Was The 5th Century BCE A "Golden Age" For Athens?

The
5th century BCE was a period of great development in Ancient Greece, and specifically
in Athens. The development of so many cultural achievements within Athens
and the Athenian Empire has led scholars to deem this period a "Golden Age."
It is true that his period had many achievements, but in the light of the
Athenians treatment of women, metics (non-Athenians living in Athens), and
slaves it is given to question whether or not the period can truly be called
"Golden."
The 5th century and the Athenian Empire gave birth to an amazing
amount of accomplishments. One such accomplishment was the minting of standard
Athenian coins that were used throughout the Athenian holdings as valid for
trade. The use of standard Athenian-minted coins helped the Athenians establish
and maintain control over their empire by helping to control trade and the
economy of the area to the Athenians’ benefit.
Since Athens regularly received
tribute from the states it controlled, Pericles, the leader of Athens, began
a building project in Athens that was legendary. Athens had been sacked by
the Persians during the Persian Wars and Pericles set out to rebuild the city.
The city’s walls had already been rebuilt right after the end of the second
Persian War so Pericles rebuilt temples, public grounds, and other impressive
structures. One of the most famous structures to result from Pericles’ building
project was the Parthenon. The Parthenon and other such structures re-established
Athens’s glory and while some Athenians criticized the projects as too lavish,
most Athenians enjoyed the benefits of the program. A major benefit to the
Athenian people was that there was an abundance of work in the polis.
The
5th century BCE was also an important time for Athenian thought. "Sophists,"
paid teachers, taught rhetoric amongst other subjects to wealthy Athenian citizens.
The Sophists were criticized by Athenians who thought that Sophists were destroying
Greek tradition by emphasizing rationalism over a belief in superstition, however
it was this rationalism that became so important to Greek philosophers such
as Socrates and Plato, both who belonged to the 5th century BCE. The Sophists
high regard for rhetoric was later of great use to citizen addressing the Assembly
in the developing Athenian democracy.
Athenian democracy is perhaps considered
the crowning achievement of the 5th century BCE. Democracy grew out of the
status that poorer Athenians were gaining as rowers for the ships of the large
Athenian fleet. Since these poorer Athenians now played a large part in the
Athenian military, they ga8ined more say in the Athenian government. This
led to a democratic government where "every male citizen over 18 years was
eligible to attend and vote in the Assembly, which made all the important decisions
of Athens in the 5th century BC…" (Demand 223). This democratic government
is considered by some scholars to show the full enlightenment of the Athenians
in the 5th century BCE.
This glorious enlightenment seems somehow less enlightening,
however, when one views this period from other than a male Athenian’s eyes.
Athenian enlightenment and democracy was by and for male citizens. The underprivileged
of Athens included women, metics and slaves.
The position of Athenian wives
in Athenian society is clearly stated by Xenephon in his Oeconomicus. Ischomacus,
a young husband, is conversing with Socrates about the duties of husband and
wife. Ischomacus relates how he explained to his wife that the duties needed
to support a household consisted of "indoor" and "outdoor" activities. He
then explains to his wife, "And since labor and diligence are required both
indoors and outdoors…it seems to me that the god prepared the woman’s nature
especially for indoor jobs and cares and the man’s nature for outdoor jobs
and concerns." (Spyridakis 206). This is the general attitude that Athenians
held toward their wives. The Athenian wife was expected to marry and bring
a dowry into her husband’s house. Although this dowry was attached to the
woman, she was in no way allowed to control the lands and moneys she might
bring to her husband.. Similarly, women were not allowed to vote or take any
part in the Assembly, being seen as unfit for this privilege. The
primary
function of a citizen’s wife was to take care of domestic affairs and provide
the citizen with an heir. Athenian wives were rarely seen outside of their
houses, for respectable wives had at least one slave who would purchase needed
items at market. Poorer Athenian women were seen at market because they lacked
slaves to run their errands. Women were considered intellectual non-entities
and were treated as such in the Athenian