Democracy's Beginning: The Athenian Story

Democracy's Beginning: The Athenian Story

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0300215037

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A history of the world’s first democracy from its beginnings in Athens circa fifth century B.C. to its downfall 200 years later

The first democracy, established in ancient Greece more than 2,500 years ago, has served as the foundation for every democratic system of government instituted down the centuries. In this lively history, author Thomas N. Mitchell tells the full and remarkable story of how a radical new political order was born out of the revolutionary movements that swept through the Greek world in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., how it took firm hold and evolved over the next two hundred years, and how it was eventually undone by the invading Macedonian conquerors, a superior military power.
Mitchell’s superb history addresses the most crucial issues surrounding this first paradigm of democratic governance, including what initially inspired the political beliefs underpinning it, the ways the system succeeded and failed, how it enabled both an empire and a cultural revolution that transformed the world of arts and philosophy, and the nature of the Achilles heel that hastened the demise of Athenian democracy.


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had sworn the Heliastic Oath and served as legislators (nomothetai) and jurors (dikastai), and confined the role of the Assembly to foreign affairs and administrative decrees. The role of the jury courts in the democracy will be considered later, but the notion that the nomothetai took over the legislative function from the Assembly seems grossly misleading, and entirely at odds with the intent behind their creation and their impact in practice on the working of the constitution.22 The

moderating the later fifth-century democracy, or at meeting the aspirations of proponents of the so-called patrios politeia who sought limitations on the franchise or restoration of oligarchic features in existence before the reforms of Ephialtes and Pericles. The failure of the proposal of Phormisius showed there was no longer any sympathy for oligarchic sensibilities. Belief in the merits of rule by the people was at its height in 403. Oligarchic sentiment no longer had credit. The constitution

Military action in the Peloponnesus over the next several years was desultory and changed little. Theban interest was centred more on northern Greece, where instability in Thessaly and Macedonia gave scope for expansion of Theban influence. Athens was also preoccupied with its plans in the northern region. In 368 Iphicrates was dispatched with a fleet to the northern Aegean. Amphipolis was, of course, the main target, but Amphipolis was prepared to resist any effort by Athens to impose control,

structures that would work for unity and peace and the common welfare of all Greeks. There were alliances in abundance, but they were generally leagues of neighbouring or kindred states designed to protect their members against other Greek coalitions, and were almost invariably led by a dominant hegemon whose chief concern was its own power. The Greeks fully recognised the many bonds between them – shared ethnicity, cultural heritage and religious traditions. They were also very aware of the

offered to negotiate, the response was a demand for an unconditional surrender.79 But the Athenians fared badly in the naval war. They suffered successive defeats and failed to prevent Leonnatus, satrap in Hellespontine Phrygia, and Craterus from crossing into Europe to reinforce Antipater. The Greek allies suffered other setbacks early in 322. Leosthenes was killed in a skirmish. The Aetolians went home, the reason unknown. The siege of Lamia had to be abandoned. The Greek forces were now

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