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Western Civilization AP

Assessment of Athenian Democracy

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In the United States today, there are many political analysts who argue that real democracy does not exist. There were Athenians who developed critiques of their system. Unfortunately, the author's name of the following does not appear or did not survive from the 5th century. How does his evaluation compare to that of Pericles' or Agard?


An Unknown Author's View of Athenian Democracy


Insolent conduct of slaves and resident aliens is everywhere rife in Athens. You cannot strike a slave there. And he will not get out of your way- in the street. There is a good reason for this being the local custom. If the law allowed a free-born citizen to strike a slave, an alien, or a freedman, then you would often, strike an Athenian citizen in the mistaken impression that he was a slave. For the common people dress as poorly as slaves or aliens and their general appearance is no better....

            The common people take no supervisory interest in athletic or aesthetic shows, feeling that it is not right for them, since they know that they have not the ability to become expert at them. When it is necessary to provide men to put on stageshows or games or to finance and build triremes, they know that impresarios come from the rich, the actors and chorus from the people. In the same way, organizers and ship-masters are the rich, while the common people take a subordinate part in the games and act as oarsmen for the triremes. But they do at least think it right to receive pay for singing or running or dancing or rowing in the fleet, to level up the incomes of rich and poor. The same holds good for the law courts as well; they are more interested in what profit they can make than in the true ends of justice....

Of the mainland cities in the Athenian Empire, the large ones are governed by fear, the Small ones by want. For all states must import and export, and this they cannot do unless they remain subject to the mistress of the seas. Secondly, sea powers can do what land powers cannot-ravage a superior enemy's country. For they can sail where few or no enemy troops are sta­tioned, and, if some enemies do arrive, they can embark and sail somewhere else. This causes fewer difficulties than military assistance by land. A third advantage is that naval powers can sail from their own lands in any direction they choose, but journeys of several days cannot be made by land powers, for the traveling is slow and marching men cannot get provisions for any length of time. Furthermore a land force must either march through friendly country or be prepared to overcome opponents in battle. But a sea power can land where it has superiority, and lie off where it has not, or rather sail, on until it comes to a friendly coast or to a people weaker than itself. A last point is that natural diseases to crops are a sore burden to land powers but not to sea powers. Since the whole world does not suffer from such diseases at the same time, crops from healthy districts can be brought to the cities of those who command the sea.


Source 4 from B. K. Workman, editor and translator, They Saw It Happen in Classical

Times (New York: Barnes b Noble, i964), pp. 3z-;.). I





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