Categories
History Politics

Ostracism and Aristides

The most honorable man of Athens according to Herodotus: Aristides. His sense of morality, justice, and prudence, made him famous all over the Greek world.  He was reputed to be so fair-minded, that he was known to everyone as Aristides ‘the Just’ (dikaios). He was so scrupulously honest that, in spite of the wealth that passed through his hands, he remained poor.

Now, sometime in the early 5th century BCE, the Athenians began the practice of ostracism, a form of election designed to curb the power of any rising tyrant. Once a year, every spring, citizens wrote the name of whichever man they wished to see exiled on a piece of broken pottery (called in Greek ostrakon), and the leader with the most votes against him was forced to leave Athens for ten years.

As Aristotle explained, ‘The threat ostracism was meant to combat could also come from a man’s great personal prominence, if he became so prominent that he could appear to overshadow all others on the political scene and thus threaten the egalitarian principles of Athenian democracy, in which no one man was supposed to dominate the making of policy’.

But soon the Athenians realized that this procedure was problematic…

Aristides and the peasant. Painting by Ernest Hillemacher

On the balloting day for an ostracism, when the Athenians were voting in their Agora, an illiterate peasant approached Aristides and handed him a potsherd, asking him to scratch on it the name of the man’s choice for ostracism.

“Certainly,” said Aristides. “Which name shall I write?”

“Aristides,” replied the man.

Aristides, without revealing his identity, remarked  “Very well. But tell me, my friend… What harm has Aristides done to you?”

“Oh, nothing,” sputtered the peasant, “I don’t even know the man! I’m just sick and tired of hearing everybody refer to him as ‘The Just.’”

Aristides without hesitating he proceeded to inscribe his own name on the ostrakon, and, without uttering a word, gave it back to that man…

Pottery shards (ostraka) displaying Aristides’ name
Categories
History

Stoa of Attalos

The Stoa of Attalos is the only example of a fully restored ancient shopping arcade. It was built by and named after Attalos II, King of Pergamon, as a gift to the city that gave him his higher education.

It’s an impressive two-storey building, 116 m x 19.4 m (381 ft x 63 ft 8 in), with a Doric colonnade on the ground floor, and an Ionic colonnade on the upper floor. There were 21 shops at the back of both floors. Today it houses the museum of the Ancient Agora, and part of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Stoas were really important for the ancient Greeks and the Romans as it was there that they used to meet, walk, shop and do business. It was completely destroyed in 267 AD by a savage tribe, the Herulians but in the 1950s, thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Stoa of Attalos, using the original materials found on site, was fully reconstructed on the original foundations!

This reconstructed ancient building is also of great significance for modern European history as on 16 April 2003 the ceremony of the signing of the 2003 Treaty of Accession of ten new countries to the European Union was conducted there.

STOA OF ATTALOSs2

Categories
Aesthetics History

Athens’ Royal Gardens

Did you know that most ornamental plants of the National Gardens come from Genova, Italy?

King Ludwig I of Bavaria
King Ludwig I of Bavaria

When King Ludwig of Bavaria came to Athens to visit his son (King Otto), he was surprised by the complete lack of green areas in the little town of Athens!
Queen Amalia, consort of King Otto, worked tirelessly to lay out and complete the Royal Gardens. With the help of the great Bavarian architect Friedrich von Gartner, the gardens start to take shape. The aim was to find plants that could flourish on the ancient, relatively dry soil of Attica.

Friedrich von Gaertner
Friedrich von Gaertner

In autumn 1839, the Greek sail ship ‘Phoenix’ sailed from the port of Genova, heading straight to the port of Peiraeus. The ship carried 15,000 ornamental plants!Royal Gardens palm

Royal Gardens flowers Thousands of flowers, trees and seedlings from Genovese gardens were brought to Athens and the Bavarian gardener Schmarat, with the help of the Prussian gardener Friedrich Schmidt, gathered more local plants and flowers from the south part of Attica (Sounion). Their vision was to create the most beautiful gardens at the south of Europe.

Queen Amalia planted herself seeds of palm trees that in 1842 she brought from the United States (a genus of palms native to the southwestern US). Most of them still stand tall today!