title
macrohistory.com

(GREEKS, DEMOCRACY and SLAVERY (650-501 BCE) – continued)

home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE

GREEKS, DEMOCRACY and SLAVERY (3 of 5)

previous | next

Sparta and Democracy in Athens

The tyrant Pisistratus died in 527. He was succeeded by his two sons who ruled jointly. Among conservatives, passionate opposition remained. In 514 a young aristocrat assassinated one of the sons. Some other aristocrats attempted but failed to assassinate the surviving son, Hippias. Hippias retaliated with a murderous passion of his own, and some aristocrats fled into exile. The priest at the shrine of the god Apollo at Delphi encouraged the exiled aristocrats by suggesting that Apollo was on their side. A leading aristocratic family from Athens, the Alcmaeonidaens, had used their wealth to contribute to Apollo's shrine, and their influence won the support of Sparta against Hippias. To do the will of Apollo, Sparta, in 510, sent an army that defeated Hippias and sent him fleeing to Persia.

Sparta's army put into power an oligarchy of Athenian aristocrats, but most Athenians did not want a return to the subservience and dependence on local powerful families that existed before the rule of Pisistratus. The oligarchy found itself unable to rule and, in 508, progressive members of the upper classes united with commoners. This coalition of forces amounted to a popular resurgence that was able to overthrow the oligarchy.

The most prominent leader of the resurgence was a rebellious son of the Alcmaeonidaen family, Cleisthenes, who wished to govern in a way that brought more unity among the Athenians. Across recent generations immigration had made Athens a mix of people unrelated by blood, and Cleisthenes extended to many immigrants, and to some slaves, the same rights that Athenian citizens had. He drew up a constitution for Athens that divided Athenians into ten "tribes" based not on blood relations but on where people lived. Each tribe had its own military unit, shrine, priest and assembly. It was an early version of big-tent politics and a step in the direction of giving power to common people. Any member of a tribe could participate in the election of local and state officials, and each tribe sent fifty representatives for one year of service to a city assembly.

The popularity of Cleisthenes' reforms brought new enthusiasm among Athenians for their government and city. This and Cleisthenes' new military organization made Athens stronger militarily, and its strength was soon tested. In 506, Sparta and its Peloponnesian allies invaded Attica hoping to crush the democracy in Athens, which Spartans saw as a defiance of religious tradition. The new politics and morale won over tradition. Athens defeated the invaders and the invaders withdrew. And to stave off any future aggressions from Sparta and its allies, Athens made an alliance with Persia.

Sources

   

Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.