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ATHENS ATHENS How Athens Got its Name

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Long before it became a great city and the birthplace of democracy, the area of Athens must have been a very beautiful place. Otherwise one cannot explain how some of the most important ancient gods dueled to give it their name.

In the end it was Poseidon, the god of the sea and Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who reached the final round. Zeus, out of whose head Athena was born, in order to avoid a violent encounter between the two gods, declared that each should make an offer to the new city and its name would go to the god whose offer would be accepted by the citizens.

It must have been quite a sight, with all the Olympian gods sitting on one side and the citizens on the other while Athena and Poseidon stood in the middle, ready for the naming competition. Poseidon, who was Zeus' brother and uncle of Athena, came first and struck the rock of the Acropolis, opening a spring of water. This was interpreted as an indication that Poseidon was offering the new city success in war and at sea.

Then Athena came forward and dropped a seed to the ground. It immediately turned into an olive tree. This was meant to indicate that the goddess was offering the new city the fruits of peace and wisdom, which the citizens accepted and named their city Athens, while the owl, the bird connected with Athena and signified wisdom, became the pet animal of the Athenians.

This is why when money was invented and Athenians adopted as their currency the drachma, they used to have the profile of Athena on the one side and the owl on the other. The Athenian drachma became very popular among the people living along the shores of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Red Sea. In some cases, the drachma remained the official exchange instrument for centuries after Athens ceased to exist as a free city-state. In Yemen, in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, the drachma was the only accepted currency until the establishment of the Moslem religion in the seventh century of our era.

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