CLCV 205: Introduction to Ancient Greek History
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Introduction to Ancient Greek History
CLCV 205 - Lecture 21 - The Struggle for Hegemony in Fourth-Century Greece
Chapter 1. Spartan Power After the War [00:00:00]
Professor Donald Kagan: Welcome back! I wanted to let you realize that the Peloponnesian War is over. What a relief, twenty-seven bitter years, but it’s just one of those times through history that you discover no sooner is it over than another kind of trouble starts. Of course, as you know, the whole course has been filled with that kind of trouble and it will continue that way right to the end. Well, you remember what the Spartans allegedly went to war about back there in 431. They were going to free the Greeks, and the irony of that is really quite extraordinary. Remember Xenophon ends his tale of the end of the Peloponnesian War, how the Spartans and their people were all tearing down the walls of Athens to the music of flute girls and everybody thinking, or it seemed, I forget exactly how he puts it that this represented the beginning of freedom for the Greeks.
Well of course, he was writing these years later and he knew perfectly well that was an illusion, because Spartan power, which had grown to an unprecedented degree in the course of the war, now presented the Spartans with problems and opportunities. I think that’s a very important thing to understand, and I think not enough people do. Power has a certain life of its own. The capacity to be able to do something without somebody preventing you makes you think about what you might do in ways that you never thought about before, when you didn’t have the power to do it, and of course this is what happens to the Spartans. They find themselves presented with choices that they could take. How were they to conduct themselves and their state and how were they to try to arrange the structure of states in the Greek world, and including their relations to Persia, because they really had enough power to be able to think of different things they might do.
The logic of the situation presented really three possibilities. They could, of course, do what they had done much of the time before the fifth century, mainly to confine themselves to the Peloponnesus, to maintain their control of the Peloponnesian League, and basically not to get involved in anything outside the Peloponnesus and much recommended that in Spartan tradition. It meant that the helot problem, which was always on their minds, something they couldn’t forget, they were desperately outnumbered at all times by people who hated them and whom they lived off. So, the notion of leaving with an army from the Peloponnesus at any time was always a questionable proposition, even though sometimes it was necessary.
As we shall see, changes had taken place in Sparta in the course of the Peloponnesian War, of which I suppose the most important was the appearance in the hands of Spartans of a good deal of money, which was made available by the Persians for wartime purposes, both in the doing, in the collecting of that money and also in the taking of many cities away from the Athenians, very prosperous cities the Spartans also gained a great deal of booty. So, for the first time there were lots of Spartans, who had lots of money and of course, as you know, not only was that not a characteristic feature of Spartan society normally, it was forbidden.
The laws in Sparta did not permit coins. The closest thing to coins were these fistfuls of iron spits which don’t get you very far and don’t buy very much. It was — see the point is that the presence of that kind of wealth, and really no traditional way of coping with it meant that there were other uncertainties now and opportunities that various Spartans felt. So, anyway the idea of staying in the Peloponnesus certainly appealed to many Spartans, because they feared that involvement outside the Spartan world and certainly they fear the arrival of money, which would be necessary as they begin to be engaged outside that world, would undermine those traditions which they valued so much, which were part of their identity. Living according to the laws of Lycurgus was what it meant to be a Spartan and made you feel superior to other people. So, there was a feeling of danger in the minds of the conservative Spartans who would have preferred that.
But of course there was the other possibility that the Spartans could use this new-found power, and I suppose the money that went with it to govern things, and maybe to exploit opportunities outside the Peloponnesus and that choice also could be divided up into two. At the extreme, the Spartans had it in their power to contest control of the entire Greek world in the east. I mean, I’m leaving out, as we always do, western Greeks who live in Italy and Sicily, except when they get involved in the main theatre in the Aegean. But the Spartans could have and some Spartans did want to contest control of the Aegean and of the coast of Asia Minor, and of the Hellespont and the waters beyond, with the Persians, who would otherwise have controlled them now that the Athenians were out of the way.
This would require money but would also make money available, and of course it would take power but it would also produce more power. In a certain sense, Spartans who took this point of view had it in mind to take the place of Athens as the great imperial power in the Aegean and beyond. That was a possibility. We know for sure that some Spartans, and the chief figure here was Lysander, the Greek general, admiral, who had been responsible for winning the war, we know for sure that he and others around him liked that idea and sought to pursue it but they were not alone in that opinion.
Then there’s a third possibility that the Spartans had, and although the ancient sources don’t tell us that any Spartan leader specifically had this in mind, the sheer logic of it suggests that some of them must have thought this was a good idea, and certainly some of the Spartan actions suggest that they were pursuing such, or tried to pursue such a policy. That was not to be confined to the Peloponnesus, but also not to engage in this grander, or you might even say grandiose plan of supplanting of the Athenians, which would include necessarily, somewhere down the road, conflict with the Great Persian Empire.
