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Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4

Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4 Discussion of Term 1 Lecture 2 Sixth Centry BC Key Questions

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  1. *This topic is for discussion of key questions from Term 1 Lecture 2: Athens in the Sixth Century BC* *•Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms?* *•Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history?* *•Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis?*
  2. *Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms?* Solon is often seen as a champion of democracy, and in fact he was even voted into office (supposedly as an all-powerful leader at a time of social crisis). However, the division of citizens into four political classes, which is one of Solon’s dominant reforms, is decidedly undemocratic. This is largely because the top group of the four (Pentacosiomedimnoi) were the only ones allowed to run for high office as Archons, meaning that only they could be admitted into the Areopagus. Exacerbating factionism seems to me to be moving further away from democracy as we expect it to be, when each faction is assigned according to Solon’s decision on how much political power the weak vs the powerful should have. Also, can his reforms to free the indebted from debt-bondage be considered democratic at all, or just people-pleasing? Considering that these are, as far as I can see, the most important changes made under Solon, I cannot see how these alone uphold him as a figurehead of democracy.
  3. 1. The reforms of Solon were far from democratic, even by the standards of 5th century Athens; they maintained class division and restricted rights from the poor, such as holding office and indeed voting. How could a government that didn't represent such a vast group vast of people be considered democratic? However the reforms were undeniably a step in the right direction and without them further social change might not have been possible. 2. Regardless of Peisistratus' political record, the benefits he brought to Athens in his tyranny cannot be denied. So many of Athens' most iconic features (her Acropolis, the agora and the Dionysia to name but a few) were either created or improved under Peisistratus and as such the later democracy owed him a huge debt. He may have been a tyrant, but he at least brought plenty of improvments to the city that he controlled. 3. While it is almost impossible for anyone in this modern age to put themselves in the shoes of an ancient Athenian (especially before 508 BC), it seems doubtful that anyone aware of other poleis at the time would feel that Athens had an especially unique political system. Indeed other city-states (such as Sparta) would probably be seen as more of an exception at that time than Athens, who was still under the control of a family of tyrants. Admittedly the reforms of Solon may have marked Athens out as unique to a certain extent but a good tyranny is still a long way away from a democracy.
  4. *Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms? * Solon’s reforms benefited Athens’ economy in a more significant way to its political structure. By dividing men into different citizen groups he allowed the nouvaeu riche to be part of the most elite class (pentakosiomedimnoi) therefore enabling them to advance in public office. Meanwhile the abolition of debts and debt-bondage ensured that the labourers and lower classes did not suffer financially. However in terms of giving equal rights to all men, Solon’s reforms were not democratic. Although Solon gave the poor financial ease and the “new money” access to political office, he still divided Athenian citizens and distributed power unevenly. By giving the Thetes significantly less political influence than other classes and only allowing aristocracy to hold certain offices he sustained a rigid social structure that can be seen as undemocratic. *Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history?* Regarding Athenian history Peisistratus was a beneficial force responsible for the development of Athens. Under Peisistratus the Agora expanded into the iconic cultural hub of the city, whilst sanctuaries, festivals and temples were introduced and improved. Peisistratus’ desire for Tyranny and his political regime can be seen as harmful however the development of Athens under his leadership was mostly advantageous. *Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis?* It is doubtful that an Athenian citizen would consider the way in which their polis was governed to be drastically different to other poleis. Peisistratus was succeeded by his son as tyrant in the 520s BC thus making Athens another polis ruled by a single ruler from an influential aristocratic family. Despite reforms to the social structure, the political system was not significantly unique.
  5. *Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history? * Peisistratus must be seen as beneficial in terms of Athens’ development, but in history his seizure of power can be seen as harmful. This is because the fact that he was even able to become tyrant and make such broad changes, especially when at the time democracy was supposedly on the rise, means that Athens was still misguided in exactly what they would later recognise as democracy rather than tyranny. It is still obvious, however, that the huge advances made in coinage and architecture were in the long run very beneficial for Athens’ history and advancement. *Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis?* Perhaps it was not a radically different Polis, but it would probably have been clear to an Athenian citizen that Athens was on the cusp of becoming great and very unique. Architecturally, Athens was really shaping up to become a religious and commercial success; although the governance was very similar to most other Poleis, the physical changes would have been tangible and visible in the agora and all around the city.
