Athena and Poseidon | The Story of How Athens Got Its Name

How Athens Got its NameWe were in Athens a few years ago, and as always, I was researching interesting and exciting stories about the ancient city. I was on a mission to keep my kids entertained and engaged in the traveling process. One of the coolest stories is about Athena and Poseidon and how Athens got its name.

My kids love stories of the ancient gods, so this made finding cool stories much easier in Athens.

A long, long time ago, there was a king. The King’s name was King Cecrops; he was a pretty cool character. He was half human and half snake and had a fantastic and vibrant city, on an island, in the Mediterranean Sea. He decided he needed to have a patron of this awesome place. A patron is someone who backs, protects, and supports the city. He decided that he would call upon two of the most powerful gods/goddesses, Athena and Poseidon, to ask if they would like to become patrons of the city.

Athena and Poseidon

Athena and Poseidon

The truth is, these two gods had already been fighting each other over becoming the protector of the beautiful city! Poseidon was known as the god of the seas. You can always tell when you are looking at an image or statue of Poseidon because he will have the trident, or three-pronged spear. Poseidon was also the brother of the great god, Zeus.

Athena and Poseidon

Athena was the goddess of wisdom and was the daughter of Zeus. She was very smart and offered that instead of a war, she and Poseidon could have a contest of sorts. She thought they should each give a gift to the city, and whomever gave the best gift would become the patron of the city! King Cecrops was going to judge the contest in front of the entire population of the island.

How Athens Got its Name

The whole city gathered together to watch the competition between Athena and Poseidon, and they were not disappointed. Poseidon was the first to go. He stood tall, pulled back his mighty trident, and threw it toward the ground! A large spring burst through the dry soil and produced a wonderful spring of water in a very dry city. The people rushed forward to drink the water and found that it was salty and not drinkable. The people of the city thought, “This was cool, but what could we do with the salty water?!”

Athena and Poseidon

Now the great and intelligent Athena stepped forward and threw her spear into a nearby rock. In just moments this rock sprouted an olive tree! The olive tree could multiply into many olive trees from its seeds. It could supply the city with olives and olive oil for lamps and cooking. The tree could also be used for wood to build houses and buildings. Clearly, Athena’s gift was better than the salty water. The crowd cheered, and the King decided Athena was the winner; she was named Patron of the city! Thus, the city was named Athens! 

Athena and Poseidon

Fun Fact – If you are visiting the Acropolis in Athens, stop to look around. The largest structure at the top is called the Parthenon of Athena. “Parthenon” is the Greek word for “virgin” (relating to Athena – her full name was Athena of Parthenon), and this was the temple built for her after she became the patron of Athens.

If your kids are with you, you might want to show them the exact place where this amazing contest took place, which is in the photo below. This is the temple Erechtheion at the Acropolis. It is built on the exact site where this competition took place. Some say if you look really hard you can still the scar of Poseidon’s trident and the original rock where the tree sprouted. Have your kids look – you never know they might find it!

Athena and Poseidon

Some say that Poseidon did not take losing lightly and cursed the city with a water shortage that is still a problem for modern-day Athens.

How Athens Got its nameHere are my boys – one is throwing the trident and the other is going to sprout the olive tree! I hope you enjoyed the story of Athens and watch for our upcoming posts on the top five stories to tell your kids about Athens!

This is part of #SundayTraveler. Please visit some of my other favorite travel pages below!


– Stacey

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  1. Ohh, I'll be sure to call you when my little man starts asking about Greek Gods - you can tell him this story. You're so great at how you keep the boys entertained and engaged. Kudos Mama and big thanks for linking up with us to #SundayTraveler again.
  2. I really enjoyed learning from you about the legend behind Athens name. I bet my kids would be keen on trying to find where the trident struck and where the olive tree sprouted.
  3. I knew Athens was named after Athena but this was such an interesting and cool story. I will definitely repeat this story when we make it to Athens with the kids. My kids are very much into mythology and especially the Percy Jackson series so it would be neat to visit all the ruins. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and more inspiration to visit Athens soon.
  4. What an interesting story! I've known that Athens was named after Athena, but I have never actually known the whole legend behind it. You really know how to make a visit and stories about historical sites interesting. Read it in one breath. Thanks for linking back to our site :)
    • Aww thanks so much! Well you know if I don't keep my kids (and husband) entertained I can't go ~ so I actually do it so I can keep traveling LOL! thank you for reading and for inviting me to #SundayTraveler and your awesome page
  5. Thanks for the beautiful story and tip! I have my own shorter version of the story [wink]. Poseidon was the brother of Zeus. Athena was the daughter of Zeus. Poseidon was a cool uncle and loved his niece Athena. So she got the city on her 18th birthday.