Athens: Empire and democracy.
Impact of the Persian Wars on Athens over the next 30 years:
Development of radical democracy.
Development of an Athenian ‘empire’ based on maritime power. However, as many historians argue it is wrong to think of this as an ‘empire’ in modern terms. It is an ‘arche’.
Were these two developments linked?
What we need to explain is the enormous dynamism and vitality of the Athenians: energy that led them ultimately to hybris or arrogance.
The paradox of Athens: a society almost constantly at war but which created spectacular artistic and intellectual achievements.
There was democracy but also slavery, openness but restrictive citizenship.
This is what the Corinthians say according to Thucydides 1.70 in arguing for war against the Athenians:
‘The Athenians are addicted to innovation, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough.  Again, they are adventurous beyond their power and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine ’
idealisation of how the Athenians saw themselves?
Athens a latecomer propelled by circumstance and opportunity to achieve great things?
Loren J Samons argues that part of the problem is that Athens has very little in the shape of a ‘heroic past’, of great things that can be attached to it . It needs to create great things.
What do we understand by these terms of ‘daring’, ‘innovative’, ‘adventurous’?
(Rahe) we are not talking about great technological innovation except in the area of military matters, in particular the development of the fleet.
This is not a commercial society, in terms of its values, even though Athens engages in commerce and needs to import much of its grain.
‘Daring’ and ‘innovation’ need to be seen in military and political terms.
Most human societies are relatively conservative like Sparta: why do some, like Athens, move in a different way?
Why do they ‘mobilise’?
And what are the effects of this mobilisation in social and cultural terms?
This comes back to Ober’s idea of ‘efflorescence’. And Herodotus on democracy.
Did democracy ‘unleash’ the Athenians?
Remember the Athens that its inhabitants returned to after Salamis.
Sources: Athenian Constitution of Aristotle, Thucydides ‘Pentecontaetia’, Old Oligarch, Plutarch Life of Pericles.
The Reforms of Cleisthenes prior to the Persian Wars had reorganised the political structure:
Created a common sense of purpose and civic involvement through these reforms.
Envisaged a political order in which the elite would still largely be in control. Property qualifications for office remained,
There was no pay for government service, the Areopagus retained power.
Isonomia: equality before the law.
The fifth century saw the transformation of Athens into a ‘radical’ democracy but this should not be seen as inevitable.
Why did this transformation occur?
The Persian Wars: Marathon followed by Salamis transformed Athens from a minor to a major power in the Greek world. Its power was based on its navy. 1st act was to build city walls in defiance of Sparta.
The creation of the Delian League: War was pursued in the Aegean/Asia Minor to free the Greek cities. Campaign led by the Spartan Pausanias to Cyprus and Byzantium.
‘Arrogance’ of Pausanius led to allies asking Athens ‘who were their own kinsmen’ to take over leadership of the war. League set up with its treasury at Delos to fight Persians: some states furnish ships, others money. ‘Hellenic treasurers’ receive ‘tribute’.
Most cities sent money except Samos, Chios, Lesbos. Athenians did the bulk of the fighting, particularly under the leadership of Kimon. Actions at Eion, Eurymedon in Pamphylia c. 467. Samons notes that some of these battles were in the western Aegean and had more to do with building an Athenian empire than defeating the Persians.
Kimon is, for us, a somewhat shadowy figure. He comes from one of Athens’ leading families the Kimonids, just as Pericles is a Alkmeonid. They had both been involved with the Peisistratids. Athens left tyranny behind but the old important families continued to dominate. They could do so because the position of strategos or general was elective and they had prestige and status.
Also members of league who failed to deliver or tried to leave were forced to rejoin. Naxos c. 471, and then later Thasos c. 465. Problem was how to ensure that cities contributed: answer was compulsion.
465: Messenian revolt in the wake of earthquake. Athens helps but then its troops sent home. 460+ 1st Peloponnesian War primarily against Corinth.
Egyptian campaign 460–454 leads to loss of Athenian fleet.
Truce in 451 between Athens and Peloponnesians. Campaign in Cyprus.
450: ‘Peace of Callius’: not mentioned in Thucydides. But no further campaigns against Persia. Was there any further need for the Delian League? But they had accepted the empire and had no desire to give it up.
C.453 treasury of the league moved from Delos to Athens. Athenians began using the funds for their own purposes, including from 447 the construction of the Parthenon. The greatness of Athens rests on its capacity to extract funds from its empire.
Athenian tribute lists: from the 450s: record the sixtieth of the tribute that went to Athena.
Athenian control of the empire or arche: Meiggs claims that change in terminology from ‘the alliance’ to ‘cities that the Athenians control’ early 440s. But also use of garrisons, sending out of Athenian officials to consult with local magistrates, cultivation of ‘friends of Athens’ proxenoi, sending out of settlers to establish cleruchies in certain allied states.
Other controls: allies only to use Athenian coinage and weights and measures, reference of law cases involving the death penalty to Athens.
How onerous was the empire?
Athenians claim that the members of the empire were used to being treated as equals. At a later stage Isocrates claims that ‘The Lacedaemonians put more men arbitrarily to death in three months than we brought to trial in the whole course of our empire.’ But the strong dominate the weak as a matter of course. The empire brought stability, many of its members were very small and in need of protection. But there were members who chafed and were willing to revolt: eg Samos in 441.
