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Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4

Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4 Discussion of Term 1 Lecture 3 508 BC: Key Questions

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  1. *Key Questions from Term 1 Lecture 3 (508 BC) for discussion* 1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens? 2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens? 3.How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms?
  2. 1. A lack of sources that might represent the majority of Athenians makes it difficult to gauge how much an ‘ordinary’ citizen might have desired a change from the old system. It seems unlikely that anyone would turn down the opportunity to have more power in their government and the fact that democracy endured so long after 508 BC (through several dark periods for Athens) suggests that the Athenian people believed strongly in Cleisthenes’ political system. However whether any of them could have expressed this desire prior to 508 BC is unclear and even the Tyrannicides, praised by later generations as harbingers of democracy, achieved their fame as a result of a botched revolt started over a personal dispute, hardly an impressive political record. Furthermore the word ‘democracy’ only seems to appear well into the 5th century BC; could Athenians really desire a system for which there wasn’t even an existing name? 2. To call the emergence of democracy in Athens an accident would undermine the importance of the actions taken by Cleisthenes and the other factions in the city at that time. However whether this radical new political system was born out of an idealistic position is another matter. It seems more likely that Cleisthenes initiated these reforms to further his own political career, at least in part, capitalising on a mistrust of the Spartans and public goodwill to strengthen his power in the city. Democracy should maybe therefore be considered a happy by-product of aristocratic political dispute. 3. Upon reflection the reforms of Cleisthenes really do come across as radical, a genuine upheaval of an established system and a very different replacement. The division of Attica into respective demes, trittyes and tribes is the most striking change and one which must surely have created a wide range of reactions among the Athenian citizens. Forming tribes from separate city, inland and coastal trittyes seems somewhat arbitrary but would have been an effective way of breaking old relationships and power structures, enabling the growth of a fledging democracy. The way in which the council and other offices were chosen also seems pretty radical given what had come beforehand, and dividing these responsibilities among the tribes seems a clever way to ensure every area of Attica contributed to Athens’ survival and prosperity. Considering all this, it does not seem ridiculous to call Cleisthenes’ reforms fundamental and different.
  3. *1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens?* It's unclear that there was an actual concept of "democracy" which was desired at this point.It seems instead to be a case of the particular tyranny that preceded the reforms was unpopular and oligarchy unable to sustain itself due to the plurality of factions and divided support bases. The question of the "average citizen" having certain political views is impossible to get due to the lack of usable evidence for such a question. In any case, there is a difference between a belief that dividing power among social and geographical groups was a good idea and being vested in the concept of democracy in and of itself. *2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens? *It's largely dependent on what is meant by accident. If there was not a pre-existing concept of democracy then to that extent it was mor ane evolution of the political situation at the time and an expedient laws and constitution to enforce. However obviously it was reforms designed to spread power more widely among citizens. Deciding by lot office and the election of certain posts were not new things in Athenian politics (indeed Solon was supposedly given popular assent) but the scale and scope was an intentional shift. *3.How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms? *They made a huge difference. Not just in that offices were now randomly spread between political factions but in that old political factions were divided by the tribe system. In some ways that could be seen to usher in a "new era" as it were of politics, with different loyalties to consider and it no longer being based on whether you lived in the city, inland or the coast all sections would have to be appeased simaltaneously to have real power and lasting influence (one obvious example is how to deal with Sparta being a universal concern). This more or less prevented someone from being capable of setting themselves up as a Tyrant again and left at least some continued political stability such that "democracy" as a concept and indeed the tribal system lasted for centuries more.
  4. *How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens?* There seems to have been a definite desire to allow power to be more accessible to more members of the general public. For example, Solon’s reforms allowed the nouvaeu riche to advance as archons and magistrates rather than these positions being restricted to the aristocracy. Also there must have been a desire to move away from tyranny as some Athenians sought help from Sparta in order to overthrow Hippias. However it is difficult to know whether or not this was a result of Hippias’ cruelty, the Alcmaeonid opposition to Hippias or a general desire to get rid of tyranny and move towards a more equal system of government. *To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called accident in ancient Athens?* The re-distribution of political power was an intentional change. Isonomia and fairness of laws were desired. Solon gave the poor more freedom, whilst Cleisthenes ensured that random annual lots enabled a wider variety of citizens to govern Athens. Meanwhile the affiliations to aristocratic families were broken by dividing Athens into tribes, thus giving the average citizen more independence and freedom. Although they may not have intended to “invent democracy” they certainly must have intended to move towards a system of government that relied less on one or a few prominent characters and gave more power to other citizens. *How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms?* Until Cleisthenes’ reforms there were allegiances to local nobility and prominent aristocratic families. Although Solon had abolished debt-bondage, there were still elite families thriving off the support of poorer citizens. By dividing Attica into trittyes and tribes, Cleisthenes was the first to fully break the nobility’s local influence and diminish their power. His joining of trittyes from different areas to form a tribe seems completely different and unprecedented. However his reforms still had limitations as everything was more convenient for those who lived within the city or who could afford to travel into the city. Therefore like others before him, Cleisthenes still ensured that it remained easy for the wealthy and elite to gain political power.
