Athens Over Several Hundred Years Moved From Essay

  • Length: 6 pages
  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #92619207

Excerpt from Essay :

Athens over several hundred years moved from rule by kings to full peasant democracy. Did aristocrats ever really lose power or did they find new ways to keep it?

In Athens, the aristocrats did lose a certain amount of power with the advent of democracy. This is because there was a focus on providing everyone with some kind of voice in matters of public affairs. Yet, at the same time many of the ruling elite and philosophers were from the aristocracy. This meant that they were able to maintain positions of power. Despite the fact, that they lost a certain amount of influence. The combination of these factors is illustrating how the ruling class used their education and intellect to make themselves relevant during the process. As a result, they were able to use democracy as a way to change the perceptions of the citizens of Athens. In this case, everyone believed that they had a voice in public affairs. However, beneath the surface, the real decision makers were the aristocracy based on the position and their influence. This made these individuals an invaluable part of the political process inside ancient Athens.

Evidence of this can be seen with the passage from the Constitution of Athenians which says, "Since such, then, was the organization of the constitution, and the many were in slavery to the few, the people rose against the upper class. The strife was keen, and for a long time the two parties were ranged in hostile camps against one another, till at last, by common consent, they appointed Solon to be mediator and Archon, and committed the whole constitution to his hands. He fights and disputes on behalf of each party in turn against the other, and finally he advises them to come to terms and put an end to the quarrel existing between them. By birth and reputation Solon was one of the foremost men of the day, but in wealth and position he was of the middle class, as is generally agreed, and is, indeed, established by his own evidence in these poems, where he exhorts the wealthy not to be grasping. Indeed, he constantly fastens the blame of the conflict on the rich; and accordingly at the beginning of the poem he says that he fears 'the love of wealth and an overweening mind', evidently meaning that it was through these that the quarrel arose." ("Athens Constitution," n.d.) This is showing how there were heated disputes in Athens based on economic issues. To address these problems over the long-term, the aristocracy gave up a certain amount of power. While at the same time, they were maintaining their relevance in the process. This allowed them to control positions of power and influence what is happening from behind the scenes. Once this occurs, is when various stakeholders will believe that they have a voice in the process. Yet, in reality they only have select amounts of control. In this aspect, the wealthy lost certain amounts of power and they were able to gain access to different positions of influence. Over the course of time, this is changing how people look at the events and roles that the affluent have.

In the earliest stage through the time of Solon, how did the threats of foreign and civil war, and the struggles over landownership and debt slavery lead to political change?

Foreign and civil wars placed undue burdens on the middle class and the poor. During foreign wars, this occurred with the young men of many of lower classes having to fight for the ideas of the aristocracy. This created resentment about how everyone else was sacrificing for the good of Athens. While at the same time, it was illustrating how many inside the aristocracy and their family members did not have to serve. This added to the overall amounts of tension within Athenian society. Civil wars were fought and impacted the lower classes, as these areas were frequently the locations of conflict. This had an impact on the communities where this violence occurred (leading to anger that is directed at the aristocracy).

At the same time, the wealthy controlled tremendous amounts of land and the used debt as way to enslave individuals. The fact that this could not be reduced sparked conflict between both sides. As these hostilities boiled over, this had an effect on the social structure and daily life. To adjust with these issues, the nobility gave the citizens more of a voice in public affairs.

A good example of this can be seen in the below passage from the Constitution of Athenians which says, "Solon liberated the people once and for all, by prohibiting all loans on the security of the debtor's person: and in addition he made laws by which he cancelled all debts, public and private. This measure is commonly called the Seisachtheia [= removal of burdens], since thereby the people had their loads removed from them. In connexion with it some persons try to traduce the character of Solon. It so happened that, when he was about to enact the Seisachtheia, he communicated his intention to some members of the upper class, whereupon, as the partisans of the popular party say, his friends stole a march on him; while those who wish to attack his character maintain that he too had a share in the fraud himself. For these persons borrowed money and bought up a large amount of land, and so when, a short time afterwards, all debts were cancelled, they became wealthy; and this, they say, was the origin of the families which were afterwards looked on as having been wealthy from primeval times. However, the story of the popular party is by far the most probable. A man who was so moderate and public-spirited in all his other actions, that when it was within his power to put his fellow-citizens beneath his feet and establish himself as tyrant, he preferred instead to incur the hostility of both parties by placing his honour and the general welfare above his personal aggrandisement, is not likely to have consented to defile his hands by such a petty and palpable fraud. That he had this absolute power is, in the first place, indicated by the desperate condition the country; moreover, he mentions it himself repeatedly in his poems, and it is universally admitted. We are therefore bound to consider this accusation to be false." ("Athens Constitution," n.d.) This is showing how the underlying amounts of tension (which led to increased conflicts inside Athens).

In the Middle Period, from Pisistratus to Cleisthenes to the Persian Wars, how did the search for power by individuals, the development of a Navy and the wealth of the Empire change Politics?

During the Middle Period, many nation states were providing Athens with various kinds of resources and money to help build a navy. The basic idea was that all the small states could be able to pool their resources together (in order to protect everyone will from external threats). Under this strategy, Athens would build and maintain the navy. While the other smaller states will provide money and support to ensure that they are receiving added protections. At first, this created a situation where everyone was able to experience peace and prosperity from the navy. (Rustin, 1989)

However, as time went by Athens used the navy to force the smaller states without a military to pay tribute to them. Those who failed to comply with these demands were attacked and occupied by Athenian forces. This changed Athens fundamentally, as it moved away from the pure democracy. Instead, the tremendous amounts of wealth and the large navy created a sense of arrogance among Athenians. Over the course of time, these views were used to support aggressive actions against their neighbors (which is disguised as protecting the entire group of city states). When in reality, this became a higher level of Athens using the military to extort some kind of financial benefit from the other cities. It is at this point that Athens had moved away from its basic ideas of democracy. And became as bad as the very states the navy was supposed to protect. (Rustin, 1989)

In the last period, contrast the views of aristocrats like Pericles and Alcibiades who supported democracy and those like the anonymous author of the Constitution of the Athenians and who opposed it.

Pericles was focused on supporting democracy through more of a populist view. The way that this was accomplished was through having everyone involved in government as a whole. The author of the Constitution of the Athenians agreed with Pericles on the principles of democracy. Evidence of this can be seen with Constitution of Athenians saying, "Since the laws were not drawn up in simple and explicit terms (but like the one concerning inheritances and wards of state), disputes inevitably occurred, and the courts had to decide in every matter, whether public or private. Some persons in fact…

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