Prehistoric Athens.—Numerous traces of the “Mycenaean” epoch have recently been brought to light in Athens and its neighbourhood. Among the monuments of this age discovered in the surrounding districts are the rock-hewn The early citadel. tombs of Spata, accidentally revealed by a landslip in 1877, and domed sepulchre at Menidí, near the ancient Acharnae, excavated by Lolling in 1879. Other “Mycenaean” landmarks have been laid bare at Eleusis, Thoricus, Halae and Aphidna. These structures, however, are of comparatively minor importance in point of dimensions and decoration; they were apparently designed as places of sepulture for local chieftains, whose domains were afterwards incorporated in the Athenian realm by the συνοικισμός (synoecism) attributed to Theseus. The situation of the Acropolis, dominating the surrounding plain and possessing easy communication with the sea, favoured the formation of a relatively powerful state—inferior, however, to Tiryns and Mycenae; the myths of Cecrops, Erechtheus and Theseus bear witness to the might of the princes who ruled in the Athenian citadel, and here we may naturally expect to find traces of massive fortifications resembling in some degree those of the great Argolid cities. Such in fact have been brought to light by the modern excavations on the Acropolis (1885–1889). Remains of primitive polygonal walls which undoubtedly surrounded the entire area have been found at various points a little within the circuit of the existing parapet. The best-preserved portions are at the eastern extremity, at the northern side near the ancient “royal” exit, and at the south-western angle. The course of the walls can be traced with a few interruptions along the southern side. On the northern side are the foundations of a primitive tower and other remains, apparently of dwelling-houses, one of which may have been the πυκινὸς δόμος Ἐρεχθῆος mentioned by Homer (Od. vii. 81). Among the foundations were discovered fragments of “Mycenaean” pottery. The various approaches to the citadel on the northern side—the rock-cut flight of steps north-east of the Erechtheum (q.v.), the stairs leading to the well Clepsydra, and the intermediate passage supposed to have furnished access to the Persians—are all to be attributed to the primitive epoch. Two pieces of polygonal wall, one beneath the bastion of Nike Apteros, the other in a direct line between the Roman gateway and the door of the Propylaea, are all that remain of the primitive defences of the main entrance.
These early fortifications of the Acropolis, ascribed to the primitive non-hellenic Pelasgi, must be distinguished from the Pelasgicum or Pelargicum, which was in all probability an encircling wall, built round the base of the The Pelasgicum. citadel and furnished with nine gates from which it derived the name of Enneapylon. Such a wall would be required to protect the clusters of dwellings around the Acropolis as well as the springs issuing from the rock, while the gates opening in various directions would give access to the surrounding pastures and gardens. This view, which is that of E. Curtius, alone harmonizes with the statement of Herodotus (vi. 137) that the wall was “around” (περί) the Acropolis, and that of Thucydides (ii. 17) that it was “beneath” (ὑπό) the fortress. Thus it would appear that the citadel had an outer and an inner line of defence in prehistoric times. The space enclosed by the outer wall was left unoccupied after the Persian wars in deference to an oracular response apparently dictated by military considerations, the maintenance of an open zone being desirable for the defence of the citadel. A portion of the outer wall has been recognized in a piece of primitive masonry discovered near the Odeum of Herodes Atticus; other traces will probably come to light when the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis have been completely explored. Leake, whom Frazer follows, assumed the Pelasgicum to be a fortified space at the western end of the Acropolis; this view necessitates the assumption that the nine gates were built one within the other, but early antiquity furnishes no instance of such a construction; Dörpfeld believes it to have extended from the grotto of Pan to the sacred precinct of Asclepius. The well-known passage of Lucian (Piscator, 47) cannot be regarded as decisive for any of the theories advanced, as any portion of the old enceinte dismantled by the Persians may have retained the name in later times. The Pelasgic wall enclosed the spring Clepsydra, beneath the north-western corner of the Acropolis, which furnished a water-supply to the defenders of the fortress. The spring, to which a staircase leads down, was once more included in a bastion during the War of Independence by the Greek chief Odysseus.