  5. *1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens?* * *There was definietly need and desire for a system which would fill the political vacuum after the fall of the Pisistradits. A further strife between the aristoctatic clans would lead to a vicious cirlce of bloodshed and exile, ending in tyranny again. (This view was later shared by Herodotus who uses this argument against oligarchy in Darius' speech in 3.82, but in this passage it is used to display the inevitability of monarchy.) After Solon's reforms which gave some power to the wider group of people, oligarchy would be very difficult to establish, and the tyranny just ended, so a turn towards democracy in a more progressive form seemed the only feasible and fairly acceptable way of bringing stability. *2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens?* * *The series of reforms, beginning from Solon and ending on Pericles were often exercised to solve some "now and here" problems without a grand and very specific vision of the end product, so its stage in the second half of V century or later IV stages have some element of randomness. However, democracy emerged to deal with specific issues in Athenian society and politics, so the very fact that it emerged cannot be called "an accident". *3.How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms?* * *Cleisthenes' reforms were fundamental because they destroyed the unstable balance of power and introduced a self-balancing system. In each tribe factions from the city, the coast and the mainland would balance each other and were forced to reach some compromise. It was a direct response to the rise of power of Pisistratus who relied heavily on one faction: people from the mainland, which allowed him to gain power. After Cleisthenes' reform it was not longer possible.
  6. 1. I feel like "specifically" is a problematic word to use, as the definition of democracy changes from period to period, from person to person, so to ask whether the people were specifically looking to democracy suggests there is only one democracy that can be achieved. In terms of whether the people desired the "democracy" that was achieved by Cleisthenes' reforms, I believe my views have been covered by other people - that essentially it is very unclear as to what an average citizen of Athens would want politically at this point in time. There is an argument that because of Peisistratus and Solon's reforms which allowed citizens of a certain status (determined by wealth) access to higher offices that perhaps this led to others who had previously been in essentially the same rank of non-aristocrat desiring the same rights. 2. I think it somewhat unfair to call democracy a complete accident, as part of Cleisthenes' reforms appear to have been laid out in order to stop the aristocratic land block using the city-coast-inland system of trittyes. This shows at least some thought in the direction of a) stopping the aristocratic political feuds and therefore, even if indirectly, b) making power more available to those who are truly wanted. 3. They were definitely fundamental for the history of Athens, as in later sources, notably Herodotus, Cleisthenes is given the glory of having introduced democracy to Athens. This would suggest that within a few years following Cleisthenes' reforms there was such a difference made to the lives of so many Athenians that he is remembered as having made a fundamental change in the Athenian world.
  7. The key to the first question is the word 'specifically'.There was no real concept of the term democracy until well into the 5th century - so no, there was no desire specifically for this. What we have seen though is that different terms were used as time progressed - each of which gradually points to what we know as democracy more and more (/eunomia, isonomia, isegoria)./In this we see an idea of fairness push towards the idea of equality, which suggests some sort of development. In terms of the ordinary citizen, I agree with others in that it is difficult to grasp an idea of how they felt towards Athenian politics. I'm not convinced there was necessarily such a demand for a change in system. Peisistratus appeared to be popular and the disdain towards his sons was only popularised through the medium of the Tyrannicides when everbody knew what 'democracy' was. After all, the 'tyrant-slayers' did so due to a personal tiff, not for political means. It is difficult to say that there was this 'desire' for democracy before 508, I think it just happened as a result of elitist power struggles. That sort of gave my answer to the second question - yes, perhaps it was an accident.
