Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

Synopsis

This book presents a state-of-the-art debate about the origins of Athenian democracy by five eminent scholars. The result is a stimulating, critical exploration and interpretation of the extant evidence on this intriguing and important topic. The authors address such questions as: Why was democracy first realized in ancient Greece? Was democracy "invented" or did it evolve over a long period of time? What were the conditions for democracy, the social and political foundations that made this development possible? And what factors turned the possibility of democracy into necessity and reality? The authors first examine the conditions in early Greek society that encouraged equality and "people's power." They then scrutinize, in their social and political contexts, three crucial points in the evolution of democracy: the reforms connected with the names of Solon, Cleisthenes, and Ephialtes in the early and late sixth and mid-fifth century. Finally, an ancient historian and a political scientist review the arguments presented in the previous chapters and add their own perspectives, asking what lessons we can draw today from the ancient democratic experience. Designed for a general readership as well as students and scholars, the book intends to provoke discussion by presenting side by side the evidence and arguments that support various explanations of the origins of democracy, thus enabling readers to join in the debate and draw their own conclusions.

Excerpt

Over the past thirty years or so, work on Athenian democracy has intensified and yielded most impressive results. The development and functioning of democratic institutions and of the democratic system as a whole, as well as individual aspects, such as the roles of the elite, leaders, and the masses, and democratic terminology, have been analyzed and reconstructed in detail. The sources relevant to the study of democracy have received new editions and valuable commentaries. Democracy’s relation to its opponents, on the individual and collective, political and intellectual levels, its impact on religion, law, warfare, ideology, and culture, and the reactions it provoked from antiquity to our modern age have been reexamined thoroughly and comprehensively. As a result, we are now able to understand Athenian democracy much better and to interpret and discuss it with more sophistication than was ever the case.

Moreover, this democracy is no longer mainly the property of specialists among classicists: it has become a matter of public interest. The year 1993 marked the 2,500th anniversary of a comprehensive set of reforms enacted in ancient Athens in 508/7 B.C.E. The man whose leadership Athenian memory credited with the realization of these reforms was Cleisthenes, a member of the prominent Alcmaeonid family. Some seventy years later, Herodotus stated as a matter of fact that Cleisthenes “had instituted for the Athenians the tribes (phulai) and the democracy” (6.131.1). Unfortunately, the historian did not think it necessary to explain why and how tribal reform and the establishment of democracy were connected. By the late fifth and fourth centuries the Athenians sought the origins of their democracy even earlier, with Solon (a lawgiver of the early sixth century) or even . . .

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