Of course, the Great Persian Empire didn’t seem so scary as it had at one time in the past. Remember the Athenians had defeated the Persians — first of all, the Greeks had done that back in 480, 479 but even so, ever since then the Athenians had repeatedly defeated the Persians, over and over again. So, they weren’t anything like the scary thing they had been at the beginning of the century. But in any case, you’d have to take that on and many a Spartan would have been deterred by that prospect, and again by the prospect of having to have a fleet, because there was no way to pursue this third policy without having a fleet that began to approach the power of the Athenian fleet when it had been strong. Well, what did that mean? It meant using not the traditional Spartan military advantage — hoplite soldiers fighting infantry battles, but also rowers and expert naval people.
I don’t have the time to go into a detailed account of how naval warfare was carried on in the Greek world, but it’s easy to forget that in addition to the rowers of whom there were 170 in each trireme, who were the engine in a sense, they made the thing move, and officers and usually at least ten or so marines, who could be landed for behaving like hoplites on land. In addition to them, there were critically skilled people who made all the difference in the world, and whether you won or lost in these naval battles — who were well, they were sort of like chief petty officers if you think about it, or its master sergeants in the Army, professionals whose very great skills are critical for the functioning of the larger army. The Greek word for the most important of these was kubernetes, which means steersmen. They were that and they were more than that. By the way, it’s a very nice word, because all the words that have to do with governor, government, govern all derive ultimately from the kubernetes.
So, this would have meant that all kinds of people who were not Spartiates would be critical for the success of such a mission of the overseas type, and so many a Spartan felt that was too much of a derangement of Spartan life and didn’t like it for that reason. But you could still be in favor of a middle policy which would mean extending Spartan power or maintaining Spartan power on the Greek mainland, outside the Peloponnesus, and there were certain things that recommended that. For one thing, Athens had been knocked out as a main power in central Greece and that meant, and it had been demonstrated in the course of the war that it meant it, that Thebes, the dominant power in Boeotia, had already grown to considerable power, had developed a degree of independence which allowed the Thebans to challenge the Spartans frequently and there was a very real chance that Thebes would seek to become at least a power of the first rank, at least somebody who could sit equally at the table with the Spartans rather than subordinate to them.
The fear that some Spartans surely had was that if the Spartans simply stayed in the Peloponnesus, Thebes would become the master of Attica, which was a neighbor of Thebes, as well as of central Greece as a whole and suddenly they would become a real menace to the Spartans, and indeed, down the road, if you go far enough, that’s exactly what did happen. So, that would be the case; well, we need to establish ourselves on mainland Greece as a hegemon, the masters, if not — I shouldn’t say master, a hegemon means leaders. There’s always a conflict there too. When you have a power which is superior to that of the other states, but you don’t conquer them, the question is do you want to relate to them as the Greeks would have said as a hegemon, meaning the leader, which implies a degree of voluntary cooperation, or do you want to dominate, which means mastery and Spartans disagreed among themselves as to what was necessary, even if you were going to take that path.
But these three roots were theoretically, and I think as a matter of fact really, things that the Spartans argued about and there was a certain amount of moving back and forth as the Spartans shifted from one to the other as different individuals gained influence and as circumstances changed. It’s easy to designate at least two of the factions, and I’m inclined to think there were three that can be identified and identified with people. The most aggressive, overseas, let’s conquer and control everything in the Aegean — Lysander is clearly the leader of that faction. But “let’s stay in the Peloponnesus and stay out of interstate rivalries and competitions and just go back to our old ways” appears to have been led by the King Pausanias, and there’s another King Agis, and he is the one that’s unclear. It can’t be confident that he represented a third faction but I think there’s some possibility that he did and that that was the faction that wanted to limit Spartan power, influence control to the mainland of Greece and not to go to sea.
There were great arguments against the Lysander approach. For one thing, the number of Spartans was pretty small to control too vast a territory. We can’t be sure how many there were by now, but it’s pretty well agreed that in the middle of the Peloponnesian War there was something like 3,500 Spartiates, only that many, and the figure continues to go down. By the time we get to the decisive Battle of Leuctra that defeats Sparta finally in 371 there is perhaps about 1,000 Spartiates. Well, how do you run an empire? Forget about how do you conquer one. How do you run one with that kind of population, and also of course the Spartans had traditionally not been a naval power and had done very poorly at sea compared to the Athenians at least, and it was an open question how well they would do against the forces that served the Persian king at sea.
The fact was true that they had no experience with money and money was a critical part of maintaining such an empire as the Athenians could tell them, and everything in the Spartan tradition was based on land power. Now, we can over estimate that. After all, the Spartans had been sending fleets out to sea throughout the Peloponnesian War. In the last part of the war they won two important battles of which the final battle was critical, the Battle of Aegospotami, but if you really look at the whole story it’s not at all clear that the Spartans ever developed the kind of system that would produce a navy that would year after year, after year have the capacity to dominate the sea. So, that was a practical limitation.
