Democracy's Beginning: The Athenian Story
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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.
became a forceful advocate of war against Philip and a formidable counterweight to the policies of Eubulus. Son of a wealthy factory owner, he was a versatile orator of extraordinary ability with strong ideas and a ruthless streak. He had honed his skills in the courts before entering the political arena. His vision of the destiny of Athens harked back to the days of Athenian glory in the fifth century, and he had a Periclean view of the Athenian character as that of a people who led and acted
the entire population, as many as thirty thousand according to Plato, though the archaeological evidence indicates about seventeen thousand. Theatrical performances were seen as a major civic event, an affair of state involving the whole community. There were no known restrictions on attendance. Women and children, even metics, visiting foreigners and slaves were admitted. After a charge for admission was introduced, a special fund (theorikon) was established to provide grants to encourage poorer
effectively to crystallise the issues at stake in a debate, and the motivations and outlook that were driving policy at a particular time. The brilliance of the work of Thucydides was undoubtedly the product of a strong intellect and an exceptional literary talent, but it was shaped in important ways by the new rhetoric and the new intellectual currents that came with the era of the Sophists.22 In a more general way the Sophists made Athens the intellectual centre of Greece, ‘the capital of
had fought with Corinth at Sybota, from the harbours of the Athenian empire and from the Athenian Agora. The exact date and purpose of the decree are uncertain, but it would seem to have been an effort to warn of the cost of going to war with Athens. But it was seen, of course, as another hostile act against a Spartan ally.5 These events were followed by the great debate in the Spartan Assembly in the middle of 432 to which all Sparta’s allies and others who had complaints against Athens were
for future leadership. Populist politicians used it to heighten further the popular fear and suspicion of the young nobility. It brought the recall of Alcibiades, a decision that arguably cost Athens victory in the Sicilian War, and made him a valuable resource for Sparta and a more resolute opponent of the democracy. It widened the gap between the people and the aristocracy as a whole, who saw the masses launch a savage witch-hunt that resulted in the execution or exile of large numbers of young