chapter  1
44 Pages

The Athenian … empire?

BySophie Mills

Chapter 1 begins with an overview of definitions of empire and a discussion of earlier assessments of how Athens’ power conforms or fails to conform to such definitions. While the material conditions of Athens’ power, in size of territory ruled and longevity of rule, may not closely conform to more traditional ideas of empire, a study of Athenian funeral orations and other texts suggests that several tropes of Athenian rhetoric about Athens’ power correspond quite closely to the imperial discourses of Rome, Britain and other empires, and the chapter uses these tropes from later empires to illuminate the ways in which Athens could talk about its power, even when the age of its power in the Aegean was long gone. These tropes include the idea that the empire must continually expand; that it is, or at least strives to be, eternal, lasting from the dawn of time to an unspecified future; that it only undertakes wars for moral motives, either self-defence or to aid defenceless suppliants; and that the national character of its people ensures that the power of the ruling nation is just and does not oppress its subjects.