Chapter 2. Lysander and His Tyrannical Policies [00:16:16]
Well anyway, however that might be, the man of the hour in 404 was Lysander, the great victor of the Peloponnesian War and his policy was the extreme policy, the “let’s conquer it all” policy. His policy was very much a personal policy, and here the personal is very important. The fact that Lysander was who he was made a very great deal of difference; Lysander was not a pure, legitimate Spartiate. He was what the Spartans called a mothax; he was technically a bastard. That means he had a Spartan father and non-Spartan mother, typically such women would have been helots, but in any case he was brought up, nonetheless as a Spartan, but not as a Spartiate and how to put these pieces together is very hard to know. But he did, as a few others like him in the last years of the war, rose to be a general and the very best general of all, and the man who was put in command of the forces.
But he was a man of extraordinary ambition, and the ancient writers tell us that he had developed the notion of actually bringing about a revolution in Sparta and changing the constitution in such a way that would allow him to become effectively the ruler of Sparta, and the kings, the traditional kings, who were born to the purple to be put aside. Well, if he was going to do anything like that, even if he was only going to try to retain the position he had achieved of tremendous influence and power, he would need to have a command, he would need to have money, he would need to have supporters of every kind, and his policy, therefore, for Sparta was very much a policy that fit the needs of Lysander.
Wherever he liberated a city in Asia Minor, which had been under the Athenian Empire, part of the Athenian Empire, he established a different kind of government. It consisted of ten men chosen from the local people who were friendly to him, who were reliant on him, his people, his puppets, if you will. The name for these establishments was decarchies, rules of ten, groups of ten, and they were his people. To make sure that they were safe he placed a Spartan garrison, or at least a Peloponnesian garrison in that city led by a Spartan commander called a harmost. It comes from the same word from which we get harmony, somebody who preserved order who was the military commander of that region.
All of these people, the harmosts, the decarchs were all his creatures, not anybody who had any independent power or influence, simply his people who did the job for him and liberators of the Greeks, as they had claimed to be, Lysander did not abandon collecting the money from these cities that he had allegedly liberated; the same amount apparently that they had given the Athenians, because our sources tell us that the Spartans were collecting 1,000 talents a year from the newly acquired empire which is something like what the Athenians got from it. So, all of that is in place.
This newly founded Spartan Empire was different from the Athenian Empire in a variety of ways. Remember the Athenian Empire, it started out as a voluntary association with a very clear common purpose, to liberate those Greeks who were still under Persian rule and to preserve their freedom from their Persian neighbors and former conquerors. On the other hand, this new empire under Lysander had no purpose and it was not voluntary in any shape, manner or form; it was thoroughly compulsory. I think it’s fair to say that the Spartans had simply betrayed the Asiatic Greeks whom they had engaged in the rebellion against the Athenians and instead of liberating them, put them under Spartan rule. In many cases, frequently, these governments established by Lysander were tyrannical and rapacious in which these governors and the harmosts and so on basically stole what they could from the natives; this is apart from the official payments they made to the Spartans. They enriched these Lysandrian creatures.
As one of our ancient sources writes, the will of any Spartan was regarded as law in the subject cities. It is clear from all the ancient writers that the Spartans were not easy people in their dealings with other Greeks. Everything in their tradition made them feel superior to other Greeks and they didn’t mind acting in that way. You remember the stories of how it was that the Athenian Empire was founded, or rather that Delian League — the Spartans had so alienated all the Greeks in that region by the way they treated them that they were glad to send the Spartans away and replace them by the Athenians, who did not treat them that way, at least they didn’t do it for some years before they developed into an empire. So this was another problem, Spartans were not good at this job, but at the beginning what was decisive was Lysander.
He was at the height of his power and influence, and I guess it’s fair to say, he reached heights that no mortal ever had reached in the Greek world. The oligarchs whom he had restored to power in Samos loved him so much, and were so grateful for what he had done, that they held religious ceremonies on the island and literally worshipped Lysander, as a god. This is the first time in Greek history that anybody had received such treatment. On the one hand, this elevated his influence and power, everybody wondered at him and so on. On the other hand, it presented a problem, because you can imagine how that went down among the aristocrats of Sparta, and most particularly with the Kings of Sparta, to see that this — I use a technical term not a street curse word, this bastard was now being worshipped as a god, and of course that kind of eminence was unheard of for a non-king in the Spartan world. So, that had all kinds of trouble down the road.
He was as ambitious as he could be, and it was as obvious as it could be. So, there was jealousy and resentment and fear at Sparta that something bad was going to happen to the Spartan way of life, to the Spartan constitution, and Pausanias and his tradionalists bided their time for the opportunity to put a spike into this development. There were other things that were flowing from what I’ve already described that were threatening the traditional character of Spartan life. This money, of course, allowed for corruption. Now, people who had money could buy people’s support, could buy people’s help in their own endeavors for influence and power in Sparta.
One of the things that we hear about that most scholars would like to place in this period, and it seems reasonable to me, was a new law about inheritance; that’s the Law of Epitadeus. He is the man who proposed it. It used to be that inheritance automatically went in a certain direction, nobody had any choice. You couldn’t make out a will and leave it to anybody you liked. It went through the family according to a certain pattern. The Law of Epitadeus changed that. You know could write a will and select your successors however you wished, your inheritors. That meant that there were ways you could work around that so as to buy somebody right while you were still alive.
