Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Kurt A. Raaflaub, Josiah Ober

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0520258096

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This book presents a state-of-the-art debate about the origins of Athenian democracy by five eminent scholars. The result is a stimulating, critical exploration and interpretation of the extant evidence on this intriguing and important topic. The authors address such questions as: Why was democracy first realized in ancient Greece? Was democracy “invented” or did it evolve over a long period of time? What were the conditions for democracy, the social and political foundations that made this development possible? And what factors turned the possibility of democracy into necessity and reality? The authors first examine the conditions in early Greek society that encouraged equality and “people’s power.” They then scrutinize, in their social and political contexts, three crucial points in the evolution of democracy: the reforms connected with the names of Solon, Cleisthenes, and Ephialtes in the early and late sixth and mid-fifth century. Finally, an ancient historian and a political scientist review the arguments presented in the previous chapters and add their own perspectives, asking what lessons we can draw today from the ancient democratic experience. Designed for a general readership as well as students and scholars, the book intends to provoke discussion by presenting side by side the evidence and arguments that support various explanations of the origins of democracy, thus enabling readers to join in the debate and draw their own conclusions.

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well on privileging certain criteria (here intended to bring out those aspects that make ancient democracy most comparable to its modern counterpart [110–12]). Its major value lies in presenting a strong argument for placing the emphasis on process, evolution, and continuity at the expense of rupture and revolution: “There was no visible break in the constitutional development from aristocratic to democratic structures.” This makes it difWcult to assign a speciWc date to the birth of democracy,

documents or literary works of even earlier periods help us to Wnd the roots of polis consciousness, egalitarianism, and other prerequisites of democracy, and trace their relations to “people’s power”? Not so far as the Bronze Age, it would appear. Scanty sources from second millennium b.c.e. Greece (material remains revealed by excavations, including thousands of inscribed tablets) permit us to reconstruct in rough outline the administrative, social, and political structures of the society we

contribute, and none is happy to be subordinate or obey. Homeric society recognizes the value and humanity of each individual, even those of low social status. Although the elite may not like it, already men like Thersites are standing up in the assembly and addressing the gathered community. The sentiments of the people are a force to be reckoned with (Od. 16.371–82). Despite his elite focus and aristocratic bias, Homer already reveals some fundamental institutions, practices, and mentalities

word demokratia, which does not Wt the poetic meter (Raaflaub, chapter 5 below). Crucial aspects of the rhetra are that it Wxed the dates, place, and powers of the Spartan assembly, which, even in the classical period, exercised the power by acclamation to decide issues that were brought before it. In a meeting reported by Thucydides (1.87) in 431 b.c.e., following a mass deliberation (1.79), the assembly voted in favor of the ephor Sthenelaidas’s proposal for war, and against King Archidamus. In

inscriptions, is material evidence and poetry. The former only rarely offers insight into political contexts, and when it seems to do so, the interpretation is often uncertain and contested.10 The latter proves unexpectedly rich in social and political information but needs to be read with careful consideration of the conventions and limitations of the genres involved.11 Overall, then, we have at our disposal a very substantial amount of evidence, at least some of which is of high quality. Most

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