The Old Oligarch: Revealing Athens As A World Class City

1089 words - 4 pages

The Old Oligarch: Revealing Athens as a World Class City

"It might be suggested the ability of the allies to pay tribute is the strength of Athens" (The Old Oligarch, I, 15). Indeed. It is this characteristic in particular of the Delian League that leads it to be rightfully called the Athenian Empire. If each state had maintained its own fleet, and sent it to join the League in its expeditions, they would have held on to a significant measure of independence. Instead, a critically large enough portion of the league members abdicated control over their own military (by their own choice or by force) and simply paid cash to Athens, giving that city the ability to maintain an empire through the use of military might.

The effects of this go far beyond the imbalance of military power between Athens and her tributaries, however. The Old Oligarch lists four main areas where the existence of the Empire benefits the common people of Athens, thus giving impetus to radicalize democracy and justify the expansion and strengthening of the Empire, and giving is reason to find an ongoing justification for its existence. The first is the building of the disproportionately large Athenian navy. Second is the overall flattening of the Athenian social pyramid, raising the relative status of the lowest classes of society, and exemplified by the way that Athens becomes a magnet for aliens to live and work, and gives unusual freedom and opportunity to slaves. Third is that the allies are compelled to have their court cases tried in Athenian courts, bringing both prestige and financial reward to Athens. Finally, the centralizing effect of these things, and the obvious maritime nature of the Empire, make Athens a trading center, meaning that goods from the entire known world are available to Athens, putting at her disposal an extraordinary variety and quantity of resources. Taken more broadly, the first area, building the navy, gives direct economic and political benefit to the common people, and the three others make Athens a cosmopolitan city, with the cascading synergy of benefits and side effects that that entails.

In (I, 2) The Old Oligarch tells us what it means for such a magnificent navy to be built in Athens and manned by Athenians. The shipbuilding industry booms. Skilled crewmen are employed, giving greater wealth and status to the social strata just below the traditional core of the political power base, the upper middle class hoplites. Moreover, beyond the relatively few ship captains and mates that this required, hundreds of rowers had to be hired from among the common people at the expense of the Empire. This made the landless poor valuable to the state in their role of its military defenders, put coins in their pockets (well, in the folds of their robes, or whatever), and put many more jobs on the market, increasing the scarcity of unskilled labor and thus increasing their value as a labor resource, and their...

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