If you wrote somebody into your will, you were in effect giving him money after you died. So, meanwhile he could serve you and be your political supporter. That was happening and people who had been raised as Spartans and expected to inherit their father’s property would sometimes find that they had been cut out and now they were Spartiates by birth, but they lacked the necessary wealth, necessary land to provide for their meals at the common mess and so they could no longer be Spartiates in the full sense. A term was discovered for them, they were called hypomeiones, which means inferiors and some of the guys who rose to power late in the Peloponnesian War as generals, because they were just good at it, came from some such class.
Chapter 3. Resistance to Spartan Rule; Critias [00:27:03]
So, you have a variety of Spartans who are important, who are not helots, who are not people you could just do what you want to. They play a significant role in society but they don’t have the position of honor, the position of belonging that was necessary and these were disruptive and troubling developments in the Spartan state. We get a clue about this; in 398. We hear about the planning of a revolution in the city. A man by the name of Cynadon, who was one of thesehypomeiones, was planning to have an uprising in which they would kill lots of Spartans and set up a new regime that would give room to the people who were outsiders. Well, the plot was prevented, because one of the people that Cynadon approached told the story to Spartan magistrates and the plot was averted. But the story he told was this. He was standing one day in the agora in Sparta, and Cynadon approached him and he said look around you he said, how many Spartiates do you see? Well, the answer was forty. He said, and how many people are there around here who are not Spartiates? He said about 4,000. He was talking about hypomeiones, neodamodes, various other sub-species but also helots and also perioikoi, and said Cynadon to the men he was trying to recruit, these 4,000 as regards to Spartans would gladly eat them raw.
So, his message was why don’t we have a little revolution? Well, the answer was he was forestalled, but it does tell you that the situation had become sufficiently dangerous that such a possibility existed. So, there is Sparta coping with these various problems and trying to decide how to handle their future and I’d like to shift the scene now to Athens. Athens, which had been the greatest empire that the Greeks had ever seen, had been reduced now to total defeat, absolutely at the mercy of the Spartans, and indeed, the Athenians feared and certainly had reason to fear that the same fate they had visited upon some states that had defied them and there were two that fit the category I’m about to mention, Melos, the island that was conquered by the Athenians. Thucydides describes how the Athenians spoke to them in the famous Melian dialogue, and also a place that most people don’t remember but another town in Thrace. In both places, the Athenians killed all the adult males on the island when they had finally put an end to the siege and sold the women and children into slavery.
The Athenians had every reason to fear that that might be what happened to them. As a matter of fact, Corinth and Thebes, in the conference they had at the end of the war said let’s do that. Thebans especially said, let’s turn Attica into pasture land. Well, the Spartans didn’t do it and the reason they gave was well it would be wrong to treat such a people that way, such a people who helped us in such a critical way as our partner against the Persians when we won our freedom. Well, if you can believe that, you can believe anything. More to the point I think was their fear, that if they did destroy Attica — I mean the houses and the people and all that, what would have happened? This would really be a vacuum of people, of everything else and it’s certainly a vacuum of power, and it wouldn’t stay that way very long. Thebes and its Boeotian subordinates would come in and occupy it and that was not a desirable thing.
So, the Spartans didn’t do that. Instead, with Lysander very much in charge of the settlement that was going to be imposed on the Athenians, they placed in power a small group of oligarchic Athenians just as — by the way he had the same kind of people in the rest of the empire, but not ten. Athens was a very big place. Turned out that there were to be thirty of these new rulers of Attica, all of whom had to meet the criterion of being acceptable to Lysander, and the leaders of which, the really important top gun was a man by the name of Critias, a nobleman who had participated in democracy, but had turned very sharply against it. He was a brilliant man apparently, he had been trained by the great rhetorician and sophist Gorgias and he was also in the circle of Socrates, along with Plato and Xenophon and various other bright young men of the upper classes in Athens.
Also, he was a poet, an orator himself, a philosopher and so on and some of his fragments, of some of his works remain for us to look at, but one thing that he was by 404 was a bitter enemy of the democracy. He had been exiled or had voluntarily taken exile, in order to get away from the democracy, and he was determined now that there should be no democracy in Athens. Just to say a word about that for a moment. It was an easy point of view to arrive at in 404. People who were not friendly to the democracy could simply point to the fact that the democracy had just lost this great war and nobody could really understand how that had happened given the great power of Athens, and of course it was easy to point to the great event that turned the tide against Athens, the Sicilian Expedition, and to say this was an idiotic idea.
And it was exactly the kind of idiotic idea that a democracy would come up with so that democracy itself was seen to be not just — how can I put — Let me say it was seen to be inherently wicked, because it violated what seemed to be the truth about human beings and which was very much a part of all Greek tradition from the first time we hear about it in Homer until — well forever, which was, contrary to the principle of democracy which is that all men, adult male citizens are equal in some very fundamental way or should be, was the contrary view which had much greater support in Greek tradition, that no, men were in fact divided into different kinds of people, and in fact the Greeks thought a division into two kinds was the right kind, the most important kind, a division between the high and the low, between the good and the bad, between the noble and the base, and each of those pairs they’re all the same people. You’re rich, you’re wise, you’re well born or I should say, you’re rich and well born therefore you’re wise, or you are not. If you’re not, you’re obviously not equal to the other guys and therefore you shouldn’t have anything to do with ruling anybody.
