Cecrops was a mythical king of ancient Athens. Although he was not the first king Cecrops was viewed by the Athenians as their city's ancestor, indeed Athens was sometimes referred to as the City of Cecrops.

There are no myths in which he has parents suggesting he was believed to have been autochthonous, which means he was born of the earth. The autochthonous ancestor was used by many Greeks to explain why they were meant to control their land and we know the Athenians used the autochthonous excuse for their domination of Attica. Cecrops is generally depicted on red figure vases as being half-man, half-snake, apparently this didn't stop him from fathering 4 children, 3 daughters: Aglauros, Pandrosus, and Herse, and 1 son called Erysichthon.

Cecrops is considered to be responsible for civilising Athens, he is credited with the introduction of writing, funeral rites, and monogamy along with several other concepts considered necessary for normal society in Athens. Cecrops is also credited with founding several religious cults in Attica.

There was another Cecrops who also became King of Athens, he was the son of Erechtheus.
  1. One of the mythical kings of Attica, and, according to the commonest tradition, the first. He was born of the very earth of Attica, which thereafter was known as Cecropia, after his name, whereas previously the country had been called Acte. He married Aglaurus, the daughter of Actaeus who was sometimes described as the first king of Attica. Cecrops fathered four children: a son Erysichthon (see second entry under his name), and three daughters, who played a part in the myth of Erichthonia (see Aglaurus). Cecrops was a dual character: the upper part of his body was human and the lower took the form of a serpent, which indicated that he was a son of the Earth.

    During his reign the gods quarrelled about the cities over which they wanted to extend their rule. Athens was coveted by the goddess Athena and Poseidon at the same time. The latter came to Attica and with a single blow of his trident caused a 'sea' of salt water to burst forth from the centre of the Acropolis. Then the goddess appeared and taking Cecrops as a witness she planted an olive tree on the hill. At this point, in order to choose between them, Zeus named the judges, who in some versions of the story are said to be Cecrops and Cranaus, and in others the twelve gods. They gave their verdict in favour of Athena, since Cecrops testified that she had been the first to plant the olive tree in Athens. In a fit of anger Poseidon sent a flood which covered Attica.

    Under the reign of Cecrops, who was a peaceful ruler, civilisation made its first positive advances in Attica. Cecrops taught mankind how to build cities and how to bury the dead. He is also sometimes said to have invented writing and the census.

  2. The roll of the kings of Attica includes another Cecrops, the son of Erectheus.


Table of Sources

  1. - Apollod. Bibl. 3,14,1ff.
    - Marmor Parium, 1,2ff.
    - Paus. 1,2,6; 3,15,5
    - Hyg. Fab. 48
    - Tzetzes, Chil. 5,637ff.
    - Pliny, NH 7,194
    - Cic. De Leg. 2,63
    - Tac. Ann. 11,14
    - Diod. Sic. 1,28,1ff.
    - Ovid, Met. 6,72ff.
    - See also Aglaurus.

  2. See Erechtheus.

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