Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy


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Since the nineteenth century, however, race is not a value-neutral concept; it is both unscientific and ethically objectionable. Lape herself does not really believe it is value-free, either; on p.


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It soon becomes clear pp. Attached to this qualification came ideas about what it meant to be Athenian, and the myth of Athenian autochthony played a crucial role in this. Because such ideas were attached to citizenship-by-descent, we have not merely to do with imagined ethnicity, so Lape, but with racialism. Let me give one example. What in the face of this deafening silence begins as a hypothesis p. Of this discourse, nothing is shown.

Reproducing Athens

Lape acknowledges p. But these were quite different, too, as Vincent Rosivach already showed in in an article mentioned in the same footnote but apparently without effect.

No wonder that Lape contends that Athens, unlike other poleis , showed no changes over time in its construction of ethnic identity p. Much confusion arises from unclear terminology or errors of fact. A few examples must suffice. Nine presidents proedroi , elected by lot and holding the office one time only, organised the proceedings and assessed the voting. Specific issues discussed in the assembly included deciding military and financial magistracies, organising and maintaining food supplies, initiating legislation and political trials, deciding to send envoys, deciding whether or not to sign treaties, voting to raise or spend funds, and debating military matters.

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The assembly could also vote to ostracise from Athens any citizen who had become too powerful and dangerous for the polis. In this case there was a secret ballot where voters wrote a name on a piece of broken pottery ostrakon. The assembly also ensured decisions were enforced and officials were carrying out their duties correctly.

In addition, in times of crisis and war , this body could also take decisions without the assembly meeting. It was this body which supervised any administrative committees and officials on behalf of the assembly. This executive of the executive had a chairman epistates who was chosen by lot each day. The man prytany met in the building known as the Bouleuterion in the Athenian agora and safe-guarded the sacred treasuries. In tandem with all these political institutions were the law courts dikasteria which were composed of 6, jurors and a body of chief magistrates archai chosen annually by lot.

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Indeed, there was a specially designed machine of coloured tokens kleroterion to ensure those selected were chosen randomly, a process magistrates had to go through twice. It was here in the courts that laws made by the assembly could be challenged and decisions were made regarding ostracism, naturalization, and remission of debt.

This complex system was, no doubt, to ensure a suitable degree of checks and balances to any potential abuse of power, and to ensure each traditional region was equally represented and given equal powers. With people chosen at random to hold important positions and with terms of office strictly limited, it was difficult for any individual or small group to dominate or unduly influence the decision-making process either directly themselves or, because one never knew exactly who would be selected, indirectly by bribing those in power at any one time.

As we have seen, only male citizens who were 18 years or over could speak at least in theory and vote in the assembly, whilst the positions such as magistrates and jurors were limited to those over 30 years of age. Therefore, women , slaves, and resident foreigners metoikoi were excluded from the political process.

The mass involvement of all male citizens and the expectation that they should participate actively in the running of the polis is clear in this quote from Thucydides:. We alone consider a citizen who does not partake in politics not only one who minds his own business but useless. Illustrating the esteem in which democratic government was held, there was even a divine personification of the ideal of democracy, the goddess Demokratia.

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Athens' constitution is called a democracy because it respects the interests not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.

No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. Although active participation was encouraged, attendance in the assembly was paid for in certain periods, which was a measure to encourage citizens who lived far away and could not afford the time off to attend. This money was only to cover expenses though, as any attempt to profit from public positions was severely punished.

Of this group, perhaps as few as citizens - the wealthiest, most influential, and the best speakers - dominated the political arena both in front of the assembly and behind the scenes in private conspiratorial political meetings xynomosiai and groups hetaireiai. These groups had to meet secretly because although there was freedom of speech, persistent criticism of individuals and institutions could lead to accusations of conspiring tyranny and so lead to ostracism.

The constitutional change, according to Thucydides, seemed the only way to win much-needed support from Persia against the old enemy Sparta and, further, it was thought that the change would not be a permanent one. Nevertheless, democracy in a slightly altered form did eventually return to Athens and, in any case, the Athenians had already done enough in creating their political system to eventually influence subsequent civilizations two millennia later.

Ideals such as these would form the cornerstones of all democracies in the modern world. The ancient Greeks have provided us with fine art, breath-taking temples, timeless theatre , and some of the greatest philosophers, but it is democracy which is, perhaps, their greatest and most enduring legacy. Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication. We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Become a Member.

Cartwright, M. Athenian Democracy. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Cartwright, Mark. Last modified April 03, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 03 Apr This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

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Autochthon (ancient Greece)

Listen to this article , narrated by Richard de Man. Ancient Sources Other city -states had, at one time or another, systems of democracy, notably Argos , Syracuse , Rhodes , and Erythrai. Remove Ads Advertisement. Bibliography Ferguson J. Ward Lock Educational Co Ltd,

Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy
Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy

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