sought fighting after all other options had been exhausted. The military of Attica was most powerful, as well as tolerant.
Pioneers of western philosophy, like Socrates and Plato, lived in Attica and flourished during a time of liberality and progressive thought. For example, Attica was to be the “first in the west to provide answers that were not expressed in religious or mythological terms.” (Discovering 54) The philosophy of the time was grounded in the physical world, no longer holding religious motives. This new thinking is what has led to Western ideas of truth, knowledge, and the principles of being. Furthermore, in Attica during this time there were great places of assembly where people gathered to discuss such things, one example of such being the Athenian Agora (Discovering 73). The presence of meeting places and forums such as the Agora show that Athens was open to new ideas which were often pondered and discussed in such places. All in all, the roots of western thoughts belong to Attica and its great thinkers during this time period. Comparing the time of Attica from 500-399 B.C., there is no denying the greatness that arose. As the petals of the flowers of Attica fell, and times moved towards the dark ages, it is clear that the Athenians had lived through a Golden Age consisting of the first democracy, the foundations of western philosophical ideas, and great military prowess. With all evidence considered, Attica during this time period was the climax of the old western world, and deserves its status as the Golden Age and peak of the old western civilizations.
"U.S. Constitution." Legal Information Institute. 2010. Cornell University Law School, Web. 11 Feb 2010. <http://topics.law.cornell.edu/constitution>.