So, that was the basic widespread view of what was natural in the Greek world. Now, you add to that that they’ve just lost this terrible war and you could point to what seemed to you to be both a wickedness and foolishness. How in the world could anybody think democracy was a good thing after that? Lest you think there’s something special about that, that’s such a characteristic of the human race. Whenever you have a great war, and if you have two different kinds of political systems vying with each other, winning has an amazing effect on what people think. So, take the First World War when the — let me just say that those countries who lost the war were very open to the idea — they typically had been monarchies and so on, but they had been rather, relatively speaking, liberal monarchies. They had legislatures and elections and things like that, and this came to be seen as a losing proposition and so fascism of one sort or another took root across Europe in states that had had that misfortune. And it was felt that success or failure had to do with the rightness or the wrongness of wisdom of the foolishness of the kinds of arrangements that you had.
Then while the Soviet Union was powerful and expanding around the world, it was expanding in part, along with the idea of communism, which was thought in the circles where it succeeded to be superior to the competition, and observed that when the Soviet Union finally collapsed, there may be communists around the world anymore but they don’t admit it. I mean, they call themselves something else. The idea has been discredited by success of the competition, by failure of that thing. So, it’s a phenomenon that is not amazing, even if this looks like the earliest example, I think, that we know.
So Critias, in any case, was determined that Athens in the future would not be a democracy. In fact, it looks like he was very much taken — again, this is typical, with the virtues of Sparta, because Sparta had won the war. So, it’s easy to say the characteristics that the Spartan state had must be good ones, because they can do the most critical thing that a state can do, win in competition with the other states. So, he had in mind a very narrow oligarchy. One scholar has suggested he actually had in mind to establish in Athens the closest facsimile he could of the Spartan Constitution; it could never be exactly the same, but he was trying to do something like that. That could be true, but it was going to be narrow, a smallish number of people were going to control the city. In fact — well, let me back up; I’ll come back to what I was about to say.
Chapter 4. The Thirty Oligarchs [00:39:11]
Now, however, when they set up the Thirty to rule Athens in 404, it was apparent to people who could judge matters pretty sensibly that given that Athens had been a democracy for over 100 years that it would not be easy to impose such a regime, and that if you made the regime too narrow and too oligarchical, you might find yourself having trouble in keeping your new regime in power. So, Lysander agreed to the idea of making the Thirty compose of twenty men who were Critias’ men, very extreme oligarchs, but allowing Theramenes, an Athenian general, who had flourished during the democracy, but who was very clearly not an old fashioned democrat. He had taken part in bringing about the oligarchic revolution of 400 in the year 411 and again, the group who had made that revolution was divided in something like the same way with the Thirty would be, that is to say, extreme oligarchs and people like Theramenes, whom I guess it’s fair to call moderate oligarchs, although oligarchs only, I think, in comparison with a thorough going democracy.
If you asked Theramenes, what would be the right number of people in Athens to participate in the government, his answer was, as it turned out 5,000, but he really wasn’t interested in that number. What he was interested in was the criteria for participation in government and that was to be a hoplite, to have the wealth necessary to fight in the infantry for your city. In a later sense, it’s not too much later, it was discovered that the number of men in Athens who actually fit that description was not 5,000, but 9,000 and at a time when the Athenian population of adult males was something like 21,000, so that nine out of twenty one would have been the people who participated in the regime; twelve out of the twenty one would have been too poor for that, would not have been allowed to participate; well, that’s not a democracy. It is an oligarchy but it’s a very broad oligarchy. The word “moderate,” I think, applies.
So anyway, Theramenes was to be given the opportunity to appoint nine others besides himself, so there were ten Theramenians, twenty supports of Critias in the Thirty, and that was to turn out to be a problem for the Thirty, as it had been for the 400, because when Theramenes saw that his colleagues in the 400 were trying to establish a narrow oligarchy, he led an uprising that overthrew that oligarchy and ended up finally restoring the democracy. So, that’s the picture of what’s going on in Athens. But Athens, of course, was also inhabited at that time by all of the exiles who had been sent into exile during the democracy, and they were bitter enemies of the democrats, at least lots of them were. So, you had a kind of a confrontation of different ideas and feelings that was a little unusual in Athens. Athens had been a pretty easy going place before the war and even throughout the war, through larger Greece, but now there were very hard divisions and very tense feelings between the different groups.
The Thirty ruled between September of 404 and May of 403, just a matter of months as it turned out, although nobody, of course, knew it was going to be so short when things got started. They established a council of 500 — well, that’s the same number as the Athenian council, but it was quite different. It was made up of extreme oligarchs; they were given judicial powers. Men who were identified as sycophants, and the Greek use of that term, you remember, is people who made money out of denouncing people on false charges in the courts and then winning payments as a result. They were very widely unpopular even in the democracy, and so the Thirty began with an act that was not unpopular by putting to death all the sycophants that they could find and identify, but they also put to death well known leaders of the democracy, people whom they knew would be their political opponents. So, it was bloody from the first, but it was only limited to a certain small portion of the population.
