Ancient Athenian Democracy in General During the Fifth and Fourth Centuries bc

Because Athenian democracy inscribed its state documents on stone (most regularly from c. 460 onwards) and Athenians (and non-Athenians who lived in Athens) produced a great deal of literature in the fifth and fourth centuries, we have more information

4 On the extinction of democracy see G. E. M. de Ste Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient World (London, 1981), Appendix IV, and chapter 5, this volume. J. M. Bryant, Moral Codes and Social Structure in Ancient Greece: a sociology of Greek ethics from Homer to the Epicureans and Stoics (Albany, NY, 1996), ch. 5 ('Fourth-century Greece and the Decline of the Polis') argues for the combined external Macedonian pressure with internal conflicts between rich and poor in a fragmenting civic order. For an overview based on his previous prolific and distinguished studies see M. H. Hansen, Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: structure, principles and ideology (Oxford, 1991).

5 See A History of Political Thought, volume 2, ch. 6.

6 E. M. Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave: the foundations of Athenian democracy (London, 1988), pp. 14—15.

7 See, for instance, M. H. Hansen, The Athenian Assembly in the Age of Demosthenes (Oxford, 1987), pp. 5-6; J. T. Roberts, Athens on Trial: the antidemocratic tradition in western thought (Princeton, 1994). The classic is M. I. Finley, Democracy Ancient and Modern (London, 1973); see also M. H. Hansen, 'Was Athens a Democracy? Popular rule, liberty and equality in ancient and modern political thought', Historisk-filosofiske Meidelelser 59 (Copenhagen, 1989), pp. 3-47.

about Athens than about any other classical Greek polish These documents show that as a political system and as a set of ideals ancient Athenian democracy was not representative. Unlike indirect democracies which centre on elections of representatives, Athenian democracy as a political system was direct rule by the citizens in Assembly (Ekklesia) and Courts (Dikasteria). In the Assembly, the decisions concerning major communal issues were taken in public by a simple majority, usually by a show of hands, after open debate between all citizens who wished to participate. Nor was there any state bureaucracy to speak of beyond a few public slaves who acted as officials to keep copies of treaties, laws and lists of taxpayers.

But classical Athenian society was segregated by sex and status, determined by the opposition between free and enslaved. A citizen was defined as male, aged eighteen and over, and of free birth, itself eventually defined (451 bc) as having both parents as citizens without regard to wealth or rank. Citizenship therefore excluded all women: they were responsible for maintaining the household (oikos), that is, they were not only crucial to bearing and raising children but they supervised the household economy and the work of slaves. And there is ample evidence that many women worked in the fields, sold produce in the market, were nurses and midwives.' Their work was the sine qua non which provided their men access to the wider life of the polis. Citizenship also excluded many other inhabitants, notably slaves (see below, p. 25) and metics — those non-Athenian Greeks and other free aliens who were legally required to have a citizen protector or patron (prostates) and were liable to taxation and military service.10 Athens could confer citizenship on such men as a mark of favour but they had no right to it as residents. It has been estimated that during the fifth and fourth centuries the numbers of citizens fluctuated between 20,000-40,000 amid the 200,000 or more inhabitants of Attica."

If the vast majority of Greeks were not entitled to participate in political life, that is, they were excluded from what went on in the law courts, the Council (Boule), the Assembly (Ekklesia), theatre, agora (civic centre and market-place) and battlefield, ancient Greek sources of all kinds nevertheless insisted that politics and the political life of citizens were privileged above the private and personal life. Citizens were regarded as equals in the sense that each could claim the right of private free speech (parrhesia) in general, and equality of public speech (isegoria) in the Assembly, without regard to aristocratic lineage or wealth. The polis, then, was a society of citizens (not inhabitants) concerned with communal matters.

Committees and annual offices were filled by lot and this meant that a considerable proportion of Athenian citizens had direct experience in government, even if many of their duties were of a limited and routine character.12 Their political education was on the job. Rotation of offices and limited tenure encouraged the involvement of large numbers of citizens in political-judicial activities. Selection of most office holders by lot

8 See Hansen, Athenian Democracy, ch. 2, pp. 4-26 on the ancient evidence, what has survived and the gaps in our knowledge.

9 In general on attitudes to women see S. Potneroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves (New York, 1975).

10 Hansen, Athenian Assembly, pp. 34ff. and n. 232, pp. 149-50.

11 In general see Cartledge, The Greeks, and R. K Sinclair, Democracy and Participation in Athens (Cambridge, 1988), p. 114.

12 Aristotle, Athenaion Politeia [AP] 51 gives examples.

was meant to limit the possibilities of the emergence of one powerful individual or faction. Before taking up office each citizen underwent a preliminary scrutiny (dokimasia) before a jury court to determine his citizen ancestry, deme membership (see below, p. 26), whether he treated his parents well, paid his taxes, served on military expeditions, and fulfilled his religious responsibilities: 'they ask whether he has an ancestral Apollo and a household Zeus and where their sanctuaries are'.13 After his year in office the official publicly had to account for his conduct (euthynai), submitting financial accounts to auditors and advocates who were appointed by lot from the whole citizenry. 'There is nothing in the city that is exempt from accounting, investigation and examination.'14 Serious offences in office or a failure to render proper accounts resulted in prosecutions, private and public suits15 and impeachment (eisangelia).

