Thete Role In Athenian Democracy

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Widely considered the forerunner to modern western democracy, ancient Athenian democracy dominated the political landscape of Ancient Greece for many years. The transition from oligarchy to democracy did not occur overnight; rather it came through the empowerment of the lower classes in the Athenian military of the fifth and fourth centuries. This focus on the lower classes is of the utmost importance when examining Athenian democracy, as they were the primary beneficiaries of democracy, and as some historians argue, the biggest contributors to the new naval based Athenian military. Two proponents of this emphasis on the lower classes are Barry Strauss and Victor Hanson. In his essay The Athenian Trireme, School of Democracy, Strauss argues …show more content…
The role the thetes played is quite evident, as the condition they were in before democracy contrasts sharply with the situation they are in after democracy becomes the favored form of government. Thetes were considered to be the lowest class of citizens because they had no land, and therefore could not serve as hoplites, rendering their usefulness to the state near zero. Only men who fought in the phalanx or with the cavalry were of any military worth. This changed with the transformation of Athens into a maritime empire, as thetes were given the responsibility of rowing the triremes. Now that the thetes were of some worth militarily, their political position became much stronger. Strauss states “As rowers in the Athenian fleet, however, they [thetes] garnered prestige and self-confidence” and calls thetes “the backbone of democracy” (Strauss 316, 317). Strauss feels that the thetes were now able to play roles in Athenian politics because of the prestige and enhanced social status they gained from being part of the Athenian military. Hanson agrees with this, claiming that democracy “enhanced the status of social groups that held no land…adding newfound prestige to these landless thetes who had served so well against the Persian ships” (Hanson 293). Both authors see the significance of the thetes having a military role to play in Athens, as it …show more content…
The power of the people and the ideas of liberty and freedom inspired the Athenians to implement a system of government that dominated the golden age of Greece. This power was rooted in the thetes, who formed the core of the maritime empire’s navy. Authors such as Strauss and Hanson illuminate the importance of the role the lower classes played in the preservation of a democratic government. While they disagreed in regards to the portrayal of thetes in Athenian public culture, the similarities outweigh the differences. Both authors extoll the influence of the lower classes in forming and maintaining a democracy and how it led to equality and

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