The Thirty — just to make the case that — actually a man who makes his case, a man named Peter Krentz, and he is an old Yalie, so, we ought to give him credit. If you look at the Thirty, if you look at Sparta, what comes to your mind? Thegerousia. Ultimately, in the course of these months, the Thirty limited citizenship, active participation in the government of any kind to only 3,000 Athenians out of what would have been at least 21,000 and probably more. Only these had citizen rights. The rest of the Athenians did not. Well, that’s about how many Spartans there were at this time in history. Another thing they did was to — at a certain point when life got tough, they drove from the city of Athens all those who were not part of the 3,000. Well, what do you call people like that who don’t live in the capital city but who live around? PerioIikoi. And so that’s why Krentz suggests that this is not an accident; that it’s a conscious effort to model the future Athenian state upon the great successful, admirable, Spartan state.
Well, Theramenes didn’t like that. This was far too narrow and far too troubling for the future for Theramenes. Indeed, he pointed out the contradiction, he says, how clever is this? Here you are, a minority in the state, and instead of trying to bring on more people to make yourselves stronger, you’re driving out people and guaranteeing that you will have more people against you than you have for you. He, himself, favored as he had in the time of the 400, he favored a hoplite census. Anybody who could be a hoplite could be a full fledged citizen, and I’ve told you about the numbers. Well, pretty soon people objected to what the Thirty was doing, made complaints, and the Thirty began to go after them.
Chapter 5. Thrasybulus Opposes Sparta and Democracy Is Restored [00:47:08]
One of the problems about talking about the Thirty is that it is not perfectly clear what is the chronology of events, and I can’t tell you with certainty in what order these things happened, but at some point in here the Thirty began to attack a larger group of Athenians, sometimes because they were seen to be political opponents, or thought to be political opponents, or related to political opponents. Sometimes when things got really bad, when the Thirty needed money they actually put people to death just because they were rich, so that they could take their money away and this of course increased the amount of resistance on unhappiness, so that finally a small, I want to emphasize small, very small group of Athenians fled the city and went into exile to neighboring cities, and this is interesting I think and important, the cities that were most receptive to these anti-Thirty, anti-oligarchical, anti-Spartan people, the one who received them most readily were Corinth, Megara, and Thebes, all enemies of Athens, all enemies of democracy.
Why are they doing this? The answer is, they are both angry at the Spartans and I think fearful that the Sparta that is arising now will be a menace to their autonomy. These particular towns were angry about different things. Corinth and Thebes, you remember, had wanted to destroy Athens entirely, and the Spartans hadn’t listened to them. They all shared in the fighting during that long war, but they did not share equally and not enough to suit them in the booty that was taken at the end of the war. So, there were grievances that these towns had, and so they accepted this small number of Athenians and the one town that was most important from this purpose was Thebes. In Thebes they were given a decent home. The Spartans, knowing about this, sent out an order saying that no state should give any home to these exiles, whereupon, the Theban regime at the moment voted that anybody who didn’t give help to these Athenians would be punished. They simply were defying the Spartans on this question.
The leader, the most important of the leaders of this group of exiles — it’s fair to call them democratic exiles, they wished to restore the old democracy, the most important man was Thrasybulus, who had been a general, his best fighting had been done as an admiral during the latter part of the Peloponnesian War. He was present at all the great Athenian victories, and he was not present at the great defeat that ended the war. He and another important politician by the name of Anytus actually began a counter revolution and the — with a very small number of men. The sources differ but the accounts that seem to be most plausible, with only 70 men they went from Thebes to a natural fortress in the mountains between Boeotia and Attica, a placed called Phyle, and built a fort there to which they hoped other discontented Athenians would flee and join them in the resistance.
I’m using the word resistance, and it brings to mind of course an analogy that has always struck me as helpful in comprehending the situation confronting the Athenians at this time. To my mind, it is helpful to think about France in June of 1940 after the Germans had defeated France and occupied part of it and left the other part unoccupied, but absolutely beholden to the Nazi Regime. Now, a Frenchmen had three choices, just as the Athenians did. One possibility would be to join up with the new regime and try to prosper as part of it and some Athenians did that. Others would do what Thrasybulus did, and in France it was the De Gaulle who did this, he happened to be in London at the time this happened and he began to organize, to undue what had happened, and to throw the Germans out, established the free French forces. It’s important to realize that after the war was over, it’s amazing how large that free French force had grown in people’s minds. In reality, it was a handful of people. That’s the way it always is and that’s the way it was in Athens as well.
