Democracy in ancient Athens

These weeks one of the books I am reading discusses the first democracy. Last year Antoon van Hooff, a scholar who taught at Nijmegen, published Athene. Het leven van de eerste democratie [Athens. The life of the first democracy] (Amsterdam 2011; third impression 2012). Although aimed at a Dutch public, Van Hooff shows not only British scholars know how to write about Classical Antiquity for the largest possible audience. Reading his study I realized it would be interesting to look at new sources and publications on ancient democracy. In this post I am happy to benefit from the riches offered at The Ancient World Online – abbreviated as AWOL – by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (New York University), a blog offering a wealth of information on new projects and publications in this vast field. Here I take the liberty of choosing rather at random postings in 2012 at this veritable treasure trove.

Pioneering democracy

Dēmos: Classical Greek Democracy is a project led by Christopher W. Blackwell which figured at AWOL in March 2012. Van Hooff mentions it in his book, too. This project aims at creating an online encyclopedia about the Athenian democracy. The project website is part of the Stoa Consortium. Among the features are translations of ancient Greeks texts, and notably a series of lectures given at the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University on “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context”. Michael de Brauw contributes a glossary of Athenian legal terms.

In July 2012 Jones published a notice about another project led by Blackwell for a new edition of the papyrus with the so-called Constitution of the Athenians of Aristotle (London, British Museum, Pap. 131). Images of this papyrus can be viewed at a website of the Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. The accompanying website brings you much more, including the classic commentary by J.E. Sandy and word lists.

Ostrakon with the name of Cimon

Ostrakon with the name of Cimon, 486 or 461 BC – Athens, Ancient Agora Museum

In the ostracism, the procedure to ban people whose power the Athenians wanted to curb, ostraca were used, potsherds with the names of politicians to be banned. These potsherds are among the most visually speaking objects concerning the Athenian democracy. Van Hooff does not fail to tell again the touching story of Aristeides – reported by Plutarch – who helped an opponent to write his name on a ostrakon. In January 2012 AWOL reported briefly on the new Berliner Papyrusdatenbank where you will also find ostraca from the collections of the Staatliche Museen Berlin. In June 2012 Jones wrote about a project of the universities of Halle, Jena and Leipzig for cataloguing and digitizing their papyri and ostraca. Ostraca are found elsewhere, too, not only in Athens. Roger S. Bagnall and Giovanni Raffall have published ostraca from Trimithis, an Egyptian village. At AWOL I found an announcement of the digital version of the edition by Hélène Cuvigny of ostraka found at Didymoi in Egypte.

Greek inscriptions can be found also online in the digital version of the Inscriptiones Graecae and other source editions, a project of the Packhard Humanities Institute. You can find the Inscriptiones Graecae also separately in a digital version provided by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Ostraca are in particular present in the section Kerameikos III, Inschriften, Ostraka, Fluchtafeln, from the edition by Werner Peek (Berlin 1941; reprint 1974). The website of the Center for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford offers an extensive selection of online resources concerning classical epigraphy. At Duke University you will find an online list of editions of papyri, ostraca and tablets. In the section on ostraca and tablets you will find a great variety of texts. I did not immediately spot an edition of ostraka from Athens. Among the editions and studies are Mitteilungen aus dem Kerameikos. I. Ostraka, Alfred Brückner (ed.) (Athens 1915), Ostraka, Mabel L. Lang (ed.) (Princeton N.J., 1990; The Athenian Agora, 25), Stefan Brenne’s study Ostrakismos und Prominenz in Athen: attische Bürger des 5. Jahrhunderts. v. Chr. auf den Ostraka (Vienna 2001), and Ostrakismos-Testimonien, I: Die Zeugnisse antiker Autoren, der Inschriften und Ostraka über das athenische Scherbengericht aus vorhellenistischer Zeit, 487-322 v. Chr., Peter Siewert et alii (eds.) (Stuttgart 2002). Van Hooff remarks that ostracism was exercised in Athens only fifteen times between 487 and 417.

Imagining ancient Athens is made easier by a new virtual tour of the Acropolis, a website announced at AWOL on November 1, 2012. In his announcement Jones point also to the information about the geography of ancient Athens gathered at Pleaides, a website of his own institute and the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Digital Antiquity

A lot of websites and blogs cover current research in the field of Classical Antiquity. The Digital Classicist is one of these blogs, which will lead you to several partner projects. For the congress calender of this blog I can find information for ancient history at websites such as Ius Civile and Compitum. In fact the versatile use of information technology in many forms should gain your admiration for the perseverance and great creativity of scholars studying ancient societies. Those scholars devoting also time to creating attention for such inventive projects on their blogs merit our gratitude for their efforts! In this short post I have only shown a few examples of much more which you can discover and enjoy for yourself and others. Even finding your road and choosing the means of transportation in Classical Antiquity is not forgotten. The ORBIS website of Stanford University will help you gaining insight into aspects of daily life which have relevance for legal history, too.

As for reading about the Athenian democracy, Van Hooff rightly reminds his readers that exactly this particular form of democracy has not always inspired modern Western democracies. One of the merits of revisiting familiar stamping grounds is to get more conscious of the different possible approaches to the Classics during the centuries. The twentieth century saw a number of shifts in attention and perspectives. Two decades ago appeared Christian Meier’s Athen. Ein Neubeginn der Weltgeschichte [Athens. A new start of the world's history] (Berlin 1993). Classical Antiquity still has the power to be a mirror for contemporary society, and this is surely not restricted to works by British or American scholars.

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