Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The public fury against MPs generated by everything from Iraq to the expenses scandal seems to leave our MPs baffled.

Ancient Athenians would not have been.

There was no respite for those who engaged in democratic politics in 5th- to 4th-century Athens. Since Athenians meeting in Assembly were the government of Athens, they had no compunction in taking action against those whom they had appointed to serve them when, rightly or wrongly, they felt they had been let down in some way or other. Miltiades, the victor against the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC, later led an expedition against the island of Paros without informing the Assembly of his intentions. When it ended in disaster, the crime was compounded. Not only had he abused his powers by acting off his own bat, he was also guilty of gross incompetence. The result was that his political enemies in Athens, of which he had many, were handed a golden opportunity to get their own back. He was prosecuted by one such rival, who sought the death penalty. The Assembly eventually decided to fine him the gigantic sum of fifty talents, possibly because he was dying anyway of gangrene in a wound suffered in the attack. …

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