  6. 1. Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms? This is a difficult question to answer when what exactly is meant by the term ‘democratic’ has not first been clarified. It is clear that the reforms made by Solon would have had very little relevance to what would be considered as democratic in modern society. Another important point to consider is that even Aristotle (a seemingly huge ‘fan’ of Solon) only described the reforms as ‘demotic’ and not democratic. However, although it is clear that Solon’s reforms were not democratic as such - they were ‘eunomia’ (a fair order) rather than ‘isonomia’ (equality before the law) – they made a drastic difference to many aspects of Athenian society. By banning debt-bondage and opening up the top offices to more than just the aristocracy, Solon may have not made Athens into a democracy, but it can surely be argued that he had provided the basic foundations which would later be built up into democracy. 2. Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history? It is very easy to see Peisistratus as a ‘bad guy’ in many ways, especially considering his multiple attempts (and his ultimate successful attempt) to seize power. The fact that he was a tyrant ruling Athens also appears to be harmful. However, whilst it is easy to see Peisistratus as a harmful tyrannical force, slowing-down Athens from taking her course as the home of the ‘first democracy’ in the west, this is only a relevant argument in hindsight. So, Peisistratus only appears to be a hindrance to democracy if it is to be believed that democracy was inevitable in Athens, which it of course, it was not. In fact, if anything, Peisistratus benefitted Athens greatly, in terms of helping to create its ‘iconic’ image in architecture etc. and ensuring that the reforms made by Solon survived (albeit by rigging the archon elections). 3. Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis? I believe that an Athenian citizen in the 520s would not have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek cities. At this time, the Athenian citizenship would still have been ruled by a tyrant in the form of Peisistratus until his death in 527 BC and then by his son Hippias. In addition to this, although steps had been made towards a more democratic political system, they were minimal in terms of what it would become. If anything, the various inscriptions which we studied from places such as Dresos in Crete, imply that it wasn’t uncommon for cities to have been demonstrating what we not see as the ‘seeds of democracy’.
  7. 1. I do not think that Solon's reforms were very democratic, as he created four classes based on wealth. The lowest class were only allowed to attend the assembly and law courts, whereas only the highest class were eligible for archonship, hence still very undemocratic. 2. I see him as a benefitial force in Athenian history and long term democratic Athens, although he may have been a tyrant he was behind some of Athen's most important buildings for example the Agora, which was central to Athenian democratic ideology. 3. I do not believe that the ordinary Athenian citizen would have considered themselves radically different, or even realised that they were the pioneers of democracy. I think rather they would have seen it more as the gradual granting of basic rights they thought they were entitled to. Most citizens were probably very unware of other poleis' political systems.
  8. I agree with most of the points raised so far, so I don't want to repeat the same arguments. However, I have a few things to add. Although Solon's reforms were not essentially democratic, I think it is worth thinking why then he was celebrated so much as a father figure of Athenian democracy. There are a few matters to consider. Firstly, it is very important what Shani has said about the economic value of Solon's reforms. Last week a lot of people underlined the economic factor as a crucial one for the development of democracy. In this way Solon indirectly made later democracy possible. Another thing which might be taken for granted is that his reforms seem to have been acceptable for all citizens and in this manner they were quite "democratic". Solon considered interests of all social classes and tried to reach a consesus for the whole society. It was completely impossible to force a truly democratic reform which would abolish all legal differences between social classes. Solon was as democratic as it was possibe at this time. Moreover, he created a system on which people like Kleisthenes could build on later and develop it in a more democratic direction.
  9. 1. I would not call Solon's reforms democratic as, although it was a good base for democracy. The main reaosn simply being that it relied on class divisions and that any access to office was restricted to the upper classes. We must remember, however, that the point of Solon's reforms was not equality (isonomia) but fairness (eunomia), and I do believe that this was achieved to an extent, such as the abolition of debt bondage. The problem with this question is that our perceptions are tainted by what we see as a democracy. We would focus more on equality/isonomia, whilst Athens, as we can see, focused more on fairness and justice etc. 2. I actually think that Peisistratus was quite a positive force on Athens in terms of development, as he did build upon the agora, articulate sanctuaries and develop festivals. Thucydides tells us that the Peisistratids preserved Solon's reforms (although they would have tinkered with them slightly in order to make the archon elections work for them).
