During the Spring and Summer of 2005, Tim Abbott, Anders Kaseorg, and Reid Barton created Project Numenor, a system similar to Athena, and packaged client software for it for Debian.
In February 2006, Nelson Elhage put together packages for Moira and a few other useful Athena programs and started distributing them from his Public directory. Tim Abbott, Nelson Elhage, and Jeff Arnold decided to create a public Linux dialup server for the MIT community using this technology, and Elhage and Abbott created Debian packages for the remaining pieces of useful Athena software. When Linerva was put into production service in early Summer 2006, it provided good Athena compatibility, but could only be installed and managed by an expert.
During Summer 2006 it became clear that Debian and Ubuntu were far more popular than Linux-Athena because of their better support for customizations. Tim Abbott, Anders Kaseorg, and Nelson Elhage reworked the Linerva packages so that a non-expert could install them on a system. Using the techniques and lessons learned from Project Numenor, the packages were redesigned to better conform to Debian policy and be less fragile. The initial release supported Sarge on the i386 architecture, though many people installed the packages on later releases of Debian and Ubuntu anyway.
As the Debian Etch release approached and the Debathena team began to get requests for Ubuntu and amd64 packages, it became clear that a system for maintaining Debathena on more than one distribution simultaneously was necessary. During Spring and Summer 2007, Anders Kaseorg and Tim Abbott reworked all the packages again using the Common Debian Build System (CDBS), with a new system for efficiently supporting several distributions from shared source packages. In mid-August 2007, the Debathena project announced packages for all versions of Debian and Ubuntu supported upstream.
After IS&T expressed interest in adopting Debian or Ubuntu for their next major release of Athena, Tim Abbott and Anders Kaseorg began a collaboration with Athena release engineer Greg Hudson on Athena 10, based on Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and Debathena packages. Shortly before the first public release of “Athena 10”, the project was merged with the Debathena project, in an effort to reduce confusion in the community surrounding the differences between the two projects.
In March 2009, "Debathena Beta" (the first public release of Debathena in the IS&T clusters) was deployed to select clusters around campus. The public clusters were full transitioned to Debathena (with the exception of 4-167, which contains Sun workstations) by August 2009.