Attica is a region in the eastern part of central Greece. Its ancient capital of Athens became an important city-state, one that dominated much of early Greek history.

Attica is a triangular peninsula about 1,000 square miles in area and cut off from the rest of Greece by mountains and the sea. Its landscape is shaped by four mountain ranges. Between the mountains lie three large plains where the cities of Athens, Eleusis, and Marathon emerged during ancient times. The peninsula had little arable* farmland, although Attica did become famous for its olive oil. However, its most valuable resources—marble, silver, lead, and clay for pottery—came from its mountains and hills.

According to tradition, ancient Attica consisted of twelve independent communities that were constantly at war with one another. The legendary king Theseus was said to have united these communities into a single state, which had its power base in Athens. In reality, this unification was probably a slow and gradual process. By 700 B.C., Attica was unified under Athenian rule. All free men in Attica were considered citizens of Athens. They had organized themselves into four phylae, or tribes, each headed by a landowning family of the aristocracy*.

* arable suitable for plowing and producing crops

In 508 B.C., the statesman Cleisthenes decided to break the power of these strong families by reorganizing Attica’s citizens on a more democratic basis. He established ten new phylae based on geography rather than on family connections. Each phyle contained a mix of people from the city (Athens), the seacoast, and the countryside. The new system gave representation to more people in each area, and was, therefore, more democratic. As the power of Athens increased, the independent status of Attica decreased. By the 400s B.C., Attica was dominated by the Athenian city-state*, and its history became a part of the history of Athens.

* aristocracy referring to the privileged upper class

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

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