Athens on Trial by Jennifer Tolbert Roberts

By Jennifer Tolbert Roberts

This wonderful paintings recounts the historical past of perspectives on Athens and democracy over background, with a reminder of simply how lately our stable opinion of democracy, and for this reason of Athens, resurfaces as a side of modernism. this alteration happening through the upward thrust of the trendy, and never relatively entire til the 19th century,at most sensible, is a global old swap of paradigm that reversed the crypto-Platonic authoritarianism of the lengthy millennia after the waning of the nice Classical flowering within the onset of the Hellenistic. This recovery calls for shut learn of the nonetheless ambivalent perspectives even of lots of our nice early sleek thinkers, and is visible in Rousseau's preoccupation with the Spartans. This paintings highlights a vital figuring out required to appreciate not just the Greeks however the upward push of contemporary democracy.

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So does the allegation that the loss of the Peloponnesian War should be ascribed to the INTRODUCTION 15 Athenians’ democratic form of government and the insistence that the politicians who succeeded Pericles lacked public spirit. Facile distinctions between ochlocracy and democracy, between demagogue and statesman, have informed the study of Athenian history, and historians have on the whole showed little sensitivity to the class bias of those Greeks who had the leisure to write about politics.

It was at this juncture that a popular reformer arose in the figure of Cleisthenes, a member of the prominent Alcmaeonid family. Cleisthenes sought to replace old tribal loyalties with a new loyalty to the state by dividing Athens into ten brand-new tribes (replacing the four old ones), each tribe divided among three units known as trittyes, each trittys in a different section of Attica. 4 Through the reshuffling of old tribes and the geographic fragmentation of new 28 CLASSICAL GREECE ones, Cleisthenes hoped to break the hold that powerful aristocratic families had exercised in their self-appointed domains.

At some point during the eighth century the archontate became a ten-year term, and by the middle of the seventh century the term had been cut back to one year and the number of archons increased to nine; the Medontids also lost their special privileges. By the seventh century class conflict had developed that was sufficiently serious to spark an unsuccessful attempt at tyranny by one Cylon, and around 620 Draco was appointed to quell popular unrest by formulating a written law code. The harsh legislation of Draco, later said to have been written not in ink but in blood, failed to put an end to the widespread unrest among the Athenian poor, many of whom were hopelessly in debt to the rich.

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