CLA160: Lecture 6
Reading #6: The invention of democracy, Thucydides Peloponnesian War
Classical Athens (480-323 BCE)
- Athens was the first western democracy (and considered its origin).
- The rise of the Polis brings changes in these fields: Construction of great monuments
(Parthenon for instance), innovations and creations in poetry and artistry precipitated by
- Democracy permeated all aspects of Athenian life: social, individual, philosophical,
political etc. The conception of the individual and related aspects changed greatly
(lovers, slaves, sex life…).
Athens as a political structure and a way of living…
- It did not always used to be a democracy.
- In the Archaic Period, Athens was governed by the Elite resulting in many conflicts
between the elite and the demos.
- The region of Atheca in which Athens was situated had very poor soil.
- It was monopolized by the rich and the poor paid and worked (and a lot of the times fell
- Around 590 BCE, the situation got so bad that they called upon a mediator (i.e. Leader):
- He dissolved the debt of all citizens and freed them all. Eleutheria: freedom, free of a
master. Eleutheria was the minimum requirement for citizenship.
- He also established a rule that during a war, every citizen had to be engaged in one side
otherwise you weren’t worthy.
- Even after his changes, inequality of wealth and power persisted (he did not redistribute
the land or material goods).
- During the Classical period, the demos started taking more and more power despite the
- Solon didn’t found democracy but he established the basic principles and is considered
one of its fathers.
The Persian war, a turning point… The origin and principles
- During the 6 century BCE, the demos came into being.
- Athens prestige came from its navy and the people who drove the ships were demos,
- Demokratia kratos of the demos, power of the people.
- Their democracy was very much like our own except that nowadays we have to go
through our representative to express our individual opinions and beliefs.
- Athens, by contrast, was a radical and direct democracy. They didn’t have mediators
between the citizens and the government because the demos was the government.
- It was a government for the people, by the people.
- The principle was the following: a rotation of office was determined a sortation (a
selection by lot) held once a year.
- The public voted and renewed each officer at the end of the year (board of citizens).
- Every officer had to report to the demos so an individual’s chance of serving was high.
- The rotation prevented the Elite from taking over and abusing of their power. As a result,