Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Tough decisions! Yes! That's Gordon for you! The problem is thinking of one: national debt? global warming? school standards? Not a peep. But Athenian male citizens over 18 meeting in Assembly never had any problems about taking them, contrarian and painful as they were.

Two examples stand out. Around 483 BC, the lead mines at Laurium in Attica (Athens's hinterland) yielded a fabulous strike of silver. The Assembly usually decided to divide it up among the citizens and make hay. But the statesman Themistocles came up with a less immediately agreeable proposal: it should be used to build a war fleet to take on Aegina, a neighbouring Greek island ('the eyesore of Athens'), and win dominance of the sea. The Assembly saw the longterm advantages and agreed. In the event, it enabled the Athenians to repel the Persian invaders at Salamis two years later and subsequently build an empire that made them fabulously rich.

Fifty years later, war broke out between Athens and Sparta (the Peloponnesian War). Athens's invincibility at sea, however, was matched by Sparta's on land, and the great Athenian statesman Pericles knew that Attica could not be defended. …

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