Prison of Socrates
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Who is Socrates and why he was in jail

Can one person pose risk to an entire country? The experience of the Soviet Union has shown that it is possible. But this is not the only example of how a totalitarian rule destroys strong and clever people. In Ancient Greece, there is one of the most striking examples of sacrificing individuals to save the foundations of the state system. First of all, this is the story of the execution of Socrates.

When the democrats came to power after the Thirty tyrants had been dethroned, they were trying to restore the former peaceful way of life and create an ideal democratic state. But before starting to build something new, they decided to destroy the original evil — it was the philosopher, whose school of sophistry brought up ardent opponents of democracy and instigators of the aristocratic plots of Critias, Theramenes, Alcibiades and Pythodorus, and Xenophon. It was believed that these were the teachings of Socrates that led to the decline in the morality of the population in Greece. They replaced the usual moral dogmas, religion and the right by personal benefit, which justifies any methods of achieving it.

Such assumptions became the basis for the accusation of Socrates and his subsequent execution. No one explored whether the denunciations were justified or not. The goal was to show an example that all the people who are undesirable to society would be destroyed. The new Athenian democracy were seriously afraid that people would begin to follow the teachings of Socrates and would stop obeying the established laws and rules, stop fulfilling their civic duty, which would lead to overthrowing of the new political system. It was no accident that Socrates became the victim of a democratic reaction. The senior ranks considered his opinion, and therefore a trial of him would turn to be a severe hurt to all the new-fashioned philosophical trends.

To that period of time, the skill of informers was becoming rampant. A certain group formed that consisted of Anytus, Melet, and Lycon, each of whom desired to revenge Socrates:

  • Anytus hated the philosopher because he had put into his son’s head the antipathy to the family business of selling leather. This had very negative consequences, because almost all the family's property had been confiscated during the tyranny of the Thirty, and Anytus wanted to recover his former glory;
  • Melet and Lycon wanted to avenge the fact that Socrates often derided them in public in his ironic manner.

Craving violence, they filed a charge of Socrates to the renewed people's court. The charge said that Socrates was degrading young people’s respect for parents and love for family; was satirizing holding positions by lot, was proving the superiority of aristocrats over the common people, was despising folk Greek gods and introduced the new ones.

Even when he faced with difficult life circumstances, Socrates continued to be the master of his own destiny. If desired, he could get an acquittal and take revenge on the offenders. But he decided to choose a completely different practice. At that time, he was already 70 years old. He was well aware that further illness and oblivion awaited him. That was why he did not justify himself in his speech to the judges, did not try to flatter anyone. Socrates was defending his ideas firmly and confidently, which angered some judges who had a personal enmity for the accused. Finally, the verdict turned into a death sentence by a slender majority: 280 voted for the death penalty, and 221 were against it.

Before the execution of the sentence, Socrates was imprisoned in this jail. His family and friends often visited him and were trying to free him. But Socrates just replied: "The Law is harsh, but it is the law." In fact, Socrates was not executed — he drank the poison himself in the presence of the executioner.

Socrates ' prison: was there Socrates?

It is not known for certain whether Socrates was waiting for his fate here or not. This place was named after Socrates because of the belief that the ancient philosopher was imprisoned at that moment. All the details about the imprisonment and execution of Socrates were derived from dialogues of Kriton and Phaedo.

The archaeological excavations on the Philopappos Hill just indirectly prove the connection of this place with the person of Socrates. Those who firmly believe in this, have armed themselves against skeptics with the following arguments:

  • the dungeon was built in the 5th century looking out over the street;
  • it was situated in a pit under the ground;
  • it had baths, which coincides with surviving written evidence;
  • an old statue of Socrates was found here.

The British historian and archaeologist Thomas Smart Hughes is considered to be the discoverer of this place. It was he who first suggested in the 19th century that this was probably the place where Socrates was staying, awaiting trial.

The opponents of this version claim that the prisoners of war were staying here, but not the great philosopher.

Archaeological research of the Socrates’ prison in Athens in Greece and the surrounding area also revealed that there may have been baths before, as evidenced by the preserved maps and plans of the city. The carved structure probably belonged to a quite imposing two-storeyed or three-storeyed building. The exterior floor has pipes that connect to aqueducts on the facade of the building. A carved staircase to the south served was used to connect with the higher levels of the building. The preserved carved back part of the building consists of three rooms with doorways in the east.

During the World War II, the prison of Socrates in Athens was covered with strong concrete walls and was used as a repository for the antiquities from the Acropolis and from the National Archaeological museum.

As you descend the Philoppapos Hill near the Acropolis, you will see a gloomy niche with a rusty metal mesh, which is cut in the rock. This is the Socrates' prison.


  1. You will not be able to get inside because of the metal mesh at the entrance, so you will have to content with just studying the place from outside.
  2. We recommend that you combine a visit to the prison of Socrates with visiting the Church of Saint Demetrius Lupradiaris, since these two attractions are located 200 m from one another.