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Source Exercise 1: The Athenian Empire: 5

The Assembly was the regular gathering of male Athenian citizens to listen to, discuss, and vote on the decrees which affected both public and private aspects of Athenian life, both great, like decisions on peace and war, and more trivial, such as religious festivals and the regulation of ferry boats. The inspector would rather be there, transacting private business, than being forced to visit Cloudcuckooland. 

Although some officials were elected, choosing by lot was a common practice, and in this case the lot has fallen on the Inspector. Voting urns were the equivalent of ballot boxes today. Sacrifice was an important ritual in Ancient Greece as part of a desire to establish and follow the will of the gods. A stele is an inscribed tablet on which decisions were recorded. 

Cloudcuckooland was plagued, as Athens’ allies were, by visits from various officious Athenians. The decrees offered by the Decree-seller are parodies of well known Athenian decrees, including one in which the Athenians attempted to enforce the use of Athenian units of weight and length and of Athenian coinage by all their tribute-paying allies. 

Although clearly aspects of this extract are there for comedy value and might be considered no more than slapstick, there would be no comedy if they did not strike a chord with contemporaries so it is possible to infer from the extract that the system of choosing officials by lot was not always popular, that some decrees were considered absurd and that government officials did not always command respect. Clearly this is not a source to use in isolation, but it might be used in conjunction with other sources to help confirm or reject an interpretation.

Now read source 3 carefully.

Source 3

As to allies and their sailing out and bringing vexatious litigation against the upper classes whom they hate - the point is that they know that the ruler is bound to be hated by the ruled, and if the rich and respectable prevail in the cities, then the power of the Athenian people will be short-lived, so they remove the rights of the upper classes and confiscate their property, exile them and execute them, and they promote the poor.

As before consider:

  • What sort of person might have written this source?
  • What is it saying about what Athenian strength is based upon?
  • Why, according to this source, might the Athenians have found it difficult not to promote the poor?


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