chapter  18
13 Pages


OF ATHENIAN POLITICS It is important at the outset to understand the nature of Athenian politics and of political organizations in the fifth century. There were no political parties, in the modern sense, with distinctive political philosophies and party structures. Political groupings in Athens centred around certain outstanding individuals – usually wealthy aristocrats, at least in the first half of the century. The ancient writers refer to these factions as ‘those around so-and-so’, and the core of a typical faction would be constituted from relatives, close friends and immediate supporters. In a society that lacked political parties and their organization, ‘philia’ (political friendship) was absolutely crucial as the basis of political organization. However, political success for an ambitious politician depended upon reaching out to a wider constituency and attracting outsiders, beyond the ‘philoi’ (friends), to his policies. This required good oratory, generosity to his fellow citizens, success in military affairs and in public service, and an attractive character; a well-judged marriage would also bring the support of another powerful political faction. In addition, coalitions were often formed between factions usually to achieve a specific political objective – for example, although Nicias and Alcibiades were political enemies, their factions united c. 416 to secure the ostracism of Hyperbolus (Plutarch, Nicias 11). But these coalitions were fleeting, for as soon as the immediate political objective had been achieved, they would often split and form coalitions with other factions in pursuit of a different aim. This constant flux and inter-action between the factions must be borne in mind throughout this chapter, if the personalities and political issues are to be understood. The idea that in fifth-century Athens there existed only two or three ‘parties’, or that a few prominent individuals were the only important politicians, or that Pericles was the unchallenged leader of Athens from 444/3 to his death, must be resisted, as the literary sources concentrate solely on the prominent politicians of the first rank, and dismiss or diminish the standing of other important politicians, who are known from the finds of ostraka (see ‘ostracism’ in Chapter 7).