Certain military officials who commanded the army and navy, most notably the ten strategoi or generals were, however, elected by the Assembly rather than put in office by lot and these men could be re-elected and build up experience and influence. In a society geared to warfare this was seen as a necessity.16 But the making of policy and administrative decisions in the Assembly, which all citizens were entitled to attend and for which they were paid from the 390s, characterized the exercise of democracy.

Athens had been given a first code of laws by Drako (621) and a second by Solon (594/3). Until the end of the fifth century further laws were enacted and the Assembly made decrees which were 'published', that is, inscribed on stone pillars and erected on the Acropolis and in the Agora for all to see. At the end of the fifth century the laws were republished and a revised code was completed.17 This means that the Assembly acted under the rule of law. Where changes to the law were proposed, the Assembly could initiate the change only after due consideration.18 The fundamental laws and institutions (nomoi) of the polis were not easily disregarded by, for instance, votes to alter them by a decree in a single Assembly.1'' Indeed, every year in the Assembly, after c. 400, there was a vote of confidence in the laws. Justice according to the laws was dispensed by citizen juries, members of which were chosen by lot and paid for daily attendance. These laws (nomoi) were not simply Athens' 'legal system'. The nomoi did not differentiate legal from moral concepts and therefore they encompassed customs and 'a way of life' as well as actionable misdeeds which were, at the same time, moral misdeeds. Included here was religious non-conformity.2H

In this agrarian society (Attica) with an urban centre (Athens), the incorporation of the peasant farmer and the urban craftsman as full members of the political community appears to have been an ideal peculiar to classical antiquity (and rarely repeated). The problem for modern scholarship has been to assess the degree to which this ideal was realized in practice.

13 Aristotle, AP 55.3.

14 Aeschines, Against Ktesiphon, 3.20—2.

15 Aristotle, AP 54.2.

16 Pseudo-Xenophon, On the Constitution of Athens, 1.2—3.

17 Decree and Law (403) quoted by Andocides, On the Mysteries, 83-4, 87 in P.J. Rhodes, Ihe Creek City-States: a source book (London, 1986), p. 124.

18 Sinclair, Democracy and Participation, p. 221.

19 M. H. Hansen, The Sovereignty of the People's Court in the Fourth Century Br. and the Public Action Against Constitutional Proposals (Odense, 1974); and M. H. Hansen, Eisangelia (Odense, 1975), pp. 161-206.

20 See Bryant, Moral Codes and Social Structure, especially ch. 4.

The Attic countryside in classical times comprised numerous small properties owned and worked by peasants and their families. Some would be able to afford a slave or two whose main work was in the house but who would also help in the fields, especially at harvest time. These slaves, mostly non-Greeks, were acquired as chattel, by capture or purchase. The relatively few large estates owned by wealthy citizens were supervised either directly by the landowner or by estate managers who oversaw their stock of farm labourers comprising slaves and casual hired labour. The latter consisted of propertyless citizens or small farmers whose own properties were insufficient to support their families. Apart from the large numbers of slaves who worked in the silver mines at Laureion (whose silver deposits enabled the expansion of the Athenian navy but temporarily went out of production in the final years of the Peloponnesian war), the bulk of Athenian slaves worked as domestic labourers or in the lower echelons of the civil service as policemen, recorders of laws and treaties, in 'white collar' services as business agents, clerks or scribes, bank employees, magistrates' assistants and craftsmen.21 Slaves were undoubtedly essential to Athenian life.

But it is now thought to be too much of an oversimplification to describe the Athenian economy as 'simply' based on 'the slave mode of production'.22 Rather, it should be seen as centring on the Athenian citizen who was both the 'productive base' and the focus of the political system.23 The independence of citizens as free men, whether labourers in agriculture, in crafts, in business ventures or as small owners, an independence from bonds to the wealthier, typified polis life with its distinctive form of property relations and labour organization24 and its recognition of these men as entitled to political participation. There is little doubt, however, that the availability of slave labour allowed even moderately poor citizens the leisure sufficient to participate in the 'affairs of state'. Eighteenth-century European commentators were distressed by the possibility of such men being admitted to deliberations on 'matters of state'. As we shall see, Plato and Aristotle also argued against the engagement in political deliberation by these sorts of unleisured amateur; for the political philosophers, statesmanship was a skill that could only be perfected either by a small group of naturally talented and highly trained men (Plato) or by those with sufficient leisure to enable them to have experiences beyond those of private economic survival so that they could then develop the kind of habitual behaviour that was considered suitable to men engaged in political deliberation on the common good (Aristotle).

21 Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave, p. 45; Sinclair, Democracy and Participation, pp. 197-8; Bryant, Moral Codes and Social Structure, ch. 4 on the inappropriate modern analogy, already signalled in Marx and Weber, between this society based on landed property, agriculture and growing seaborne trade interdependence, and later capitalism with its polarization of town and country. The political economy of polis society was not orientated towards maximal utilization of productive forces but towards the civic existence of the citizen.

22 Modifying the positions of G. E. M. de Ste Croix, The Class Struggle and P. Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (London, 1974).

23 Hansen, Athenian Assembly, pp. 32ff. and Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave, passim. Max Weber, Economy and Society, ch. 16 argued for the peasant-citizen as the bearer of ancient democracy. In contrast, Bryant, Moral Codes and Social Structure, pp. 137-8 argues that the peasant's political ascent from bondage fostered the emergence of a slave mode of production, the polis ideal of free and independent self-governing citizens being intimately linked to chattel slavery.

24 Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave, pp. 88-9; M. Austin and P. Vidal-Naquet, Economic and Social History of Ancient Greece (London, 1977), p. 15. ^ .

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