  10. •Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms? They certainly made Athens a lot more democratic than it had been but in terms of how democratic they were in todays views, not very. Whilst the reforms were in a sense democratic (despite the class divisions) they were only relevant, and strictly limited to, males with Athenian citizenship. Therefore all other groups (women, slaves, foreigners) in Athens would have had no more political and social rights than they had had before. Can reforms that don't even take into account such a large proportion of society even be considered democratic? •Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history? I agree with most of the posts on here so far, tyrants are generally given a bad press but Peisistratus maintained Solon's reforms and through his encouragement of arts and culture, Athens appears to have thrived under his rule. •Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis? By this time Athens had established itself as a different kind of polis as it was known to be a centre for culture and learning. However I think it is difficult to assess the thoughts of an Athenian at this date as most of the sources we have are writing after this period (aristotle, herodotus, xenophon, thucydides) and so they naturally praise how radical and brilliant the Athenian democracy was in comparison to other poleis as was famed in their time to have a successful political system.
  11. *Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis?* * *It is hard to answer this question as we cannot know for certain how an Athenian in the 520s would have felt towards the political system due to sources being written at a later date etc, another thing to consider is that there was still a hierarchy within the community which may have manipulated ones opinion, for instance, the thetes may have felt differently to the pentacosiomedimnoi, the well-travelled to the non-travelled. However, I wouldn't be surprised if an Athenian citizen in 520s BC did consider themselves in a different, more advanced politcal system, afterall Athens was the leading polis at the time, other poleis would not have hesitated to mould themselves from the Athenian politcal system, which may have made Athenians feel like they were the innovators of new politics. Whatsmore, Solon left himself a legacy, Aristotle described him as 'the people's champion', and modern sources remember him as 'scrupulous and fair-minded', therefore Athenians may have believed that due to Solon and his reforms, Athens was in a far superior position to other poleis politically, almost like Winston Churchill and his effect on the UK (It may be for different reasons but that pride and patriotism is still there. Not entirely confident of this analogy but thought I'd throw it out there). There are certain aspects however which point towards Athens being no different to other poleis, for example, being ruled by one leader/tyrant that was Peisistratus, but whether or not Athenians of the day noticed this is impossible to tell.
  12. *1) Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms?* Perhaps a better question might be ‘just how good a basis for democracy were Solon’s reforms?’, this being because Solon’s reforms were not what might be understood as ‘demokratia’; equality was not established amongst the social classes at this point (if it ever was). Rather, Solon’s reforms were branded with ‘eunomia’ – more synonymous with the term ‘fair’ than ‘equal’ – the lower class did not have access to offices, for example. Solon did not establish a democratic system, but rather created a fair basis or foundation, upon which democracy might have a chance to stand. *2) Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history?* With regard to ‘tyrants’, it is important to cast aside the contemporary connotations so negatively associated with the word. As we saw in the lecture, there was much development in Athens under the rule of Peisistratus; the agora and the acropolis were elaborated and expanded upon, and so too was the Panathenaea created. Herodotus claims that Peisistratus governed ‘in accordance with custom’ and kept much of the magistracies in place, nor indeed did he change the laws (Histories 1.57-59). This would suggest that Peisistratus’ tyrannical rule was neither overly radical nor oppressive. Peisistratus, therefore, was probably beneficial rather than harmful in the narrative of Athens’ slow move towards democracy; Herodotus praises him in the fact that he ‘adorned the city well and beautifully’, after all.
