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Power And Politics: Athens’ Fall From Grace

1737 words - 7 pages

Athens’ governmental shift in 501 BC was unprecedented and innovative, being the first notable implementation of democracy in an ancient world inundated in monarchy. This form of government, founded by Cleisthenes, has been instrumental in Western Civilization, especially since the modern age. Democracy gave Athens life, providing not only a well functioning governing system, but also enabling the city-state to grow and survive multiple Persian invasions. However, at the dawn of the Athenian empire and the rise of Pericles, democracy began to die, and Greeks lost their love of freedom when they sought power and glory through their military conquests. I argue that Athenian’s rejection of democracy can be seen through their mistreatment of other states and their lust for power and glory.
Some might argue that, under the rule of Pericles, democracy thrived in Athens. Pericles stood for democracy and dedicated his career to creating an Athens which was not only a beacon to the world but also a shining light of democracy during a Monarchist age. While Pericles was in office, all remnants of the previous oligarchic system were replaced with a democratic system in which all social and economic classes had influence. Pericles praised Athens system of government in his famous funeral oration:
Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition.

This was the government that the Greeks were proud of. This was the liberty that they enjoyed within the walls of their city. But Athens was too proud, and they continually sought power and glory while relentlessly oppressing those under their rule.
After the Persian war, Athens formed the Delian league in association with several other cities which resided in and by the Aegean Sea. The primary purpose of the league, as recorded by the historian Thucydides, was to “avenge the wrongs they suffered by ravaging the territory of the king [the Persian Empire]” . The cities in the Delian league met at the Island of Delos and were in treaty to protect against another Persian invasion. However, soon Persia ceased to be a threat, especially when the Peace of Callias was enacted, and the Greco-Persian wars came to an official end. The League however, did not disband, and instead continued until the end of the Peloponnesian War.
Even though the Delian League began as a pact between city-states, it slowly progressed...

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