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Democracy In Thucydides Notes

Classics Notes > Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War Notes

This is an extract of our Democracy In Thucydides document, which we sell as part of our Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Oxford students.

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"To what extent did the Athenians of 415 B.C. really discover a mirror of their own democracy in Syracuse?" In the Sicilian books there is a striking parallel between the pair of speeches in the assembly at Athens and those in the assembly at Syracuse. They also share the two speakers which were probably frequent opponents in a democratic assembly; a slightly oligarchic aristocrat and an outright demagogue. However it is interesting to consider to what extent the Athenians really did discover a mirror of their own democracy or whether the impression Thucydides gives here is slightly misleading. Firstly it is crucial to define what democracy means in the ancient world and more importantly what forms Athens set down as a model for emulation in other states. Most importantly the demos, consisting of all adult male citizens (very minimal property qualifications), must be the sovereign body, making all legislation and deciding upon all policy. Also magistrates must be elected or allotted for only a short period of office which at the end of their tenure is open to scrutiny by the demos. Lastly there must be a system of ostracism to dispose of those with perceived tyrannical intentions and a system of state pay for jurors so that everyman could attend. In order to assess to what extent Syracuse was like Athens their system must be compared to this Athenian model and the evidence for this comes from several sources; Aristotle, Diodorus the Sicilian and Thucydides. Democracy was born in Syracuse when the entire polis united to get rid of the cruel tyrant Thrasybulus and according to Diodorus, "guarded its democracy for almost sixty years until the tyranny of Dionysius." After he was deposed there was factional rivalry between the "Old" (dispossessed victims of the tyrant) and the "New" (an elite class created by the veterans of the tyrant), which in 463 BC the "Old" eventually won and restored all land and political rights. They also held the first meeting of the demos in which the council, assembly and board of generals was set up. They also set up a shrine to Olympian Zeus in which they keep the roll of Syracusean citizens (Plu. Nic. 14). Furthermore they also introduce petalism which was very similar to the process of ostracism in Athens. This did fall quickly out of use but it is more of a precaution than a measure which needed to be frequently employed so this lack of use may simply imply lack of requirement. (The process was used infrequently in Athens as well). In terms of who could fully participate in the workings of government the Syracusans were very Athenian in the way they closely controlled the people who could vote in the assembly and act as a magistrate. For example they forbade all the mercenaries that Thrasybulus had made citizens to secure his own position from taking part in the running of the state; seven thousand men in total. This is reminiscent of the Periclean laws in 451/50 which disenfranchised men who did not have two Athenian parents which possibly was a significant proportion of the community and in fact included Pericles himself. According to the model then, a lot of the democratic structures closely resemble those of Athens and so the basis for a very similar form of government is firmly created.

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