The Piraeus was the harbour complex of Athens. Themistocles fortified it in 493 B.C. when Athens began to become a naval
power. There were three harbours, Zea and Munichia
to the east, were used for naval shipping. Zea had 196 shipyards. To the west was the biggest, Kantharos
, which had, in addition to the warships, a thriving emporium
Piraeus had a large number of metics(foreigners living in Athens), and was home to many foreign cults. In 458 B.C. the Long Walls were built to connect the Piraeus to Athens. This made sure that Athens always had a steady supply of food, even during a seige. In 429 B.C. fortifications were added that allowed the harbour mouth to be closed in times of war. At the end of the Peloponnesian war the Spartans destroyed these, to the sound of flutes, but they were later rebuilt.
It revived, even after Athens stopped being the most powerful city in the Mediterranean in the mid 4th century, although it was nowhere near as great as it had been during the 5th century. During the Macedonian occupation it dwindled significantly, and lost its status as the trading centre of the eastern Mediterranean. During this period, the theatre at Zea was built, which is well preserved, and can be seen today.
In 86 B.C. the Roman Sulla destoyed the town. It was so savage that when Pausanias, the Roman travel writer visited, in the 2nd century A.D. he saw very little. To escape destruction several valuable statues were buried. These were found in 1959.
As the headquaters of the fleet the Piraeus was the real focus for Athenian democracy, and as such, it was the primary source of resistance to the regime of the 30 tyrants imposed by Lysander.