Home » Atlantis » What exactly is Atlantis?


Written by Graham | Created: Thursday 17th September 2020 @ 1140hrs | Revised: Thursday 15th October 2020 @ 2302hrs

2 3 4 5

Atlantis is an island continent described by the Athenian philosopher Plato in the dialogues Timaeus and, in more detail, the Critias. During the 2,380 years (give or take) since then, Atlantis has gone on to capture the attention and imagination of people throughout the ages. Many have sought it and have expended many hours of research on the subject, producing a breadth of of all manner of weird, wonderful, interesting and, in some cases, downright odd material.

The Timaeus and Critias were two of the last dialogues written by Plato, in about 360 BC, shortly before he began working on his monumental Laws. They follow on from a discussion of the ideal state led by Plato's mentor Socrates, the son of an Athenian stonemason who took it upon himself to incessantly ask somewhat annoying questions. Socrates has ostensibly laid out his plan for an ideal city along the lines of that featured in Plato's Republic, on the day before the setting of the Timaeus and Critias.

Socrates, at the beginning of the Timaeus, from a desire to see his perfect city in a state of war [Tim. 19c], proposes a thought experiment. Socrates' wish to see his city in action is Critias' command. He begins by stating that, remarkably, he has knowledge which has been passed down his family from the time of Solon (an important Athenian lawgiver and statesman who flourished in the period from about 600 to 550 BC), which Solon in turn got from a visit to Egypt from priests in the temple at Saïs.


