CCANESA / Classics and Ancient History seminar: “The origins of Athenian democracy: Recreating the narrative”
Stephen Clarke | University of Sydney
“The origins of Athenian democracy: Recreating the narrative”
In 508/07 BC, Athens became a democracy. The democracy’s future is well-documented, but the events surrounding its origins are more difficult to clarify. While the Alkmeonid Kleisthenes played a significant role in its development and implementation, he was not in Athens to witness what Ober (2007) called the ‘democratic revolution’, led by rioters. The Spartan King Kleomenes had occupied the city at the request of Kleisthenes’ opponent Isagoras, after Kleomenes had forced Kleisthenes and 700 Athenian families to leave the city to secure it for Isagoras. Yet, something happened: the ordinary, poor Athenians are supposed to have risen successfully against an army of Spartans; surely, rioters could not have done this alone. Despite being deprived of the hoplites represented by the 700 families forced to flee Athens, the general populace was somehow able to put the Spartans to siege and successfully force their humiliating removal. This was remarkable, yet in no account is there discussion about how this happened. While Anderson (2003) recognised the potential for Athenian military power, this was hardly the case in 508/07. Moreover, while the Kleisthenic reforms had been commenced, the urban poor would likely have seen little change in their political power. This paper explores some of these difficult issues, particularly surrounding our main source, Herodotus, and, while not suggesting a definitive solution, will propose answers as to why there was an uprising against the Spartans, who might have participated in the ‘revolution’, and how it was able to happen at all.
Dr Steve Clarke is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Sydney and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. His recent book, Greek Orators VII: Demosthenes 8, ‘On the Chersonnese’ was published by the University of Liverpool Press and he is currently contracted to write another book on the fifth century Athenian Empire, amongst various other upcoming book chapters and articles on 5th century Athens and Greek oratory. After over 20 years as a high school teacher, he is working outside teaching and will entertain job offers teaching Classics and Ancient History for food or other remuneration.
The Zoom link – All papers this semester will be presented via Zoom online. Details of each Zoom session will be posted out approximately one week prior to the presentation date.
10 March 4:00pm (AEDT/UTC+10)
The Department of Classics and Ancient History is part of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI).
Image: Achilles fights the River Scamander’ (Date unknown) | Alexander Runciman (1736-85) Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Creative Commons)