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The Themistoclean Wall was built by the Greeks as a result of the Persian Wars and in the hopes of defending against further invaders. The Persian Wars were waged by the Achaemenid Empire of Persia in an attempt to conquer the Greeks. King Darius I, who was unsuccessful in his invasion attempt, was proceeded by his son, Xerxes I. The Second Persian Wars lasted from 480 to 479 BCE. Xerxes saw more victories than his father, successfully burning down Athens. Following the aftermath of the Persian Wars, the Greek city states were left in disarray. Many buildings, statues, and fortifications of the Greek city states were destroyed. Worried about a return of the Persians, the Greeks quickly began rebuilding their fortifications, including their walls. In 479 BCE, the Themistoclean Wall began to be used.[1] The Long Walls were another Athenian construction. These walls, completed in 450 BCE,[1] were made to connect Athens to its port cities in Phaleron and Piraeus. These were built in response to growing hostility and tensions between Athens and Sparta, who did not agree with the Athenian reconstruction of fortifications with Themistoclean Wall following the Greek victory in the Persian Wars.


Themistoclean Wall at the Kerameikos.

The Themistoclean Wall's primary function was for defense. Following the Persian Wars, Athens began to rebuild using this technique, which Sparta did not agree with because of the threat Athens posed to them.[1] Athens built a Themistoclean wall around its perimeter as a defensive mechanism. A wall surrounding the acropolis acts a defensive measure from intruders and also was a way to reuse destroyed temples from the Persian invasion. These walls were not Themistoclean Wall, but also were constructed through the use of spolia. These walls were made from the temples that were destroyed on the acropolis of Athens in the Persian invasion. One of the temples that was used to build these walls was the Old Temple of Athena.[1]


The aftermath of the Persian Wars had a serious affect on many Greek city-states, particularly Athens. Athens was sacked by the Persians, with a lot of the city being destroyed. The people of Athens were worried of another return of the Persians, so they decided to act quickly and rebuild fortifications. Themistocles advocated for the building of the walls, buying time for Athens when Sparta was questioning their construction.[1]

The Themistoclean Wall was built with spolia. Spolia is the re-purposing of old materials, in this case destroyed temples, statues, and other ruins. Because Athens was sacked in 480 BCE, all components of the wall were made prior to 480 BCE.[1] The reason that this technique was used was because of the rushed nature of the building and the readily available resources that could be used as spolia due to the destruction of Athens from the Persian invasion.

Use of Spolia at the Odeion of Agrippa in Athens

Origin of the name

The name for Themistoclean Wall comes from the Athenian general Themistocles, who was held of high esteem among the Greeks.[2] He was a military strategist that most significantly saw to the growth of the Athenian navy and recognized the advantages of the port city of Piraeus.[1] He proposed the shift of their naval center from Phaleron to Piraeus, which would become the largest center for trade and commerce as a result, eventually becoming the fourth largest Greek municipality. The "Decree of Themistocles" was a decree that was a military strategy proposed by Themistocles during the Persian Wars. His plan was controversial because of the radical nature of it.[3] The proposition was to evacuate the women and children from Attican cities and play a defensive role in the future battles. This tactic was done to lure the Persians into the Straits of Salamis, where the naval battle the Battle of Salamis occurred. Due to his build up of the Athenian Navy and his strategic prowess, Themistocles was able to defeat the Persian forces here, officially stopping the Persian invasion of Greece. These military endeavors and his leadership role that he held in Athens during the Greek Classical Period contributed to his name's legacy.

Themistocles, 524 BCE - 459 BCE


The Themistoclean Wall had a number of gates, many of which have been excavated in whole or in part. The most important were:

  • Dipylon Gate (Δίπυλον, "Double Gate"), originally the Thriasian Gates (Θριάσιαι Πύλαι)
  • Sacred Gate (Ἱερὰ Πύλη)
  • Peiraic Gate (Πειραϊκαὶ Πύλαι, "Gate of Piraeus")
  • Demian Gate (Δήμιαι Πύλαι, "Gate of the Executioner")
  • Eriai Gate (Ήριαι Πύλαι, "Gate of the Graves")
  • Acharnian Gate (Ἀχαρνικαὶ Πύλαι, "Gate of Acharnae")
  • Northeastern Gate (modern name, ancient name unknown)
  • Diochares Gate (Διοχάρους Πύλαι), not excavated
  • Hippades Gate (Ἱππάδες Πύλαι, "Gate of the Riders") or Gate of Aegeus (Αἰγέως Πύλαι)
  • Diomeian Gate (Διόμιαι Πύλαι, "Gate of Diomeia"), not excavated
  • Itonian Gate (Ἰτώνιαι Πύλαι)
  • Halade Gate (Ἅλαδε Πύλαι) or eastern Phaleric Gate (Φαληρική Πύλη), not excavated
  • South Gate (modern name, ancient name unknown) or western Phaleric Gate (Φαληρική Πύλη)
  • Dipylon above the Gates (Δίπυλον το ὑπέρ τῶν Πυλῶν)
  • Melitides Gate (Μελίτιδαι Πύλαι, "Gate of Melite")

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Neer, Richard T. Greek Art and Archaeology: a New History, c. 2500-c. 150 BCE. Thames & Hudson, 2012.
  2. Peck, Harry T. “Athenae.” Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harper and Brothers, 1898. Perseus,
  3. Sage, Michael M. Warfare in Ancient Greece: a Sourcebook. Routledge, 1996.


  • Peck, Harry T. “Athenae.” Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harper and Brothers, 1898. Perseus,
  • Neer, Richard T. Greek Art and Archaeology: a New History, c. 2500-c. 150 BCE. Thames & Hudson, 2012.
  • Wees, Hans Van. Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities. Gerald Duckworth & Co., 2004.
  • Sage, Michael M. Warfare in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook. Routledge, 1996.
  • Judeich, Walther (1931) (in German). Topographie von Athen (2nd ed.). Munich: Beck. 
  • Theocharaki, Anna Maria (2011). "The Ancient Circuit Wall of Athens: Its Changing Course and the Phases of Construction". pp. 71–156. Digital object identifier:10.2972/hesp.80.1.0071. 
  • Winter, F. E. (1971). Greek Fortifications. Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-608154244. 

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