How the City of Athens Got Its Name – Origin & Story Behind the Name

How the City of Athens Got Its Name – Origin & Story Behind the Name

Published On: October 8, 2018Last Updated: March 21, 20242 min readBy
Athens Greece Acropolis Details From Monuments

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Athens is the capital of Greece and once one of the greatest and most glorious cities. It is also home to some of the most visited and well-known landmarks of the world, like the Acropolis.

According to history, Athens had several names throughout its existence. At one point, it was known as “Cecropia”. But the name that stayed is connected to the Greek goddess Athena, a symbol of wisdom, power and glory. More interestingly, the story starts with a dispute between the gods and a challenge.

Before that Cecrops was king of the city, a half-man and half-snake creature that introduced the worship of the twelve gods and also abolished the practice of animal sacrifice. It was during his reign that the Olympian gods decided that they should have a city named after them.

Related: 5 Olympian ‘Gods’ and Their Greek Island

Who shall name the city of Athens?

The two main contenders fighting for their name to be given to the city were: Poseidon, the god of the seas and Athena, the goddess of wisdom. To decide between them, Zeus proposed a gift offering, with Cecrops and the people of the city tasked with deciding the winner that would be named patron god of the city.

First to go was Poseidon. He struck the ground with his trident and a splash of salted water immediately welled up.

“With my gifts, you are going to become an important naval power. No one will be able to beat you”, he said.

The people of the city were thrilled with his gift but less enchanted with the fact that the water was salty. Which didn’t solve their water problem.

Then it was the time of the goddess Athena to present her gift.

She hit her spear on a rock and presented the people with the first-ever olive tree.

The citizens were puzzled by this gift.

“What kind of gift is this?”

“Why is it so important?”, they said.

Athena, being the goddess of wisdom explained to them – my gift to you is this evergreen tree. It will not only provide you with oil that can nourish, clean, and heal but you can also use it to lighten up the darkness.

Products from this tree will eventually make you rich, healthy and wise. With its strong and sturdy trunk, you will be able to use its wood to build houses and boats to travel around the world and spread your culture.

It’s the symbol of peace, glory and prosperity.

You will pass this message to your children and their generations to follow.

Obviously, Athena won and that is how Athens came to have its name. Poseidon’s gifts of water are still hiding around Athens if one only knows where to look. And while the city of Athens is not as full of olives trees as it once was known to be, there are still plenty of green escapes around the city for visitors.

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