Athenian Tribute Lists
Photograph © David Gill, 2001.
Created by on 1 November 2001.
Displayed on the Athenian akropolis.
The numbers represent 1/60th of the tribute paid, e.g. Karpathos, 16 dr 4 ob x 60 = 1000 dr tribute.
Left hand side:
Myrina by Kyme (I. 29)
Gryneion (I. 30)
Isindos (I. 12)
Karpathos (IV. 51)
Arkesseia (IV. 53)
Pygela (I. 11)
Kameiros (IV. 59)
Ialysos (IV. 58)
Kalydnioi (IV. 9)
Lindos (IV. 56)
Pedies, Lindian (IV. 57)
Chalketor (IV. 33)
Cherronesioi (IV. 61)
Right hand side:
Galepsos (III. 54)
Berge (III. 51)
Therambos (III. 10)
Mende (III. 12)
Neapolis by Antisara (III. 55)
Akanthos (III. 19)
Stageira (III. 49)
Torone (III. 15)
Skione (III. 11)
Ikos (III. 3)
Aineia (III. 27)
Olophyxos (III. 22)
Peparethos (III. 1)
Sermylia (III. 13)
The empire clearly favoured Athens by bringing in the money that she needed both to fund her navy but also to provide outlets and opportunities for her people.
It helped to create the conditions for radical democracy.
War had mobilised the population and given them a common goal that transcended differences of class and status.
487: Archons chosen by lot from a group of 500 chosen by the demes. Only office to be filled by direct election strategoi or military leaders, one for each tribe, also had some civil functions.
Selection by lot seen as democratic as opposed to election which is seen as aristocratic
462: Areopagus stripped of many of its powers, including the right to set aside ‘unconstitutional’ decisions of the Assembly.
Other reforms followed:
right of all citizens to speak on matters of public interest at the assembly,
lowering of property qualifications for office holding,
the introduction of pay for government service,
In 451 citizenship was limited to those who had both an Athenian mother and an Athenian father. This was an anti-aristocratic measure
440s introduction of pay for those serving as jurors in the people’s courts.
What is involved is the transfer of power from aristocratic/elite institutions to popular institutions. Most Athenians were thetes and oarsmen.
Empire created money and jobs for them.
* Key institutions: strategoi: generals
Boule or Council: selected by lot from lists supplied by the demes, each deme having membership according to its size. 500 members. Selected annually, later 2nd term possible. Met daily, business prepared by a changing committee of 50. Had judicial, administrative functions but its main task was to prepare the agenda for the ekklesia or council.
ekklesia: Open to all males over 18. 5,000 attended. Boule prepared agenda and drafted resolutions. Anyone could speak. Required no. of meetings but Boule or strategoi could call extra ones.
Aristocrats/elite had to compete with others, no longer had a formal advantage. But they could still achieve prominence and competed with each other for political power. ie Elite weren’t excluded.
Ober: democracy worked because the elites and ordinary people worked together.
Mixture of social cohesion and solidarity with competitiveness. ie brought together aristocratic and hoplite values.
Power of words, language. Democratic culture meant that to exercise leadership you needed to be able to convince people. Matters of state to be decided through debate and discussion. ‘Performance culture’: key is capacity to perform in public, to use words. Arrival of Sophists in Athens to teach morality and rhetoric.
Why is this happening?
The involvement of ordinary Athenians, thetes, in the business of empire.
The capacity of Athens to pay for political activity.
The dynamism generated by the development of the empire and the creation of opportunities for ordinary Athenians. The empire creates possibilities and the ordinary people are needed. Thucydides: image of the Athenians as risk taking and opportunistic. In part because they had broken down old restraints: naval, democratic, active.
Pericles: rose to prominence in the 440s. Same family as Cleisthenes. Radical democrat, great orator, patriot and incorruptible. Strategos from 443 to 429, elected annually. But the source of his power was personal not institutional.
Pericles’ building programme: Old temples in the Acropolis had been destroyed by the Persians, after peace in 448 Pericles inaugurated a building programme, the Parthenon completed in 438, followed by the Propylaeum. Parthenon: constructed of marble, in the cella stood Phidias’s 12 metre statue of Athena, gold and ivory. 160metre frieze ran along the outer wall of the cella depicting Attic citizens in a Panathenaic procession. Statement of Athenian greatness.
As a naval power and with its new wealth it is able to bring new and exotic goods to Athens, outsiders are drawn into Athens, foreign words and customs. Athens ‘New York’ of its day. Intellectuals, tradesmen and business people flock to Athens.
Following quote from the funeral oration from Thucydides we can see Athens lauded as a place of action, daring through mass participation in political decision making. Athens as a unified patriotic community doing great things together, in which divisions do not matter and in which people are free.
‘Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.’
‘instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. Again, in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons;’
Compare the ‘Old Oligarch’:
‘For if the poor and the common people and the worse elements are treated well, the growth of these classes will exalt the democracy; whereas if the rich and the elite are treated well the democrats strengthen their own opponents. In every land the elite are opposed to democracy. Among the elite there is very little license and injustice, very great discrimination as to what is worthy, while among the poor there is very great ignorance, disorderliness, and thievery; for poverty tends to lead them to what is disgraceful as does lack of education and the ignorance which befall some men as a result of poverty.’
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