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polis dominated the politics of the Hellenes as each polis was the center of power for a region Greece. Classical historians, Rhodes and Bosworth, discussed the advantages and limitations of the polis system along with other types of states and governments available to the ancient Greeks. Rhodes analyzed Athenian democracy, whereas Bosworth examined the administration of Lycurgus. Both historians conceded the limitation of the polis as the primary state system of the Greeks, but this did not mean that they rejected it. Rhodes and Bosworth argued successfully that although the polis failed in military conquest, it succeeded through development and prosperity that lasted for centuries. Rhodes began his work with comments on Athenian democracy, particularly in regard to the limitations of democracy. He stressed the restrictiveness of the Athenian democratic system with only citizen adult males being allowed to participate. Rhodes placed an emphasis on the power of the Council of 500, as only it could determine the issues for the Assembly to vote on. The administrative system left little room for anybody to show great competence with only year of service per administrator allowed.1 According to Rhodes, the wealthy elite possessed an advantage over other citizens, as only the wealthy served as generals and could be reelected. But, he left out the sheer volume of pressure under the generals not only to win, but perform without any significant errors.2 Therefore, he was unfair to the rest of the citizens who could hold the
Rhodes, Cambridge Ancient History, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), 565. 2 Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 566. Discussed in class.
elite accountable for their actions. He examined the effect war had on the Athenian democracy with a population drop and poorer attendance in the Assembly. Equally important to the democracy remained how the Assembly regulated the taxes with the help of a revenue clerk.3 Although a population decline in war would be understandable, a decline in Assembly attendance makes little and determining this information must be highly speculative. Rhodes reminded the reader that democratic Athens possessed an aristocratic element within it while downplaying the abilities of the poorer classes. Bosworth focused on the administration of Lycurgus in Athens during the reign of Alexander the Great. He focused more on civic responsibility and finances, rather than social Athenian history. With little threat of war or invasion, Athens prospered under the administration of Lycurgus, an aristocrat, who oversaw Athens’ revenues triple from 400 to 1,200 talents a year. For the twelve years of his administration, Lycurgus controlled 14,000 to 18,000 talents, making him extraordinary influential in Athenian politics.4 Rather than writing about the structure of the financial system, which would require much speculation, he examined how Athens received and spent its wealth. Placing emphasis on expenditures made the essay interesting because it allowed greater insight of how Athenians lived. With little evidence of a tax increase, Bosworth deduced that income must have come from harbor taxes, sales taxes, and mining concessions.5 Therefore, we may conclude that the standard of living went up for Athenians. Alexander’s hold over Greece made examining the foreign policy of the democracy irrelevant, so Bosworth chose wisely to write about the more interesting topic of administration.
Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 567-569. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great, (Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1988), 204-206. 5 Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 206
Rhodes examined the systems of other poleis such as monarchies and oligarchies, along with organizations larger than the polis such as federations and leagues. Although these systems were larger, these systems or their government failed to impress Rhodes. Boeotia, a federation with Thebes as hegemon, made others within the federation secondary citizens.6 Rhodes looked down upon the Homeric monarchy possessed by Macedon as “rudimentary” and autocratic. The hereditary system lacked any formal council or ministries with only the king giving orders enforced by his loyal army.7 Alliances and leagues also were a form of union, albeit a loose confederation united only in foreign policy. These unions allowed the Greeks to combine their power to weaken or destroy enemies. This system permitted Philip of Macedon to control the Greeks with the League of Corinth, thus limiting Greek freedom. 8 Macedonian revolts throughout the League of Corinth proved that many Greeks disliked Macedonian domination.9 Rhodes placed the polis as the most effective state system available to the Greeks during the fifth and fourth centuries, whereas other systems were innately unfair which sometimes caused revolts. The polis system allowed Athens to reap the benefits of peace effectively, ensuring security, prosperity, and perhaps happiness for its citizens. One important goal of Athens was the increase of commerce by reducing piracy, a parasite that sucked the wealth out of the Greek commercial system. The Athenians established a naval base and colony on the coast of the Adriatic Sea to intercept pirates and protect trade.10 Bosworth did not place enough emphasis on piracy suppression as a reason for the expansion of the
Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 581-82. Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 586-87. 8 Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 588-89. 9 Terry Buckley, Aspects of Greek History, (New York: Routledge, 1996), 491. 10 Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 207.
