AN02a3_New Directions for Government and Society- Greek Democracy (Ch.05)
Timeline: 6th C. – 4th C. BCE
FQ: How did Democracy shape the Greek society during it’s Golden Age?
In the years following the Persian War, Athens entered a period in which it would achieve cultural heights that will become benchmarks of the Western World. In addition, Athens will grow to be a military power in the region. All of these accomplishments were consistently influenced by an Athenian institution that is dear to the hearts of Americans, the experiment with Democracy. In some respects, our democracy was 2300 years in the making- but the debate over issues of rights & liberties continues.
I. Democracy- Greek Style
A. Direct Democracy
Citizens of the polis (city-state) gather as an assembly to make decisions via a voting system.
B. Civic Duty
All Citizens take part in the defense, leadership, and prosperity of the polis. Citizens were those with voting (decision-making) rights and participated in an “Assembly of Citizens”. Only Greek natives of the polis were citizens. Other restrictions to citizenship included the exclusion of women, foreigners, slaves, and those without property. Approximately 80% of Athens’ population were not citizens. (1)
C. Civic Duties
All citizens were responsible for upholding certain values of a democratic society. As is the general belief in our nation today, the foundation of a free society is the equal application of laws. All citizens were responsible to ensure that justice is served as part of their daily civic duties (Equality of Citizens before the Law). This responsibility went beyond their own personal lives to include the lives of non-citizens, who could exercise few legal rights.
D. Free Thinking Citizenry
Education was critically important. This education would be different based on gender. Male citizens would be expected learn History, philosophy, rhetoric, etc. These, and other, disciplines contributed to an academic environment that encouraged investigation and discussion of topics from mathematics to drama.
E. Slavery (2)
The institution of Slavery was not viewed as a failure of Democracy. It was a representation of a ‘natural’ order. A condition of enslavement could be brought about by warfare, debts, or punishment for crime.
Upper Class (Aristocracy) depended on this labor source.
1. Justified Philosophically- Slaves were often incapable of ‘full’ human reason.
2. Treatment varied from inclusion into the master’s family to service at hard labor.
3. Slavery was not necessarily a life-time condition. Manumission (granting of freedom by the owner/ master) was possible.
4. Many slaves attempted to escape Athens and travel to Sparta or other city-states. The 8 – 1 (Slave – Freeman) ratio in Athens during the late 5th C. BCE heightened societal fears of a revolt (Roman Example: Spartacus, 73 BCE). Extreme measures were often taken by these classical civilizations to control large slave populations.
II. Accomplishments of Athenian Democracy During the Golden Age ( Age of Pericles)
For one hundred years Athens flourished and occasionally blundered under the direction of its democratic government. Several key decisions that shaped the culture and prosperity of Athens were made by its citizens via a vote in the assembly.
A. Election of Generals
Besides duties such as making major laws and acting as a court, one of the main duties of the Athenians was to vote on the generals. Some of the more famous Athenians to be elected as generals included Pericles, Themistocles, and Cleon.
B. The Persian Invasion
In 480 B.C., after a dispute over an Athenian colony, the Persian Empire sent two million soldiers and 1,000 Persian ships to Greece to crush the Athenians. As the Persian army approached Athens, the Athenian assembly voted whether to stay in Athens and protect their city, or flee. If they fled, their city would be destroyed, but they could then defeat the Persians at sea where the Athenians were more skillful.
C. The Delian League and building the Parthenon.
Under the guidance of Pericles, Athens took a leading role in a Greek military alliance known as the Delian League. In his enthusiasm for glorifying Athens, Pericles encouraged Athenians to use money from the other members of the Delian League to build a monument to Athens’ glory in the form of a temple known as the Parthenon.
D. War with Sparta
Athens’ imperialism brought the Delian League into conflict with the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League. Sparta resented acts of aggression against its allies and war seemed inevitable if Athens did not cease aggressive acts, such as taking colonies, supporting revolts against Corinth, and issuing trade sanctions. The Athenian Assembly had to decide whether to appease Sparta or go to war.
III. Pericles 5th C. BCE
Pericles was a statesman during the Golden Age of Greece. His impact was so significant during this period that his time as a statesman is often referred to as ‘The Age of Pericles’. As with his predecessor Solon, a crisis was forming that required the presence of a leader who would guide the society’s development. The crisis during the late 6th C. to early 5th C. BCE was the Persian invasion.
Pericles’ was immensely popular among Athenian citizens and thus able to use his influence to pursue many ends, usually for the glory and advancement of Athens and an Athenian empire. Pericles took advantage of Athens’ artistic explosion by pushing for a massive beautification project. Through the arts, he attempted to glorify in a public fashion the values and political uniqueness of Athens. The similarity with Solon didn’t end with the presence of a crisis. Pericles’ reforms were political and economic in nature as well.
A. Economic reforms included creation of a commercial empire by building a naval force to protect a growing merchant fleet.
B. Political reforms included the expansion of salaried public officials. Salaried officials are now tied to the government financially and owe no allegiance to anyone other than the government.
C. Unfortunately for Athens, Pericles often elevated the city-state’s position on the Peloponnese peninsula by weakening or disregarding her allies (Delian League).
The Athenian experiment with democracy lasted about 100 years, gave rights to only 20% of the people in Athens, and was the last major experiment with democracy until 1776. However, the political reforms of Greece’s leaders and the principles espoused by its philosophers will inspire many who were yet to come.
- In both societies (Ancient Athens and Sparta) rights and privileges were never intended for everyone. It was an accepted fact that certain groups of people were not entitled to the rights, privileges and duties of citizens of the polis. Among these disenfranchised peoples you must include slaves, non-citizens, and women (this latter group especially in Athens, less so in Sparta).
- Is it possible that these ancient Greek traits were also inherited by the ‘Western World’ along with the arts and sciences?
- Does our democracy and its principles apply to citizens regardless of race, gender, creed, and economic condition?
Are the words ‘…liberty and justice for all…’ not applicable beyond our borders?