Athens is a large and wealthy city that dominates the Attica region of south-eastern Greece. The city sits just inland on a large plain and is centred around a rocky mount that bears its famous acropolis. This encloses the old palace, the agora and the Parthenon. As the greatest temple to Athena in existence the Parthenon holds a special place in Athenian hearts and is where they honour the patron and protector of their city. The glory of the Parthenon is visible throughout the city and for miles around.
A few miles away on the coast is the Port of Piraeus that gives Athens access to the sea. A cobbled road connects city and port, carrying food and luxuries from all over the Mediterranean to Athens' population.
Whilst the Spartans are famous warriors and the Corinthians are famous traders, the Athenians are famous thinkers. Their democratic government encourages free thinking and dissent, and the most influential philosophers are taught in Plato's school in Athens. The city still fields a strong army and their wealth is envied throughout much of the world.
Since the overthrow of the Hippia Tyranny, Athens is a democracy in which the citizens elect an assembly who make the major decisions. Day-to-day running of the city is done by the civil service whose officers are selected by lot from the citizens. The assembly makes its decisions in the open, using public debates and a vote by the citizens who place coloured stones in jars. This method is even used in criminal trials turning the whole citizenry into a jury.
When Athens lost the Peloponnesian War, Sparta imposed a pro-Spartan oligarchy known as the Thirty Tyrants. Their rule last just thirteen months before a popular revolt saw the return of democracy..
Like other Greek cities, Athens' diplomacy is very complicated. Athens allied with Thebes to defeat the Spartan Hegemony only a year ago, but now the ally looks to be the rising threat. Tensions between Thebes and Athens developed as the two cities wasted no time in asserting their power as victors. Athens now controls one of the larger leagues of cities, rivalling those of Sparta, Thebes and Olynthus.
Athens is famous for its learning, literature and arts. Socrates, the greatest mind of the last generation, lived here and his student Plato is clearly a worthy successor. Thinking is a serious business in the city and a common sight is groups of philosophers squabbling, and even brawling, in the streets. Famously, Diogenes the Cynic has made philosopher-baiting into something of a profession. He hates Plato, calling him an inflated authority figure, and takes pleasure in humiliating and taunting him. Another branch of Athenian philosophy is the great surgeon and healer Hippocrates. He is living in Athens and has founded a school to pass on his knowledge.
Poetry flourishes in Athens and has a political role as well as an artistic one. Comic poets and playwrights put on shows which satirise either a policy, an individual or society at large. Hugely popular with anyone who likes to hate their betters, these satires shape public opinion and many a politician has found their power waning after being lambasted.
To the south of Thessaly, Thebes sits on the southern edge of the Boetian Plain. The city itself lies between the courses of three rivers. Walls run between the rivers to form the northern and southern ends of the city, while the west and east are protected by the rivers themselves. Being a wealthy city, the roads through the walls are paved and many buildings in the city are stone and brick.
Thebes is the rising power on the Greek mainland and dominates the Boetia region. Nearby towns and villages are under its direct control. The Boetian League spreads much wider and is the single largest hegemony in Greece at the moment. Athens is jealous of this power and ancient rivalry between these poleis looks like it will come to a head.
Thebes' position of power was enhanced by their victory over Sparta at the battle of Leuctra. It drove the Spartan army from the field and caused the Spartan Hegemony to break apart. Since then Sparta negotiated terms to end the war, leaving Thebes and Athens as the pre-eminent powers.
Opportunistic, Thebes will ally with anyone to further its own ends. Decades ago when Persia invaded under Xerxes, Thebes sided with them so it could attack Athens. Other Greek cities have not forgotten this unpatriotic attitude, especially Sparta whose 300 warriors died at the Battle of Thermopylae to keep the Persians out of Greece. Not surprisingly, rumours say Thebes used Persian gold to pay for the victory over Sparta. Now a power in Greece, Thebes can expect alliances to be built up against it, just like the one Thebes used to destroy Spartan power.
Like Athens, Thebes is a democracy. It turned democratic a few years ago when the old oligarchy allowed the citadel to be taken by Spartan soldiers to assure their own power. The Spartans were expelled by a popular revolt that freed the city and the oligarchy was swept from power. A few family members of the oligarchs still remain and they would like nothing more than a return to power.
The army of Thebes is formidable and its centrepiece is the Sacred Band which proved itself in the war against Sparta. The Band is an elite force made of 150 pairs of lovers in the belief that warriors will fight harder for those they are close to. Considerable authority is held by The Band's leader, General Pelopidas who helped establish democracy in the city.
Thebes is a market city, selling the goods from the plains to its north and the highlands to its south. Individual wealth brings status and authority, but perhaps not so much as in Corinth. Citizens guard the idea of democracy more fiercely than Athenians who they say are bored with it.
The city's wealth allows many artists to flourish, the most famous of which is Aristides whose paintings of human expressions are unrivalled. Less famous, and bitter about it, is Nicomachu who paints gods and boasts that he is the fastest painter in Greece.
Occupying the centre of the Greek mainland, Thessaly is a large territory controlled by a loose alliance of cities and aristocratic families. The families hold power by right of descent from the ancient kings of Thessaly. There is no clear capital since each family has its court in a different city, though the busiest city is Larissa. The surrounding lands are bountiful making it an agricultural exporter, and the city is also famed for the quality of its horses. Larissa lies amongst the wide open plains of Thessaly but sits in a small depression that shelters it from the weather.
Thessaly features a great deal in the old stories as the original home of Jason and Achilles. The latter's famous band of warriors, the Myrmidons, were drawn from a tribe that still lives on the edge of the territory. Many centaurs live in the region, far more than anywhere else in Greece, and they are a feature of the local politics.
Whilst most of the wealth and power is in the hands of the aristocracies, during an emergency they will come together to elect a high magistrate or Tagus to lead until the danger has passed. The Tagus has extensive powers, including the right to raise levies from all the cities and lead them into battle.
The present Tagus is called Jason of Pherae who got himself elected Tagus by claiming there was a threat from barbarians. He has been Tagus for three years now and has gained nearly absolute power through cunning politics and has almost achieved a tyranny. Unsurprisingly many local aristocrats resent this usurpation of power.