Athenian Politics, C. 800-500 B.C: A Sourcebook

Athenian Politics, C. 800-500 B.C: A Sourcebook

Athenian Politics, C. 800-500 B.C: A Sourcebook

Athenian Politics, C. 800-500 B.C: A Sourcebook

Synopsis

"Athenian Politics" examines the limitations and problems attendant upon the use of traditional sources to understand Athenian history. Presenting, in translation, virtually all the sources from which scholars have drawn their conclusions about ancient Athenian society--from contemporary accounts and stone inscriptions to Egyptian papyri--Stanton challenges the way scholars have viewed ancient Athens. Covering the period from the reforms of Solon to the constitutional changes of Kleisthenes, "Athenian Politics" explores democracy's paradoxical emergence from the actions of an undemocratic noble elite.

Excerpt

‘How do you know about events so long ago?’ That question, whether articulated or implicit, repeatedly confronts people who teach or write about the ancient world. The question does not admit of a simple answer, because different types of evidence call for different techniques in handling them. This book presents evidence of very diverse kinds bearing on Athenian politics in the period down to (approximately) the Persian Wars. There is the poetry of an aristocrat highly involved in contemporary politics; Solon—for that is his name—reveals values of the times, but he does so within a poetic tradition. There are inscriptions carved on stone, often providing further clues by their finding places; but the inscriptions are frequently incomplete or damaged. There are coherent accounts written long after the events recorded; sometimes the sources are reliable or at least wear their prejudices openly, but sometimes they were written as long after the events recorded as our own time is from the Fourth Crusade. There are papyri found in the sands of Egypt, preserving accounts which have been repeatedly copied. And, of course, there is archaeological evidence, not only from Athens and the surrounding countryside but from sites scattered around the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas, that bears on political affairs in Athens; but one must keep in mind the limitations of archaeological evidence.

There have been various schools of thought about the nature of politics in Athens down to 500 BC. Some scholars have believed that economic interest groups developed during the last century of that period. Others have been prepared to believe the ancient assertion that parties conflicted with each other over the form of constitution Athens should have. The theme of this book, however, is that the politics of this early period in Athenian history are to be understood in terms of factions led by . . .

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