HIST 221 Athenian Democracy in Crisis


Major Requirement: History of Europe, Period prior to 1500

Athens was one of the most successful and exceptional states in antiquity because it developed and sustained a liberal democracy at a time when monarchies and oligarchies dominated much of the world. As fascinating as it is to trace the developments that contributed to the adoption of democracy at Athens in 511 BCE, an even more fruitful enterprise, especially at a time when our own democracy is becoming increasingly more precarious and fractured, is to study the manifold changes in political, economic, and cultural life during the last third of the 5th century that led the Athenians to take their democracy for granted and adopt undemocratic changes in their
constitution. This course will thus concentrate on the tumultuous period from 431 to 399, beginning with the greatest "upheaval" of the age, the Peloponnesian War, which witnessed civil war and political revolution, and ending with the trial and execution of one its greatest citizens, Socrates. This period is particularly rich in primary sources, including Thucydides' magisterial history, law-court speeches, comedies, tragedies, and inscriptions. While this course assumes no prior experience with Greek history, mastering these sources is crucial for success in the course, especially during the running of the "Reacting to the Past" game, The Threshold of Democracy: Athens 403 B.C.

Degree Requirements