The Athenian Democracy and its Slaves

Dimitris Kyratas looks at the ambiguities of treatment for those formally excluded from an 'all men are equal...' formula.

Ancient Greek city-states had too many external enemies to be happy with anything weakening their defensive or offensive capacity. To cope with their internal problems, the Greeks were quite inventive. Colonisation was a successful remedy for land-hunger, which was probably among the principal causes of social discontent. Arbitrators and lawgivers, often called from abroad, were able, on several occasions, to mediate between conflicting factions and secure workable solutions. By exiling political leaders, alone or along with their supporters, Greek cities gave other leaders a good chance of proceeding with their programmes unchallenged. Wars with neighbours may not always have been victorious, but even when they did not lead to the annexation of productive land, they normally strengthened the internal front. Furthermore, ritual purifications, religious festivities and athletic contests served, among other purposes, the cause of civic cohesion.

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