  • while Athens was granted to Athena and Hephaestus, Atlantis was allotted to Poseidon
  • Atlantis was an island said to be larger than Asia and Libya combined
  • during the time Atlantis was above the waves, the Atlantic Ocean was navigable, and offered a route to islands west of Atlantis as far as a great continent which surrounded the ocean
  • in the centre of Atlantis is a plain reputed to be the fairest of all
  • fifty stades from the plain is a low mountain
  • Evenor, one of the earthborn primeval men of the land, lives in the mountain, and takes a wife, Leucippe
  • the couple have a daughter, Cleito
  • when Cleito reaches maturity, Evenor and Leucippe die
  • Poseidon falls in love with Cleito and encloses her hill in concentric rings of land and water
  • Poseidon also causes springs of warm and cold water, as well as all manner of food, to rise on the mountain
  • Poseidon and Cleito have five sets of male twins, giving the mountain and surrounding portion of land to the eldest, Atlas
  • the island and ocean around it take his name: Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean
  • Atlas' twin - in Greek Eumelus and in Gaditanian Gadeirus - is allocated the extremity of the island towards the Pillars of Heracles, opposite the area of Gades
  • for many generations, the sons of Poseidon and their descendants held sway over many islands in the ocean, as well as the land within the Pillars as far as Egypt and Tyrrhenia
  • they also held islands west of Atlantis as far as the opposite continent, which surrounds the ocean, parts of which they also included in their domains
  • the house of Atlas passes rule of the kingdom down from father to eldest son for many generations, amassing huge store of wealth beyond anything achieved by any other civilisation
  • they received vast tributes from outside Atlantis, and Atlantis itself furnished in plentiful supply all that is needed to maintain a good life
  • very early on, the people of Atlantis took to digging solid and fusile material from the ground, including the famous orichalcum, which was prevalent in many parts of the island and was almost as valuable as gold
  • Atlantis' vast woodlands were harvested for carpentry, and there was much land to maintain healthy populations of wild and domestic animals, including lakes, marshes, rivers, mountains and plains
  • Atlantis had a notable population of elephants
  • in terms of its flora, Atlantis furnished great quantities of the best roots, herbs, woods, fruits and flowers, including those which can be used in agriculture
  • the island is said to have "beheld the light of the sun," possibly a reference to Plato's cave analogy
  • the Atlanteans embark on a series of vast infrastructure projects, building temples, palaces, harbours and docks
  • the first of these were the bridging of the rings of sea separating the metropolis on Evenor's mountain from the rest of the island
  • the palace was built where Poseidon and Cleito dwelt and was augmented greatly over the generations
  • every king felt the need to outdo his predecessor in the grandeur of his building projects
  • a canal 300 feet wide was bored from the sea to connect it to the outermost circle of water, which then functioned as a harbour
  • smaller locks to allow a single trireme to progress to the inner rings of water were dug at the bridges
  • these bridges were fortified using stones quarried from the central island, i.e. beneath the acropolis, and the other zones: these stones were red, black and white, which gave the city its distinctive appearance
  • double docks were also hollowed out
  • the walls around the circles of land were entirely covered with brass, tin and orichalcum, flashing like fire
  • at the centre of the citadel, where the ten archons first saw the light, was a temple to Cleito and Poseidon, surrounded by an enclosure of gold
  • this temple was the site of an annual bestowal of offerings in the form of fruits to the ten kings
  • also here was a temple of Poseidon, covered in silver and gold, with the idol of the god depicted riding a chariot drawn by six winged horses, around which were 100 Nereids riding dolphins
  • inside the temple of Poseidon were images dedicated by private individuals
  • the temple was surrounded by golden statues of all the descendants of the ten archons and their wives, as well as more dedications by private people, both from the city and foreign regions subject to Atlantis
  • around the springs were more buildings and cisterns downstream, both covered and open, providing baths
  • the springs were planted around with orchards, with some of the drawn-off water also being used in the grove of Poseidon, featuring trees of marvellous height and beauty
  • the rest of the water was conveyed to the outer circles by means of aqueducts
  • these rings of land were also filled with temples, gardens and exercise areas in each of them, as well as a race course in the outermost ring
  • there were guardhouses throughout the capital, with the most trusted living near the kings on the citadel
  • the entire capital was ringed by a wall fifty stadia from it all around, beginning at the sea
  • the encircled area was a crowded "lower city," with merchants - something of a bugbear to the sniffy aristocrat Plato - from throughout the world clamouring day and night along the length of the great canal
  • while the whole land was lofty by the sea, the city was surrounded by a level plain surrounded by mountains descending to the sea, in an oblong shape
  • this was 3,000 stadia in one direction, 2,000 stadia across the centre, and sheltered from the north, facing south
  • the mountains around the plain were larger, more numerous and more beautiful than any known in Plato's day
  • within the mountains were wealthy villages, rivers, lakes, meadows and forests
  • over many generations, a great ditch was made around the central plain, receiving the streams flowing from the mountains, before entering the sea at the city
  • the plain was criss-crossed by canals, which also fed into the ditch, and were used to convey goods from the mountains into the city
  • there were two harvests every year, thanks to the winter rains and the advanced irrigation system allowing a summer harvest
  • the plain was divided into 60,000 lots, each having to furnish a set number of men to the military
  • the organisation was similar in the other regions of the land
  • each of the ten archons had absolute power in their own regions, including the ability to pass arbitrary judgements
  • every fifth and sixth year, the archons were to meet for a ceremony endorsing the laws inscribed by the first kings on a pillar of orichalcum in the temple of Poseidon
  • the ceremony also featured a ritual bull hunt with staves and nooses, bulls having free reign in the temple
  • the bull had its neck cut over the pillar as the archons swore to uphold the laws of their forebears
  • after the fire of the sacrifice had cooled, the archons put on azure robes and sat by night to judge each other's conduct, writing their judgmements on a golden tablet, which was dedicated, along with the robes, at daybreak
  • the most important of the laws governing the archons was a pact of mutual defence and the acknowledgement of the supremacy of Atlas' line
  • an archon could only be executed by majority vote of his peers
  • eventually, after many generations in which they remained obedient due to the divine aspect of their nature remaining strong, the archons became corrupted by mortal admixture
  • this prompted Zeus to seek to chastise them to effect an improvement
  • although the Critias abruptly ends at this ominous point, Zeus' admonishment likely took the form of the war between the people from outside the Pillars of Heracles, led by Atlantis, and those inside the Pillars
  • during this conflict, Athens - whose constitution mirrors Socrates' ideal - was acknowledged as leader of the Hellenes and took a key role in the fight against Atlantis and its allies
  • initially, the war seems to have gone Atlantis' way: Athens is gradually shorn of her allies and faces a final stand alone
  • despite overwhelming odds, Athens prevails, liberating the whole of the region inside the Pillars
  • soon afterwards, a major cataclysm occurs, which results in the sinking of Atlantis beneath the sea and of the heroes of Athens beneath the earth
  • as a result of Atlantis' demise, the Atlantic Ocean is no longer passable, being blocked by shoals of mud forming where the island continent formerly stood