The Physical Setting of Athens
The Small Size and Sterility of Attica
Attica was a very small country according to modern notions, and Athens the only large city therein. The land barely covered some 700 square miles, with 40 square miles more, if one includes the dependent island of Salamis. It was thus far smaller than the smallest of our American "states" (Rhode Island = 1250 square miles), and was not so large as many American counties. It was really a triangle of rocky, hill-scarred land thrust out into the Ægean Sea, as if it were a sort of continuation of the more level district of Bœotia. Yet small as it was, the hills inclosing it to the west, the seas pressing it form the northeast and south, gave it a unity and isolation all its own. Attica was not an island; but it could be invaded only by sea, or by forcing the resistance which could be offered at the steep mountain passes towards Bœotia or Megara. Attica was thus distinctly separated from the rest of Greece. Legends told how, when the half-savage Dorians had forced themselves southward over the mainland, they had never penetrated into Attica; and the Athenians later prided themselves upon being no colonists from afar, but upon being "earth-sprung,"—natives of the soil which they and their twenty-times grandfathers had held before them.
This triangle of Attica had its peculiar shortcomings and virtues. It was for the most part stony and unfertile. Only a shallow layer of good soil covered a part of its hard foundation rock, which often in turn lay bare on the surface. The Athenian farmer had a sturdy struggle to win a scanty crop, and about the only products he could ever raise in abundance for export were olives (which seemed to thrive on scanty soil and scanty rainfall) and honey, the work of the mountain bees.
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