  8. *1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens?* I think that there was a definite desire for change in the years leading up to 508 BC especially with the unwanted involvement of the Spartans and Hippias being thrown in and out of exile. However, I think it is important to remember that no one in Athens was setting out or planning on democracy and in a way they just stumbled across it and so I don’t think you can really say that there was a specific desire for democracy pre 508 BC. *2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens?* To some extent the ‘invention’ of democracy can be seen as an accident as it wasn’t really supposed to happen in the sense that there was no real intention for it (harping back to my earlier comments about the fact the democracy was not the end goal) but on the other hand the Athenians did intend to make changes and this stemmed from the fact that they didn’t want to be under the control of the Spartans (and the want for political reform was just a small cause of the ‘invention’ of democracy). *3.How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms? * Cleisthenes’ reforms were definitely different and quite fundamental. His splitting up of the demes into trittyes and forming tribes out of trittyes from different areas across Attica showed ingenuity and focused on allowing equal say and responsibility across the people so that they could have a say in how their city was run. The new system also forced people across Attica to communicate with one another but some still criticize the changes Cleisthenes made as it was still those closes to Athens who could actually physically partake in the assembly. Overall, Cleisthenes’ reforms were fairly fundamental in bringing Athens one step closer to democracy.
  9. 1. How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens? We cannot necessarily comment on the Athenians ‘specifically’ wanting a democracy, and the issue of quantifying precisely ‘how much’ presents an issue also. The former is problematic due to the fact that democracy was not yet an established concept so the ability to ‘desire’ it becomes somewhat questionable. The question of how many people desired it is also hard to assess because there are few voices we have as evidence to testify to this. However, there was clearly dissatisfaction with the tyrannical rule of Hippias and Hipparchus, so much so that the Spartans assisted them. Whilst this doesn’t directly point towards the desire for democracy, it does indicate a desire to change the current political government, perhaps to one more equal. 2. To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens? As we saw in the first lecture, there were several movements around Ancient Greece (e.g. Chios and Dreros) that mentioned “the people”, and such instances could be seen as almost the seeds of democracy. If we were to continue the “seed” metaphor, Athens is the only city in which democracy blossomed. Perhaps the social and political climate was just right for democracy to take in Athens, but whether this can be called an accident is debatable. The reforms of Solon, the actions of Peisistratus and the re-hashing of the entire system by Cleisthenes, however, were fundamental to Athens’ democratic journey. I do not think of democracy as an ‘invention’, but rather a slow metamorphosis, a succession of deliberate solutions to arising problems, rather than an accident. 3. How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms? Cleisthenes’ reforms made a huge impact, especially in relation to the change in geographical ties and allegiances of the local nobility, with the introduction of the trittyes. Furthermore, it is Cleisthenes who is credited with the introduction of democracy to Athens by ancient sources. His reform was different to anything previously seen in Athens, and redistributed the power balance as never before.
  10. I agree with much of what has already been said in that it is hard to gauge how much an ordinary citizen might have desired a change from the old political system. Democracy certainly seems an appealing political system but, there was no unified word for democracy so the extent to which the Athenians would have had a desire for such a political system is questionable. Cleisthenes reforms were very fundamental and different as they gave more power to the Athenian citizens than they had ever previously experienced and provided a strong foundation from which democracy could be built upon.
  11. 1. I agree with many poeple who have said that is a hard question to answer because of sources etc. I do think that an alternative to tyranny was desired, but I myself can't pin point any sources that would give me a specific answer. Any sources we do have would probably be from male citizens who were at least a little well off, it's not something we can really generalize. 2. I think this specific democracy was probably accidental, but the ideas and concepts behind it - a more inclusive, equal system, - was less so. 3. the splitting of the demes and placing them in the coast/inland/city areas was very important, but there was the problem of people who lived far away getting to anything in the city.
  12. 1. How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens? This question is very difficult to answer, not least because neither the concept nor a word for democracy appears to have existed at this time. And when asking about ‘specifically… democracy’, are we talking about democracy as we see it now, what it would become in Athenian society, or simply citizens wishing for a greater equality in political rights? In any case, there appears to be very little evidence about what the average Athenian believed in the years running up to 508 BC. Admittedly, both the apparent restlessness and competition between the aristocratic factions as well as the popular support Cleisthenes gained according to Herodotus suggest that change was wanted; however, assuming that the change would be one resulting in democracy would be naïve. It would also be almost impossible to quantify ‘how much’ desire there would have been for any sort of change because of the lack of contemporary evidence from the average Athenian. 2. To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens? The term ‘invention’ is interesting in this question. The main reason for this is that it implies that democracy was a sudden change, that one day it did not exist, and the next it did. Yet it can actually be seen that democracy was the result of a long series of events and changes in the political system in Athens. Whilst it is important to remember that it would not be accurate to call democracy ‘inevitable’ simply because it may appear so in hindsight, it would also be too simple to call it’s ‘invention’ an accident. It appears that democracy in Athens (whilst its occurrence may not necessarily have been the intended outcome by those involved such as Cleisthenes and Solon) was the result of changes in Athenian law which were gradually changing the structure of Athenian society into something more democratic, and as these reforms were gradual, it should probably not be called a complete accident. 3. How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms? Whilst the intent behind Cleisthenes’ reforms may be seen by some as simply another aristocrat attempting to establish himself as the power-leader in the competitive world of Athenian aristocracy, it is almost impossible to deny that the changes he made were seen as significant whilst changing several aspects of Athenian politics and society. Solon had previously rearranged the social structure, but this was only still giving the majority of the power to the few elite. Cleisthenes reorganised the structure so that all citizens were eligible for almost any position (with the exception of generals) for the first time in Athenian history. In addition to this, his 30 tribes appears to have broken the family and aristocratic ties, with these allegiances instead being owed to their tribe, ultimately making Athens a more unified and ‘fair’ state (on the surface at least).