Athenian navy, which he should have done rather than attempting to place the Athenian navy on par with the Macedonians. Bosworth focused more Athenian build up against a conventional military enemy such as the Macedonians in the future because illustrating the military weaknesses of the polis was more important to his argument. The Athenian military expanded under the administration of Lycurgus because the Athenians became wealthy as a result of peace with their neighbors. Athens military buildup did not simply revolve around expanding the fleet and hoplite units. Rather, the Athenians developed infrastructure to support their military. The new arsenal and naval dockyard supported the Athenian military by protecting assets and preventing waste and inefficiency.11 The Lycurgus expended great effort and wealth to maintain military readiness as commended by the Decree of Stratocles.12 The Athenian militarization demonstrated the faith that Athenians had in the polis because if they believed that the imperial Macedonian system could easily overwhelm them, it would be illogical to spend so much money on a military buildup. The Athenians geared their military increasingly toward fighting a conventional war against a major power and Bosworth effectively illustrated this concept by examining the types of assets produced or bought. For example, the Athenians maintained a stockpile of weapons on the acropolis, which must be for an emergence situation. Furthermore, maintaining four hundred triremes at a high level of military alertness suggested that the Athenians intended the warships to fight a powerful opponent rather than pirates or rebels. Quadremes and quinremes strongly supported operations against large fleets because the Athenians constructed these vessels to fight other large enemy
Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 207. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 208.
warships. The growth of the Athenian quadremes from eighteen to fifty in five years showed that the Athenians sought to regain their position as the premier naval power in the Mediterranean.13 Bosworth used the expansion of the Athenian military to support the notion that a polis could materially compete with the Macedonians at sea. Bosworth argued that a lack of fighting skill because of inexperience placed the Athenians at a severe disadvantage against the Macedonians. Bosworth evaluated the Athenians’ fighting capability with their training and their experience in battle. The Athenians fought one major battle with one hundred triremes to protect their grain supply at Tenedos, but aside from that engagement, the Athenians were relatively inexperienced. The Macedonian admirals possessed much more experience. The Athenian military training system or ephebeia prepared the Athenians for combat in the port of Piraeus and in the countryside for two years. This system became mandatory for all men wishing to become citizens and the state equipped all citizens entering the ephebeia with weapons at its expense during the administration of Lycurgus.14 The lack of combat experience was the downside for Athenian military forces during the peaceful years which they attempted to compensate with military training. The development of Athens during the administration of Lycurgus as portrayed by Bosworth displayed a sense of greatness within the polis and a sense of pride in most Athenians. Lycurgus spent Athenian tax revenues and money from donors on grand public works projects such as the Panathenic Stadium. Furthermore, Lycurgus provided additions to the Agora as public expense.15 As with any city, the public works projects must have added to the character of the polis and likely brought pride to Athenian
Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 208. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 208-209. 15 Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 210-211.
citizens. According to Bosworth, there were few traitors within Athens and most citizens were loyal to their polis. Few Athenians saw the Macedonians as saviors of Greece, but nor did all Athenians distrust Macedonians. Rather, some Athenians cultivated good friendships with Macedonians.16 Athens cultivated the patriotism of its citizenry as preparation for when it could regain total sovereignty.17 Ultimately, Bosworth placed Athenian loyalty with polis and that the monuments constructed were a part of Athenian greatness, thus the greatness of the polis. Rhodes evaluated the polis as a political system and despite its failings, ultimately succeeded. Rhodes acknowledged that Athens and Sparta lost the absolute power they possessed in the fifth century, but recalled how both united in the face of their Persian enemy.18 He admitted the polis became an increasingly local power during the reign of Alexander the Great, but refused to accept the failure of the polis. To Rhodes, the polis survived as a Greek institution and lasted for centuries despite its weaknesses.19 The polis not only survived, but thrived until the polis became merely a historic political unit. Although the polis could not be a military superpower anymore in the ancient Mediterranean, it could be a basic political unit that citizens relied upon for basic services. Historians Bosworth and Rhodes took the polis as an important political structure that survived long past its days of martial glory. The polis remained the center of loyalty for its citizens even after the supremacy of Macedon and later powers. The two historians illustrated effectively the importance of the polis system and how the
Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 212-213 Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 215. 18 Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 589-90. 19 Rhodes, “The Polis and the Alternatives,” 591.
governments of the polis managed. Even without the most feared militaries in the Aegean, many poleis prospered and remained great centers of wealth and culture.
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