This paper seeks to explore how the vast geographic territory of Attica was defined and delineated during the period between the reforms of Kleisthenes in 508/7 B.C.E. and the Persian Wars of 490-480/79. These decades were a transitional time in Athenian history, when a new chapter in Athenian identity – specifically, a new democratic identity – was being forged (Anderson; Loraux). Part of this new conception of what it meant to be an Athenian hinged on both the abstract notion of “belonging” to a deme and the physical concretization of what was considered Attica. This dualistic definition, the former predicated on the use of the demotic and registration within a single deme and the latter on built structures, road networks, and topographic modifications, contributed to the overarching transformation of the countryside from a loosely-conceptualized area subservient to and/or ignored by the astu, into an integrated and integral component of Athenian citizenship, democratic identity, and socio-political functionality.
Previous scholarship concerning the countryside of Attica and its definition has frequently focused either on individual demes or regions (Mylonas; Pouilloux; Eliot), or the northwest border areas between Attika and Boiotia (Ober; Munn; Munn and Munn). In this paper, I argue that we should instead approach the Attic countryside as an unified topographic entity, rather than a collection of disparate villages and geographic areas. One of the ways in which such an approach is made possible is through the analysis of monumental architecture built along the border areas – both coastal and terrestrial – in the late sixth and early fifth centuries. It is during this particular period that “Attica” as both a coherent geographical space and intrinsic component of the Athenian polis comes into being.
In 506/5, the Athenians achieved an astonishing double victory over the combined Boiotian and Chalkidian forces in northwestern Attika (Hdt. 5.74-78). At the same time, the Spartans and Corinthians, who had previously gathered at Eleusis in the hopes of making a triple-pronged invasion, disbanded and made their way home without recourse to any military engagement (Hdt. 5.74). These military episodes, documented both in Herodotos and inscriptions (IG I3 501; SEG 54.518), speak to a concern with the western borders of Attika in the years soon after the Kleisthenic reforms. Concurrent with these attacks on the southwestern and northwestern edges of the territory of Athens, the Aeginetans continued to dominate the coastal areas, attacking Phaleron (Hdt. 5.79-89) and causing havoc along the southern border. The Athenian response to these attacks can be measured in the buildings erected along border areas during the period between ca. 508/7 and 480/79.
An examination of large-scale monumental construction projects at Eleusis, Rhamnous, Thorikos, Brauron, Sounion, Halai Aixonides, and Piraeus demonstrates how the Athenians attempted to define their borders during this period of socio-political upheaval, transition, and military threat. The building of temples, theatral areas, and fortifications indicates an interest in the delineation of Athenian territory as well as an attempt to announce the newly established Athenian socio-political and military power in monumental fashion. Moreover, the geographic distribution of the new buildings, their chronological specificity, and their forms and materials indicate that they were part of a comprehensive building program in Attica during the first three decades of the nascent democracy. In this way, the evidence of the built environment, when taken together with the accounts of Herodotos and the epigraphic testimonia, shows how the Athenians quickly and concretely established the physical boundaries of Attica as a visible counterpart to the adoption of the demotic in order to establish the conceptual and visual definition of “Attica.”