From Democracy in Name to Democracy in Practice? Contextualizing the Transition to Oligarchy of 411 BCE in Athens

Publication Year:
2018
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Repository URL:
https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/1996
Author(s):
Barnett, Jackson
thesis / dissertation description
This thesis provides an analysis of the Athenians? transition from democracy to oligarchy at the end of the second decade of the Peloponnesian War (411 BCE) after the failure of the Sicilian Expedition. It attempts to contextualize the Athenians? endorsement of abandoning their democracy in favor of an oligarchy by seen it in a broader context of decision-making. This thesis focuses on the role of both the leaders of the d?mos and the d?mos itself in instances of decision-making leading up to the institution of the oligarchy, considering political process(es), ideology, and collective emotion. This thesis is organized in two parts. Part I provides an analysis of the d?mos?s decisions during the Peloponnesian War under the leadership of Pericles, whom Thucydides praises as the ?first man of his time in Athens, most capable in both speech and action? (1.139.4), as well as an analysis of the Sicilian Debate, which results in the d?mos?s decision to sail to Sicily with a massive force that will ultimately be defeated. Part II examines the political, economic, military, and emotional landscape of the Athenians after the disaster in Sicily and the subsequent transition to oligarchy, focusing on the Athenians? initial endorsement of the oligarchy as proposed by Peisander. In both Parts I and II, this thesis focuses on hope and hopelessness and the ways that each impact political processes and potentially undermine the Athenians? democracy.