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Democracy and the Athenians: 5th Century

1. Background

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the kind of the society that Athens was in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, and the effect this had on the shape of their political institutions in the Classical period.


In this course, Professor Edward Harris (University of Durham) explores the development and operation of Athenian democracy in the fifth century BC. In the first module, we think about the kind of society that existed in Attica in the sixth and fifth centuries and how this shaped the political institutions that developed in the same period. After that, we think about the origins of Athenian democracy: when might we say Athenian democracy began? In the second module, we think about the use of the term dēmokratia ('democracy') itself, before going back to the seventh-century reforms of Solon. After that, in the third module, we provide an overview of the development of democracy from Solon to the mid-5th century, focusing in particular on the reforms of Cleisthenes. In the fourth module, we think about the relationship between the Council and the Assembly ¬¬¬ before moving on in the fifth module to explore how debates in the Assembly actually worked – who decided the topics? who got to speak? how were decisions made? Finally, in the sixth module, we turn to the final decades of the fifth century and consider the extent to which the kind of democracy that had developed in Athens was responsible for the Athenians' defeat in the Peloponnesian War.


Edward Harris is Professor of Ancient History; he has published extensively on Athenian political history and institutions, Greek law and the economy of Ancient Greece. He has published Aeschines and Athenian Politics (New York and Oxford 1995) and Democracy and the Rule of Law in Classical Athens (Cambridge and New York 2006). He has co-edited with R. W. Wallace, Transitions to Empire, Essays in Greco-Roman History 360-146 B.C. (Norman OK 1996) and with Lene Rubinstein, The Law and the Courts in Ancient Greece (London 2004). He is also translating Demosthenes 20-26 for the series The Oratory of Classical Greece edited by Michael Gagarin (Texas). He has been a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and NEH Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Harris, E. (2018, August 15). Democracy and the Athenians: 5th Century - Background [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Harris, E. "Democracy and the Athenians: 5th Century – Background." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,