  13. 1) Insofar as we view the reforms of solon as giving more political power to a broader base of people they are "more" democratic than before. A basic prequisite of a democratic state is the ability to have equal access before the law and from that perspective it was certainly improved from this point of view. While there still were offices you could only run for in a formal sense if you were part of the right wealth class, the emphasis on this may well be over-stated. Even in "proper" democracy later on these barriers effectively existed in terms of being able to progress - so the difference is largely one of semantics here. This is not of course to say that Solon intended Democracy as later manifested in Athens, only that he intended a political system with broader access than had existed up until that time. 2) So there are really 2 ways to judge this depending on your value set. Through a modern prism of thought Democracy as an inherent good then obviously he was a bad thing. He intentionally set back the ability for self-ownership of political decisions and maintained a tight control on power even if he did make concessions in the role of Archon. On the other-hand if we want to assess the build-up of Athenian hegemony as the ultimate "good" for Athens - then his reforms were probably incredibly useful. He built up Athens architectually certainly, and kept stability for an extended period of time in what would otherwise have probably been volatile political infighting as was the case before his third attempt at rule. That stability no doubt put Athens in a necessary position to be able to dominate the local area and eventually expand further once democracy took hold - partly through the cultural pull of the large festivals initiated. 3)Realistically we probably can't tell. The literary out-put of Athens is minimal and the system is certainly not radically othered in the same way that the Spartan politcal system was othered in Herodotus and their poetry directly characterises themselves as explicitly martial. But even on the lower level it's unclear how much the formal reforms giving some more people access to offices like Archon would actually play on the minds of people who had no realistic chance of achieving that office.
  14. 1. As most people have already mentioned, Solon's reforms did not provide the widespread equality (largely in terms of access to top offices and councils, such as the Areopagus) we might associate with 'democracy', however as Eliot pointed out he definitely improved the system to become/more / democratic. I think a more pressing question regarding the reforms is how democratic could they have been at that point in time? In such an aristocratic society, would they be so willing to share the power with the lower classes? However, the very fact that Solon was voted in with absolute power suggests that Athenians recognised that radical change was desperately needed, so perhaps there was some way he could make the system more democratic than he did. 2. It is difficult to assess whether a force is "beneficial" or "harmful" in any history, particularly concerning this dynamic time period, where opinions change radically over short time periods. For example, Peisistratus, or his son, attempted (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) to set a precedent of familial succession with the archon role. Whereas this may first appear harmful to Athens as this is a very "undemocratic" idea, Hippias (Peisistratus' son) became known as an infamous tyrant, and his expulsion from Athens was widely remembered as part of their democratic tradition (along with Harmodius and Aristogeiton) and possibly could therefore be viewed as a beneficial force, in terms of the long run. 3. I do not know much about the other states at the time, but from reading other people's replies what seems to be agreed on is that the average Athenian citizen probably would not have seen themselves in a radically different political system - but they were probably acknowledging and deciding that theirs was becoming better than others, with the excitement over Solon's reforms we see and the idea that Peisistratus woke the "men of the hills" in later sources suggesting there was a lot of political buzz around Athens. Adding onto this that there was a lot of building work also going on at the time, perhaps Athenian citizens actually living in or around the city may have been of the opinion that their political system was much better, and getting much better, than others'. However, I am not sure how far this excitement would have travelled, to those citizens living further away.
  15. Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history? It is interesting that many scholars take the approach that hoi tyrannoi, which made an emergence into the Greek world in the 8th century BC, were a growing reflection of 'people power'. (Fleck, R. & Hanssen, A. 2013 ‘How Tyranny Paved the Way to Democracy: The Democratic Transition in Ancient Greece’ in Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 389-416 – one such example). It is often assumed that, with the growing development of some sort of 'hoplite class', impoverished individuals forced sympathetic individuals into a position of total control in order to gain representation. However this is simply not the case. In the vast majority of tyrant stories (i.e. at Hdt. V.92.1), there is a strong correlation between individuals acquiring foreign forces before illegally seizing the state by subversion. These tyrants then and only after their seizure of power, commonly gained popularity through redistributing aristocratic land holdings. Furthermore a hoplite tomb dating to the 8th century (Courbin, P. 1957. 'Une tombe geomctrique d'Argos' in Bulletin de Correspondance Hellinique, Vol.81, pp. 322-386.) shows how the very first hoplites were in fact aristocrats – as supported by the gold found in the tomb. As Snodgrass (Snodgrass, A.M. 1965. 'The Hoplite Reform and History' in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol.85, pp.110-122. ) has convincingly argued, farmers would not have had the time (nor the money to afford the armour!) to leave their work in order to train as a hoplite and the early ceramic record shows hoplite armour being used in individual combat i.e. the phalanx had not yet been invented. What does this have to do with Peisistratus? Merely to affirm, he, like so many other ambitious Greek individuals saw an opportunity for power and took it. His building programme was nothing more than a 'bread and circuses' edict designed to justify his rule ad hoc. He was neither a beneficial or harmful force, just an inevitability (as in so many other Greek communities) of the individual pursuit for kleos which pervaded the ideology of the elite. His actions were not a reflection of a developing 'democracy' in Athens.
