Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

6
THE RIVALRIES OF
THE GREEK CITY-STATES
AND THE GROWTH OF
ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY

In the struggle to prevent a Persian takeover of Greece, a powerful sense of Hellenic identity was forged. Eager to prevent a third invasion, a number of Greek states entered into an alliance, the Delian League, led by the Athenians, whose naval strength had been instrumental in winning the war. Because the Athenians controlled the League's treasury, the rise in Athens' prestige and self-assurance occasioned by the war was now compounded by a sharp increase in the city's wealth. Tribute from the League facilitated state pay for public service such as jury duty, thus expanding the number of men who could afford to participate in government. The fact that the lower-class citizens who rowed the triremes were becoming increasingly pivotal to the city's well-being also made it difficult for the rich and wellborn to maintain their traditional monopoly on political power. Democratic reforms consequently undermined the edge wealthy aristocrats enjoyed in politics, though nothing whatever was done to remove the civic disabilities of women or to abolish slavery. Indeed, Athens' imperial ventures probably increased the number of slaves in Attica, and the status of women seems to have declined with the growth of equality among citizen males.

During the decades that followed Xerxes' defeat, moreover, Athens became a major cultural center. Tourists came from all over Greece to observe the tragedies performed in honor of the god Dionysus, and some of the money Athens received to police the seas was diverted to the celebration of religious festivals and to the erection of magnificent public buildings such as the temple to Athena called the Parthenon; for the Greeks' deliverance from Persian autocracy the gods received ample thanks. The tragedians Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles were all born in Athens, as was the comic dramatist Aristophanes, the sculp

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