ABSTRACT

So how did the system actually work in practice? The democratic system did of course permeate the social and political life of Athens; there was little that Athenians did, or even thought, that was not in some way affected by the remarkable democratic system which they had developed from 508 onwards. In order to see how the democratic institutions actually functioned, and to get a feel of what Athenians themselves thought about them, in this chapter we shall follow through four themes, each with a very different perspective but all focusing on how Athenians used their democratic system. We shall begin with a survey of the key political decisions of the period from Marathon to just after 450, the period which saw Athens reach the height of its influence through the development of its fleet and the establishment of the Delian League, which quickly became an Athenian Empire. Then we shall follow in outline the career of Pericles, in particular identifying how he managed to control so effectively the policies of the now elaborate democracy. Third, we shall look at some of the views expressed by the comedy playwrights, concentrating necessarily on Aristophanes since many of his plays survive whereas we have only fragments (though very interesting fragments) of the others. And finally, we shall hear from ‘The Old Oligarch’; we do not know who he was, but he had little time for the cumbersome procedures of the democracy or for the ‘worthless people’ who dominated it.