Wednesday, September 4, 2019


The Peloponnesian War (one volume), by Donald Kagan
New York: Viking, 2003, pp. 486-487

    At last Thrasybulus was strong enough to march out and capture Piraeus and to fight a Spartan army to a stalemate. The Spartans chose to abandon Athens, and in 403 Thrasybulus and his men restored the full democracy.

    Athens was free and democratic again, but the danger was not past. Angered by the outrages committed by the Thirty, many wanted to hunt down and punish the guilty men and those who had collaborated with them, a process that would have brought trials, executions, and banishments. Athens would have been torn by the very factional strife and civil war that had already destroyed democracy in so many other Greek states. Instead Thrasybulus joined with other moderates to issue an amnesty that protected all but a few of the worst criminals. The newly restored Athenian democracy held firmly to a policy of moderation and restraint, behavior that later won extraordinary praise from Aristotle: “The reaction of [the Athenian democrats] to their previous calamities, both privately and publicly, seems to have been the finest and most statesmanlike that any people has demonstrated.” Not only did they declare and enforce the amnesty, they even raised public money to remunerate the Spartans for the sum the Thirty had borrowed to fight the democrats. “For they thought that this was the way to begin the restoration of harmony. In other cities, when democrats come to power, there is no thought of expending their own money; on the contrary, they seize and distribute the land of their opponents.” (Constitution of the Athenians 40.2-3). The moderation of the democrats of 403 was rewarded by a successful reconciliation of the classes and factions that enabled Athenian democracy to flourish without civil war or coup d’état almost to the end of the fourth century.

    Remarkably, the defeat that had threatened to wipe out Athens and its people, to destroy its democratic constitution, and to compromise its ability to dominate others and even to conduct an independent foreign policy, failed to accomplish any of those things for long. Within a year the Athenians had regained their full democracy. Within a decade they had recovered their fleet, walls, and independence, and Athens became a central member of a coalition of states dedicated to preventing Sparta from interfering in the affairs of the rest of Greece. Within a quarter-century they had regained many of their former allies and restored their power to the point where it is possible to speak of a “Second Athenian Empire.”

    To be sure, the Spartans had become the dominant force in Greece, but their victory brought no repose and much trouble. Within a few years they were compelled to abandon their empire and its tribute, but not before enough money had flowed into Sparta that its traditional discipline and institutions were undermined. Soon the Spartiates had to contend with internal conspiracies that threatened their constitution and their very existence. Abroad, they had to fight a major war against a coalition of former allies and former enemies that held them in check within the Peloponnesus, and from which they were able to emerge intact only through the intervention of Persia. For a short time, they clung to a kind of hegemony over their fellow Greeks, but only so long as the Persian king wanted them to do so. Within three decades of their great victory the Spartans were defeated by the Thebans in a major land battle, and their power was destroyed forever.


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