  16. 1) I do not think that Solon's reforms were democratic. There was a class system implemented in the reforms, and while those in the lower classes were given slightly more rights, it was those in the richest parts of society that were given the most power i.e. to be archon. The reforms themselves were not designed to be democratic,/demokratia/ did not exist as a concept in the time of Solon. The reforms were fair but not equal,/eunomia /not / isonomia/. As such the reforms were oligarchgic in nature. 2) Peisistratus was beneficial for the city. It's very easy for a modern scholar to associate the word tyrant with a cruel dictator, when in fact in the ancient world tyrant applied more to a sovereign or ruler. Peisistratus was not a democratic ruler but he paved the way for institutions in Athens that would both fuel and assist democracy in Athens such as the agora and the Panathenaic festival. 3) Athens would not have seen itself as different to the other poleis. In the 520s BC Athens was still ruled by tyranny like many other poleis. It might have seen itself as different in terms of it was a fair city but it would not have been radically different in terms of its political structure.
  17. The question relating to Peisistratus is particularly interesting. As other people have mentioned, there are lots of ways to look on his actions as both harmful and beneficial for Athens. I completely agree. I think you have to look at his impact on art and culture and it's importance in terms of its creation of the right conditions and atmosphere in which new ways of intellectual thought could prosper in the period following. The way in which Peisistratus elaborated the Athenian agora appears to be a major factor in the development of democracy as well.
  18. *Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms?* They were not democratic, they were based on a concept of 'fairness' that sought to make sure Athenian society functioned according to a sense of 'the natural order of things'. *Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history?* He was entirely beneficial. He created the cultural infrastructure that underpinned the rest of Classical and Late Antique Athenian history, both physically with his initiation of a range of building projects and culturally with the establishment of a number of events that came to shape Athenian public life. When looking at the great deal Peisistratus was able to get done in the time he was in office, could it be that Athens would have had an even richer artistic and architectural heritage had democracy not come about? I would cite the cultural flourishments under both Augustus and Nero as being evidence that this may have been the case. *Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis?* No. Although the Athenian system was perhaps organised slightly differently it wasn't particularly manifest it the day to day life of the ordinary citizen, culturally or otherwise.
  19. 1) Solon's reforms were not democratic, but they were fair, these reforms protected the poorest citizens giving them rights, such as freedom from bondage, this gave them a certain quality of life and the protection under the law which they required. At the same time Solon's reforms allowed the wealthy citizens, those who had power and were unlikely to accept a dramatic shift in the status quo, to keep their place at the top of society. It was a matter of practicality, Solon was not instructed to bring about a democratic society and I do not see why he as an aristocrat would really wish to create one. Is there any reason that Solon would not fear a democracy? He had nothing to gain by it and he and his family could actually suffer if one were to be established. Furthermore if we look at the context of wider Greece at this time we find that tyrants rose on the back of the support of the poorest, would Solon not have feared that one would have risen in the same way if the masses were given the power to have a say in government?
  20. 1. I don’t think they were actually very democratic. I think Solon’s reforms were necessary for his times, especially the removal of debt-bondage. 2. He seems to have ruled well down to his death in 527 BC, even though his means of obtaining power was not ‘democratic’. 3. I think that with the increasingly developed nature of Athenian identity and the increase in the city’s splendour (Acropolis, littered with votives, etc.) would have had a profound effect on what the Athenians thought of themselves as a polis, but if they thought that their political system was radically different I do not know.

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