  13. 1. I think it’s reasonable to say that there may have been some elements within Athenian polis that sought more power in the hands of the many, but I would not go as far as saying that most people wanted democracy. An ambivalent term at that time, and the aristocracy were leaders of opposing factions at this point. 2. The reforms of Clisthenes were drastic and intentional, not sure if I want to call 508 democracy though. Still reading into it. 3. Very different – he completely changed Athenian social organisation. Evidence of any kind of opposition he encountered and from what quarter would be interesting and help answer Q1.
  14. *1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens?* The average Athenian probably wouldn't have claimed to be in favour of democracy if you asked them, at the very least until Cleisthenes reforms took effect. This is because the idea of everyone holding theoretically equal political power, and having functionally equal access to all state positions is so alien compared to the tyrannical, 'might makes right' approach that the tyrants ruling in much of Greece and earlier Athens took, that the average person probably wouldn't have considered it an option. The fact that it took a personal aristocratic vendetta against some of the last tyrants in Athens before 508 BC to oust them from power is also a sign that the popular desire for democracy, if there was one at all, was not strong enough to force a change in power. *2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens?* This depends on what definition of accident you are willing to use. Each step seems to have been carried out fairly purposefully when looked at in isolation, and the natural complexity of history can make it seem like these steps fitted together as part of a broader purpose, which makes it seem more likely to us as later observers that there was an overarching plan of sorts in place. If we take the view that seems to be handed down to us by Athenians themselves, democracy seems to have been the result of a few key individuals being unusually determined to bring it about, with others ranging from actively hostile to apathetic.Though again, whether the earlier people such as Solon foresaw their reforms being furthered and elaborated on to the extent which they were seems unlikely. *3.How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms?* Cleisthenes's reforms were revolutionary in that they fractured the previously unified and fractious geographic powerblocks, a change so important that even if that was all that he had achieved, he would still be an important figure in the history of Athens. The idea of essentially opening every position up to random assignment amongst the whole Athenian citizen body was a step ever further to ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth or political affiliation, were involved in the political process, ensuring that even if they were part of an unpopular political grouping, they would still feel included in political life. Both of these changes are so different to the previous political situation, that it is difficult to see Athens ever developing into the ever-more democratic state that it did without them being in place first.
  15. 1) There does not seem to be a "desire" for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC. This is mostly due to democracy not existing as a concept yet. However I believe there was a genuine desire for some political reform particularly from the 'nouveau riche'. It is hard to tell how much the average citizen would have wished for reform due to little evidence. 2) Democracy was not an accident as the word "accident" implies it was done suddenly. However democracy continued to evolve throughout the 5th and 4th century BC and was constantly being adjusted. Moreover the word/ demokratia/was not in use until much later than the so called begining of democracy in 508 suggesting that the politcal system was revived until it became what it became known as - democracy. 3) Cleisthenes' reforms were fundamental in that it dissolved the faction rivalries in Athens. Moreover the change in loyalty from geographical locations to tribes allowed that they could discuss the needs of the whole rather than by mob rule. It also limited the aristocracy in their power by cutting of their factions. The reforms also allowed any citizen any governmental position (with the exception of generals) for the first time.
  16. How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms? Fundamental to whom? Cleisthenes fixed the tribal system to diminish the prominence of his political rivals, whilst ensuring the city trittys (the seat of Alcmaeonid support) would have a key role in the new system. The Pnyx, by the time of Cleisthenes, could only hold 6000; a fraction of the total citizen body. Therefore the assembly would rapidly fill up with the city influx creating a pro- Alcmaeonid bias which not only aided Cleisthenes but would ensure that Pericles (despite supposedly being 1/10 elected strategoi) could dictate foreign policy practically unchecked in the late-mid 5th century. What political influence did the demos really have outside of Athens?