It was a terrifying prospect to tackle this regime, which looked like it was unbeatable. Remember, they had been put in place by the Spartans. The Spartans ruled the world. What could anybody expect to change that situation? Just as the Nazis looked like they were in business for the thousand years that Hitler had claimed he was going to have. So, it didn’t look like you were a very courageous man if you joined De Gaulle. How many of you have seen Casablanca? Okay, at least you’ve seen one movie in your life; that’s great. But you remember, what are Claude Raines and Bogey doing at the end of the war when he says, Louie I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. When he says that they’re going to Brazzaville to join the free French. Well great, but what did people think about De Gaullel? They thought he was a goddamn fool, there was no chance, this was idiocy, sensible men — what are they trying to do? They tried to win as much as they could in collaborating with the Germans just to make their — the fate of the Frenchman less hard and to help France in the future in that way. That’s the way it was with most Athenians; most Frenchman and most Athenians didn’t do either of those things. They kept their heads down and tried to live their lives as best they could.
I think what you need to understand is happening and this all puts what Thrasybulus and Anytus, and their friends did in a very special kind of a light. These were extraordinarily brave, extraordinarily rash, and extraordinarily optimistic people, and as it happened in this case, it worked for them amazingly. They begin to gather forces that are helping them. Another interesting point is that it’s remarkable how few of the people with Thrasybulus were actually Athenian citizens. A surprising number of them were permanent resident aliens, metics, who, of course, were great targets for the Thirty, because they were typically well off and had money, and of course they had no rights and no power, so many of them, most of the meyics were certainly on the democratic side of this argument; many of them went to fight.
Others, like Lysias the orator, used his money to hire mercenary soldiers to fight for the Thrasybulus democrats as well. Well, the first test came in the month of January. There were these seventy guys or so up in the fortress on Phyle. By now the Thirty were worried enough about this nascent army to send an army of their own, much bigger, to try to get them and it’s at this point that I’m always reminded, again, talk about analogies of the events of Great Britain in the sixteenth-century England, I should say really, when the Spanish Armada was heading for England trying to gain control of the island for the Pope and Catholicism and one thing and another. And what happened was that nature, if you will, or as the British thought of it, maybe God intervened as the Armada was coming out a great wind came up and it blew the ships out of their path and wrecked many of them.
And really the British — the English fleet didn’t do anywhere near as much damage to the Spanish fleet as did the winds. So, from that day forward there sprang up the legend in England of the Protestant Wind, which had come along to save the new English faith against the forces of the Pope. Well, if they can invent a Protestant Wind I think it’s okay for me to speak about the democratic snow that fell on Phyle that went — that’s just what happened. A big snow storm came up, and so when the forces of the Thirty came after Thrasybulus, they just couldn’t do it. They just couldn’t get there; they were fought off and they had to retreat. And as they retreated the seventy came down after them and chased them, and killed them as they fled, and did a certain amount of damage, and the time, the passage of time was very important, because more and more Athenians were becoming hostile to the regime that they had fallen under. And they, more and more of them, although again, it’s amazing how few actual Athenians joined Thrasybulus, but by this time Theramenes had come into the picture.
He was more and more unhappy with what was happening, he stood up in the council and argued against Critias, and Critias finally had him put to death. That was an indication of how far the reactionary forces in the state had come, and we might mention also that the ancient sources estimate that something like 1,500 Athenians may have been killed by the Thirty tyrants. Well, that’s a very large percentage of the population when you think about how many Athenians there were. And finally, that caused so many of their relatives and friends to turn against the Thirty and to join forces, even if they didn’t go out there and fight, to be on the side of the democrats.
A second attack on Phyle, taken at a later time, failed and now suddenly Thrasybulus had a large enough force, he marched to the Piraeus and gained control of that. When the Thirty brought an army out to try to defeat him there he defeated them. They were forced to flee to Eleusis on the northwestern frontier of Attica, and the democrats were in position to take control of the city again. The Thirty were deposed by the 3,000, because it was obvious they were losers and now the 3,000, the successor government to the Thirty, appealed to Sparta for help against this democratic army that Thrasybulus had put out.
Well, think about what should Sparta do? Now, you might have thought it would be obvious. Certainly what Lysander wanted to do is no surprise. He wanted to send a big army to restore the oligarchs to put his own people back in power, and of course, that was fine, but there were people in Sparta who didn’t want to do that, who saw this as an opportunity to deprive Lysander of his power and influence and to restore a more normal situation in Sparta. So the Spartans did vote to send an army in there to deal with Thrasybulus, but they did not put Lysander at the head of the army or even one of his people. Instead King Pausanias was sent out to do the job. Well, they met the Athenian army under Thrasybulus and defeated Thrasybulus, but they did not try to obliterate that army, or as we shall see, treat them as very serious enemies.
For one thing, the Athenians again as they had in the past, fought bravely and well and inflicted serious losses on the Spartan army, but also it was obvious that Pausanias was willing to negotiate a settlement. He wasn’t insistent upon defeating the Athenians and imposing a settlement. So, they worked out an agreement whereby a moderate group of ten would be chosen in Athens and Pausanias and a commission sent from Sparta to sit with Pausanias sat down with these Athenians and worked out a reconciliation for the future. Here’s the essence of what was worked out. A very important part of the story was that they voted — the Athenians did and Pausanias, of course, would have insisted on it too — an amnesty whereby there would be no punishment for people on one side or the other of the quarrel in Athens.