To the “Pelasgic” era may perhaps be referred (with Curtius and Milchhöfer) the immense double terrace on the north-eastern slope of the Pnyx (395 ft. by 212), the upper portion of which is cut out of the rock, while the lower is The Pnyx. enclosed by a semicircular wall of massive masonry; the theory of these scholars, however, that the whole precinct was a sanctuary of the Pelasgian Zeus cannot be regarded as proved, nor is it easy to abandon the generally received view that this was the scene of the popular assemblies of later times, notwithstanding the apparent unsuitability of the ground and the insufficiency of room for a large multitude. These difficulties are met by the assumption that the semicircular masonry formed the base of a retaining-wall which rose to a considerable height, supporting a theatre-like structure capable of seating many thousand persons. The masonry may be attributed to the 5th century; the chiselling of the immense blocks is not “Cyclopean.” Projecting from the upper platform at the centre of the chord of the semicircular area is a cube of rock, 11 ft. square and 5 ft. high, approached on either side by a flight of steps leading to the top; this block, which Curtius supposes to have been the primitive altar of Zeus Ὕψιστος, may be safely identified with the orators’ bema, ὁ λίθος ἐν τῇ Πυκνί (Aristoph. Pax, 680). Plutarch’s statement that the Thirty Tyrants removed the bema so as to face the land instead of the sea is probably due to a misunderstanding. Other cubes of rock, apparently altars, exist in the neighbourhood. There can be little doubt that the Pnyx was the seat of an ancient cult; the meetings of the Ecclesia were of a religious character and were preceded by a sacrifice to Zeus Ἀγοραῖος; nor is it conceivable that, but for its sacred associations, a site would have been chosen so unsuitable for the purposes of a popular assembly as to need the addition of a costly artificial auditorium.
The Pnyx, the Hill of the Nymphs and the Museum Hill are covered with vestiges of early settlements which extend to a considerable distance towards the south-east in the direction of Phalerum. They consist of chambers of Rock-dwellings and tombs. various sizes, some of which were evidently human habitations, together with cisterns, channels, seats, steps, terraces and quadrangular tombs, all cut in the rock. This neighbourhood was held by Curtius to have been the site of the primeval rock city, κρανάα πόλις (Aristoph. Ach. 75), anterior to the occupation of the Acropolis and afterwards abandoned for the later settlement. It seems inconceivable, however, that any other site should have been preferred by the primitive settlers to the Acropolis, which offered the greatest advantages for defence; the Pnyx, owing to its proximity to the centres of civic life, can never have been deserted, and that portion which lay within the city walls must have been fully occupied when Athens was crowded during the Peloponnesian War. Some of the rock chambers originally intended for tombs were afterwards converted, perhaps under pressure of necessity, into habitations, as in the case of the so-called “Prison of Socrates,” which consists of three chambers horizontally excavated and a small round apartment of the “beehive” type. The remains on the Pnyx and its neighbourhood cannot all be assigned to one epoch, the prehistoric age. The dwellings do not correspond in size or details with the undoubtedly prehistoric abodes on the Acropolis. In view of the ancient law which forbade burial within the city, the tombs within the circuit of the city walls must either be earlier than the time of Themistocles or several centuries later; in the similar rock-tombs on the neighbouring slopes of the Acropolis and Areopagus both Mycenaean and Dipylon pottery have been found. But the numerous vertically excavated tombs outside the walls are of late date and belong for the most part to the Roman period.
The Areopagus is now a bare rock possessing few architectural traces. The legend of its occupation by the Amazons (Aeschylus, Eum. 681 seq.) may be taken as indicating its military importance for an attack on the Acropolis; the The Areopagus. Persians used it as a point d’appui for their assault. The seat of the old oligarchical council and court for homicide was probably on its eastern height. Here were the altar of Athena Areia and two stones, the λίθος Ὕβρεως, on which the accuser, and the λίθος Ἀναιδείας, on which the accused, took their stand. Beneath, at the north-eastern corner, is the cleft which formed the sanctuary of the Σεμναί, or Erinyes. There is no reason for disturbing the associations connected with this