  17. 1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens? Although there was definitely desire to change the political system in the period before Cleisthenes' reforms, I don't think there was a specific desire for democracy, mainly because the modern concept hadn't been invented yet. The intent to change the government can be seen as a result of multiple events, in particular the unpopular Hippias and Spartan intervention. Yet, these events may also have led the desire for the then current form of democracy, isonomia. The dislike for the tyrant Hippias would have turned them against monarchical forms of power, and the Spartans interfering in their affairs may have encouraged nationalism, looking towards specifically athenian forms of goverment. It is here that Solon's reforms come to mind: the ancient athenians would have looked back upon the original reforms he put into place, and public opinion would have been very favourable towards the developping democracy at that point. That could be one reason why Cleisthenes gained such support; he played upon the popularity of isonomia, and promised political reforms.
  18. 1) With preceding tyranny being so unpopular, there was, at the very least, a “moment of rupture” at the end of the sixth century, in reaction to renewed aristocratic infighting and outside intervention. The constitutional reforms of Solon and the civic festivals sponsored by the tyrants also undercut traditional lines of authority and encouraged Athenian political self-consciousness. But it is unclear whether it was possible for Athenian people to express desire for democracy or any similar notion before 508 due to limited sources pertaining to this. It can also be argued that Cleisthenes’ reforms were in fact responses to the ‘revolutionary’ situation centred around the besieging of the Spartans, as this moment is one in which the Athenian people acted as a collective agent and, depending whether this action by the Athenian people is seen as action en masse, there are some parallels with the siege and capture of the Bastille in Paris in 1789. The extent to which you can say Cleisthenes’ reforms were a reaction or response to a populist self-conscious is questionable but there was a slight notion of theoretical or proto-theoretical demokratia, despite the word not yet being used. So considering the “political vacuum” created in the wake of the tyranny that preceded this period and, considering the action taken by the Athenian people during the siege of Cleomenes, there was, at least, a conception of a desire for greater equality and participation. 3) I think Cleisthenes’ grouping of the demes into trittyes and tribes fundamentally altered the balance of power, taking away the centralised control of the elites. Whether you call his reforms isonomic or democratic or revolutionary, it cannot be denied that there was a push for institutional development. After the departure of the Spartans and Isagoras, we hear of no opposition against the implementation of the reforms, or any attempt to repeal them. This shows that Cleisthenes’ programme met with broad support in the citizen body and also the elite, also suggesting that the reforms did not change the balance of power in a way that the elite saw as threatening. By advancing the unity of the polis, the reforms strengthened solidarity among the citizens making it possible for large numbers of non-elite Athenians to gain new political responsibility and gain self-confidence and leading the way for later developments. So it is fair to say the reforms were different and to an extent fundamental in making democracy possible.
  19. *1.How much desire does there seem to have been specifically for democracy in the years running up to 508 BC in Athens?* It would seem that there was little specific desire for democracy at this time, rather a need to fill the political vacuum, and due to Cleisthenes essentially coming out on top democracy was able to flourish. There is little evidence that the average Athenian citizen would have had political interests, or believed they could do unless they had enough wealth and influence due to the previous tradition of oligarchs and tyrants. However, it is also probably true that the people were frustrated with Hippias and therefore wanted some form of political say. *2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens?* I don't know if 'accident' is quite the right word, it seemed more like a natural transition, where democracy was the preferred political system due to the fact that tyranny and oligarchy had repeated failed previously. To some extent it was accident, in that it didn't seem expected or demanded for. *3.How fundamental and how different were Cleisthenes’ reforms?* Cleisthenes' reforms were very fundamental and different, completely redefining the geographical boundaries of Attica. However, he still did not seem to address the issue of people actually being able to make it to Athens to participate in politics, thus still hindering a full democracy.* *
  20. *2.To what extent should the ‘invention’ of democracy be called an accident in ancient Athens?* If accident means something that happens 'unexpectedly and unintentionally' then I think that the answer is both yes and no. Democracy was not started with the intention of what it was to flourish into, and it was certainly something that changed and evolved much over time rather than something that came into being within a day or two. However I do think that the ideas behind democracy, ie to be more fair and Kleisthenes' splitting up of trittyes, was not an accident and was focused towards more equality within Athens.

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