Of course, the people who would have been punished would have been oligarchs and their friends who were now the losing side. There would be an amnesty for anybody, no matter what, except for the Thirty themselves, the ten that the Thirty had put in charge of the Piraeus, the eleven — the eleven were the police force, so to speak, the head of the security forces in Athens and so on. Small groups of people who were thought to be especially responsible for the nasty things that had happened in Athens, but even they were not summarily put to death. They could submit their accounts at an euthyna and if they were cleared at these jury trials — I shouldn’t call them jury trials, tribunals really, they could take up their position as citizens in the new Athens as well, or they could be allowed freely to leave Athens without any harm. So, it was a very moderate conclusion.
What about real oligarchs, what about them? Well, even they were taken care of, the town of Eleusis which they had seized for their own protection as things were going badly, they were allowed to stay there after the settlement. Now, that left Thrasybulus and his friends in control in Athens, and they immediately reinstated the Democratic Constitution pretty much as it had been before all of this had happened. Briefly, in this period of transition, citizenship was limited to the top three Solonian classes, but that quickly fell through and really the full democracy was restored in the year 401. In the same year the democrats seized Eleusis and brought that back into Attica. So, if you’re there in the year 400 Athens would seem to be exactly as it had been internally before the defeat in the Peloponnesian War.
Chapter 6. Features of Restored Democracy [01:04:11]
That newly restored democracy behaved with remarkable moderation. Aristotle in his Constitution of the Athenians goes out of his way to praise this successor Athenian Regime. They kept closely to the amnesty; they did not in fact, prosecute people that they should not have done. On the other hand, they and Aristotle praises this too, because — I guess his sympathies are very close to those of Theramenes, to moderate oligarchy or what Aristotle would call politeia, moderate regime. When Thrasybulus asked — this is an amazing thing, when he asked that those people who had served in his army, who had liberated Athens and restored the democracy that these people be granted Athenian citizenship, the Athenian people voted “no.” To me that is one of the most striking evidences of how the Greeks really felt about theirpolis because even in a situation like that, the idea of sharing citizenship with anybody who was not, so to speak, a member of the family, was beyond what they would contemplate, and even with Thrasybulus, the great hero, the great liberator, asking them to do it, they said “no dice.”
They also repaid the debts that the Thirty had accumulated. What they were doing of course was trying to get things calm as fast as they could, to achieve stability. It’s a very rare thing. Imagine — well, think of what the French did when the war was over. They took their collaborators, they tried them, and they killed them for the most part. That’s what civilized people do. I mean, look what they did in Rwanda, and other places like that where different sides in a civil war simply butcher each other. That’s a very normal situation. What the Athenians did was very abnormal. It was evidence, I think in part, of a great deal of wisdom on the part of the key leaders at the time, and I think it also shows you that Athens over the many years of its democracy had not had sharp edges between the classes. I think there was a general kind of good feeling that made that sort of mass execution something that seemed foreign and too undesirable.
So, if we look at Athens in 401, the democracy has been completely restored and I’d like to draw my comments about this to a close by focusing on Thrasybulus, a man, who I think probably none of you had ever heard his name when you came into this class. You had heard of Pericles, you may have heard of Themistocles, you heard lots of different Athenians, but you never heard of Thrasybulus. So, you might be surprised to hear the following. Cornelius Nepos, a Roman historian of the first century B.C., in writing lives of famous Greeks and Romans, wrote the following about Thrasybulus: “If excellence were to be weighed by itself, apart from luck, I believe I would rank this man first of all. This much is certain, I put no one ahead of him in sense of honor, steadfastness, greatness of soul, and love of country.” That isn’t bad but it’s not the end.
A few years before 180 A.D., Pausanias the great travel writer of antiquity, wrote his guide to the famous and historic places of ancient Greece. In the section on Athens, he described the graves of the heroes and men that lined the roads outside the city beginning with the one leading to the place known as The Academy. Here’s what Pausanias the travel writer says, “The first is that of Thrasybulus, son of Lycus, in every way the greatest of all famous Athenians, whether they lived before or after him.” Think of all the names that are involved in that and maybe the weight of Pausanias’ general comparison is intensified by something a little bit more specific, because the next words in Pausanias’ account are these: “His is the first grave and after it comes that of Pericles,” just in case you thought he missed Pericles by mistake.
Now, that’s extraordinary and there’s a great puzzle that I can’t solve and probably never can be solved. How could it be that these fellows who lived centuries afterwards said these things about Thrasybulus and we have never heard of him? I mean barely heard of him. I mean, the best answer I can give you is there must have been lost histories, and we know there are of the period, and they must have given Thrasybulus the kind of credit for his remarkable achievements that don’t show up in Xenophon and Diodorus and the orators. But we at last, and you have an obligation to future generations, must not let the name of Thrasybulus lie in obscurity again, and just so that you don’t forget him, remember he is the only Greek I know whose name fits a Yale fight song — Thrasybulus, Thrasybulus.
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