Athenian Democracy and its Alternatives in Classical Greece

History 103A.002

Fall 2012
Day & Time: 
Tu 2-4P
  • Note new room.
  • Matt Simonton studied Classics (BA) at Washington University in St. Louis and received his PhD in Classics from Stanford University, with a Master’s in Political Science. His interests include the study of political institutions in the ancient world, social and economic history, and comparative politics.

    Classical Athens has been called the first democracy.  But what did the Athenians mean by “demokratia,” and how was it distinct from other contemporary styles of politics?  This course aims to familiarize participants with some of the major issues surrounding ancient Greek political practice in the Classical period.  After briefly reviewing the politics of the Archaic period, we will study the emergence and consolidation of the Athenian democracy, with a focus on questions of origins, ideology, and institutions.  However, we will also go beyond Athens to study complementary and competing alternatives, including other democracies, oligarchy, tyranny, and federal structures.  Topics of discussion will include the grounds for political disagreement and conflict; the social and cultural ramifications of constitutional types; and the comparability of ancient institutions to contemporary ones.  Sources will include major historical texts such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch, as well as lesser-known fragmentary authors and inscriptions, all in translation.  The course will be of particular use to students interested in the historical study of institutions, the history of political thought, and interpretive issues in the study of ancient, often fragmentary, texts.