Writing Assignment on Athenian DemocracyElana Sewell-Grossman (8-8)1-7-18 1. In Athens every male son of a citizen was officially enrolled as a citizen at the age of 18. Each young man received a shield and spear and took this oath of allegiance:’Never to disgrace his holy arms, never to forsake his comrade in ranks, but to fight for the holy temples and the common welfare, alone or with others; to leave his country not in a worse, but in a better state than he found it; to obey the magistrates and the laws, and defend them against attacks; finally to hold in honor the religion of his country.
‘- What does this oath reveal about Athenian values? How did political life in the polis cultivate unity among the citizens?Athens was one of the most powerful and important Greek poleis, serving as the birthplace of democracy and a center for philosophy, art, literature, economy, and science, all of which contributed to its success. Another contributing factor to the success of Athens was the unity that existed among citizens, supported not only by the way in which Athens was run but by other Athenian values, all of which work to shape and develop its rich culture.This oath is important not only for its addition to our knowledge of the lives and expectations of Athenians (specifically male citizens) but its implication of Athenian values. The idea that there was an oath brings up the idea of loyalty, as its purpose was to ensure Athenians would be loyal to Athens, specifically in their willingness to fight for their city-state. As well as this, the oath was given only to boys whose parents were both from Athens, giving an implication of pride in the sense of being an Athenian citizen who is loyal to only Athens.
This also provides information on the idea of social hierarchy in Athens as it seems to show the importance of (free) men/boys, considering only they were eligible for citizenship. This is further supported by the limited freedom of women and girls, which appears in literature of the time, such as the Odyssey and in our knowledge of women’s limited role in society. As well as loyalty, strength and bravery were valued, especially in battle.
Athenians were encouraged to fight for their city-state and “defend it against attacks” regardless of the dangers they may face. Relating to the idea of battle, the Athenians approached conflict in an interesting way (but common throughout many city-states), particularly demonstrated in their victory over the Persians. Citizen armies were made up of Hoplites, who would arrange themselves in a phalanx formation, serving to protect each other and act as one united army. This implied elements of dependence and trust because it was expected that the formation would stay this way, as if someone were to affect the formation resulting in its failure, they would not only put themselves in danger but the other soldiers as well, thereby putting Athen’s victory at stake.
Therefore, Athenian soldiers were responsible for the protection of others along with themselves. This is further shown in the oath by saying “never to forsake his comrade in ranks”. One important element of Athens is the balance between daily lives and lives in battle. As described in Pericles’ funeral oration, Athenian citizens were free to leave their lives as they wanted but were expected to fight for Athens. This connects back to bravery as Athenian culture was extremely important, meaning the Athenians were willing to lose their lives for Athens.
This way of living differed greatly from that of Sparta, as Spartans were raised and trained for military purposes, with no choice regarding battle and little to lose if they were to die. The idea of religion is crucial towards understanding Ancient Greek culture and remained an important part of Athens, heavily embedded in this oath and the idea of loyalty to Athens (as to be loyal to Athens was to be loyal to the Gods). Athenians were expected to worship and trust the Gods, an example of which would be Athena, for whom Athens was named after. Citizens of Athens were not only expected “to fight for the holy temples” but also “to hold in honor the religion of his country”. Greek religion acts as a uniting force considering it is one of the few similarities that exist between city-states. This brings up the importance of tradition, which comes up in the cultures of Ancient Greek city-states. The idea of tradition can involve “the magistrates and the laws” which Athenians were expected to abide by, thereby connecting to the idea of the importance of civilization and order, later serving as the foundation for the beginning of democracy.
All of the values expressed in this oath come back to one common theme, unity. In the oath, it states Athenians should fight for the “common welfare” to improve Athens. The importance of unity for all city-states but particularly Athens is undeniable, as it served as the foundation for future political, cultural, and technological accomplishments, serving to benefit not only Athens, but all the city-states of Greece.This idea of unity is further enforced by the way in which the polis of Athens was politically set up, as Athens served as a model for other city-states.
Specifically, Athenian ideas were crucial towards the development of democracy, which constitutes “power in the many”. This supports the idea of unity as in order for the political system to work, every citizen has the right to contribute their ideas and was expected “to leave his country not in a worse, but in a better state than he found it”. Part of the reason Athenian culture was so rich was that citizens were encouraged to contribute their ideas, allowing Athenian culture to involve many different perspectives, all united under one common goal. One example of this is in the Persian Wars, in which Athenians invested newly discovered silver in the use of warships, on which to battle the Persians.
Every citizen was expected to help, forming a sense of community and connecting to ideas of democracy, including citizen participation, contribution, and strength in the people. Throughout the history of Athens, many internal political systems were utilized including a council and assembly, both used to encourage citizen participation in the process of debating, voting, and writing laws. The council supervised the daily work of the government and prepared the agenda for the assembly while the assembly debated and voted on laws and was in charge of writing said laws. They worked to balance each other out to ensure neither had greater or unfair advantage. Therefore, Athens was run as a community, in which all Athenians worked to contribute to the success of their city-state.
While only citizens were given this power, democracy in Athens was the start of a revolutionary idea, one that would only succeed if there was a sense of unity among all Athenian citizens.