Athenian Democracy in the Fifth Century Source Evaluation

A breakdown of the set sources for this ancient history AS unit.



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Athenian Democracy in the Fifth Century Source Evaluations:
In order of use:
Herodotus' Histories:
· Not a native of Athens
· Lived his entire life during the fifth century (c.484c.425)
· The histories written as a long account of the GrecoPersian wars
· Considered to be the first work of what we consider history, Before Herodotus, no
writer had ever made such a systematic, thorough study of the past or tried to
explain the causeandeffect of its events.
5.66: Shows that Cleisthenes gave the Athenian people a far greater role in public affairs
in return for their support for him in his power struggle with Isagoras. In fact, he was
"having the worst of it" at first, and only won because he "set himself up as a special friend
of the people." Showing that his motivation for democratic reform was more selfish in
nature. This is contrary to the view that it was from the people, not Cleisthenes' own
accord, who forced him to set up democracy.
5.69: Shows that Cleisthenes wanted a tribal structure distinct from that of the Ionians,' he
split the Athenians into 10 tribes (replacing the previous 4) and divided up the demes. This
clearly gave him majority support: "With the people won over to his side, the members of
the opposing faction were put thoroughly in the shade.)
Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians:
· Most agree that it was an anonymous pupil of Aristotle, not Aristotle himself who
wrote this source.
· Written in the dying days of Athenian democracy around 330320.
· The pupil's work is split into two parts, the first covering the history of Athenian
democracy from before Solon to after Pericles and the second was an account of
how Athenian democracy worked in his own time.
2122.6: Tells us that Cleisthenes' reformed the 4 tribes into 10 new ones, named after
heroes, they weren't ethnic tribes, but artificial creations that people were evenly
distributed into as cleisthenes wanted to "mix them up so that more men should have a
share in the running of the state." [21.2]
Cleisthenes made the council a body of 500 (made up of 50 people from each tribe) rather
than one of 400 (made of 100 from each of the old tribes)
He divided the land of Attica by demes into 30 parts (10 in the city, 10 in the plains and 10
along the coast) and called these parts thirds, and allotted 3 to each tribe so that "each
tribe should have a share in all the regions." [21.4] Each tribe controlled roughly 10%
of the demes in Athens. We know that demes were like a large family unit led
by a demarch (topic 2)
Chapter 22 tells us about Cleisthenes' adoption of the policy of Ostracism. According to
the author, there were personal reasons for implementing this (to get rid of a relative of
Pissistratus, Hiparchus in 487) The policy was first used by the people to get rid of the
friends of tyrants, and then to exile anyone the Athenians deemed too powerful.

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Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War:
· From Athens, lived his life as an adult during the Poleponnesian War, in which he
fought . (Historians predict his lifespan from c.460c.…read more

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Thucydides wasn't advocating dictatorship, in fact he seemed to praise Pericles for having
no corruption at all: he "never sought power from any wrong motive"
Thucydides attributes the failures of Athens to Pericles' successors, stating that they were
too focussed on themselves and not enough on what was best for the people.…read more

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Aristophanes' way of criticising their mob mentality and lack of effectiveness as a
governing body. Especially in finding a way to end the war.
Aristophanes also satirises the Assemblymen through the character of Dikaiopolis, a
farmer forced to live in Athens because of the destruction of the agricultural
countryside by the Spartans, who is obviously tired of the Second
Peloponnesian War (voicing Aristophanes' own frustrations at how long the
futile war has been dragging on for.…read more

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With no Pericles to guide the Assembly and council, the limitations of these
institutions were being felt, though few Athenians would ever blame the system
itself (a common theme)
· Set in a comically exaggerated example of an Athenian trial.
· Procleon (Philocleon) represents the people of Athens and Anticleon (Bdelycleon),
his son, who succeeds in convincing him that he has allowed himself to be duped,
representing Cleon's political opponents.…read more

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Memorabilia 3.7.6:
[Full text] "The fullers or the cobblers or the builders or the smiths or the farmers or the
merchants, or the traffickers in the marketplace who think of nothing but buying cheap
and selling dear? For these are the people who make up the Assembly."
Xenophon uses this passage negatively, further demonstrating the aristocratic ideal of
selfsufficiency, rather than buying from merchants, referenced by Aristophanes.…read more

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Plutarch's The Rise and Fall of Athens:
· Wrote a long time after Athens' fall, (the first century AD) unlike the ancient
historians who actually lived in Greece at the time they were writing about.
· His account was written primarily for Roman audiences and he described the
events through the lives of great men like Pericles to captivate his readers.
· Didn't have as much of a scientific approach to factual evidence like Thucydides
Nicias 11.…read more

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From me you will hear the whole truth, though not, by Zeus, gentlemen,
expressed in embroidered and stylised phrases like theirs, but things spoken at random
and expressed in the first words that come to mind, for I put my trust in the justice of what I
say, and let none of you expect anything else.…read more


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