Friday, October 2, 2015

Athens: The Coup is Overthrown

But the coup would prove short-lived.  According to Aristotle, it lasted about four months before collapsing.

The collapse began in Samos.  As 300 renegades from the Samian democratic faction were plotting a similar coup, in conjunction with some pro-oligarchic Athenians including a general Charminus.  The Samian democrats knew what was happening and appealed to pro-democracy officers in the Athenians force.  The Athenians came to their assistance and defeated the coup.  Unlike the previous democratic revolution, which had been bloody and vengeful, this time the Samian democrats were a model of restraint.  Thirty were either executed or killed in the fighting and three ringleaders exiled; the others were allowed to remain and even to keep their civil rights.  The force in Samos, not aware of the coup back home, sent their flag ship to Athens to report on their defeat of the oligarchic coup in Samos.

Upon arrival, the ship was seized and its crew forcibly conscripted into the oligarchy's navy, but the captain got away and brought back a  much exaggerated account of what was happening, saying that citizens were being flogged for any criticism of the government (the indignity of flogging was normally reserved for slaves) and that their families had been taken hostage, and worse.  The soldier's immediate reaction was to kill the oligarchic leaders in their midst but two leaders, Thrasybulus,* a ship captain, and Thrasyllus, a hoplite promoted to command, managed to calm them down, pointing out that in their precarious position the last thing they needed was fighting among themselves. Instead the got the whole fighting force, Athenian and Samian, including oligarchic sympathizers, to swear an oath to uphold the democracy.  They deposed their leaders and replaced them with politically reliable ones, including Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus.  Then they passed a resolution that they had not revolted from the city, but the city from them, and sent for Alcibiades, continuing to hold onto the hope that he could bring them a Persian alliance.  Alcibiades, indeed, showed up, making more false promises of Persian aid, and was then elected general and persuaded the men not to sail home to liberate their country, but to focus on winning the war overseas.  Thucydides would call this "as eminent a service to the state as any man ever did."  He also prevented them from lynching the envoys from the 400, who were very eager to conciliate the fleet and prevent their navy and large portions of their army from slipping away. Argive allies also joined the Athenian force.

Alcibiades had found his niche.  If he really did want to be a dictator, he would never achieve his goal by bringing about an oligarchy.  He was more likely to succeed by playing the part of Peisistratus, the left-wing populist dictator who came to power by acting the part of the champion of the common people against the aristocracy.  The aristocracy were being very cooperative.

Meanwhile, in Athens, the oligarchs were starting to fight among themselves.  The moderate wing, led by Theramenes and Aristocrates, wanted to establish the actual government of the Five Thousand that had been promised, hoped for eventual reconciliation with the forces at Samos, and feared that their colleagues were prepared to betray the city.  The hard liners, led by Phrynichus, Peisander, and Antiphon, intended to continue rule of the 400, regarded the forces in the field as an enemy, and were prepared to make peace on almost any terms (understandable if you have severed relations with your navy and much of your army!).  To understand just how great the estrangement had become, consider the account of our old friend Andocides.  Then in exile in Macedonia, he had prospered as a merchant and patriotically sold oar spars and food to the Athenian navy at cost.  Upon returning, instead of being thanked for his patriotic services, he was arrested and brought before the Council, where Peisander accused him of trafficking with the enemy!  He escaped execution only by taking refuge at the altar, and was imprisoned until the democracy was restored.**

Athens, Piraeus, and the Long Walls
And then something more disturbing began to happen.  Athens did not touch the sea itself, but had an outlying port of Piraeus, which was linked to the main city by the Long Walls.  I have not yet found any map or drawing to illustrate exactly what was going on, but apparently the extreme oligarchs began to fortify the mouth of the harbor, and to build a separate wall blocking off the area around the harbor, and to store suspicious amounts of food in the walled-off area.  Formally, the purpose of these fortifications was to defend against the navy at Samos in case it attacked.  But Theramenes and the moderates increasingly began to suspect that its real purpose was to let the Peloponnesian fleet in, and to protect against a siege from the city.  This became an increasing bone of contention within the oligarchy. When a Peloponnesian fleet sailed by, intending to assist a revolt in the neighboring island of Euboea (see above), Theramenes was sure that their real purpose was to seize the harbor instead. Thucydides believes that this really was the extremist wing's last resort.  Although they would, ideally, have preferred to preserve both the oligarchy and the empire, and as a second choice, to renounce the empire but preserve Athens' independence and the oligarchy, if worst came to worst, they were prepared to surrender the city altogether to preserve the oligarchy, so much did they fear the revenge of a restored democracy.

Then Phrynicus was assassinated by one of the border guards, who escaped.  His accomplice, an Argive, was tortured but did not name names.  No one else was arrested or punished for the crime. As with the mutilation of the herms, Thucydides dismisses the matter as an unsolvable mystery.  As with the mutilation of the herms, we have other sources that do not treat the matter as so mysterious. The nearest to the event and presumably most accurate is from the trial of a man claiming (falsely, according to the speech) to have been one of the killers.  It attributes the assassination to two presumable metics,*** Thrasybulus of Calydon (no relation to the Thrasybulus with the navy) and Apollodorus of Megara.  When the democracy was restored, it issued a formal decree rewarding both men with citizenship.  (Recall that the cult of the tyrannicide had been well established for over a century at this time).  To claim to be the slayer of Phrynichus became a badge of honor.

A somewhat later orator appears to get events mixed up.  He also names the killers as Thrasybulus and Apollodorus, but says they were prosecuted by Phrynicus' friends, but that after an "inquiry after torture" (the two killers, as non-citizens, could be legally tortured), it was determined that Phrynichus had been trying to betray the city, so his killers were released.  This presupposes a situation quite different from the one Thucydides describes, one in which Phrynichus was just some guy and not a member of a close and hated oligarchy, and in which his offences were secret, rather than public knowledge, and one in which such an investigation could be openly held.  (Maybe it was held after the democracy was restored).  The speech then says that on the motion of Critias,* Phrynichus was posthumously tried for treason, his bones dug up and removed from Attica, and two leading members of the 400 executed for defending him (and probably for their role in the 400 as well).  The posthumous condemnation at least appears to be true; the speech reads the decree.  Plutarch appears to use this speech as his source, because he repeats the account that the Athenians investigated, posthumously convicted Phrynichus of treason, and awarded honors to his killers.  But he names the killer as Hermon, one of the border guards (who Thucydides identifies as captain of the forces at the suspect fortification).  Plutarch also strongly implies that the treason in question was his  treasonous correspondence with the Spartan Admiral, not his overthrow of the democracy and role in building the suspect fortifications.

But I digress.  To continue, shortly after the assassination, the hoplites charged with building the suspect fortifications, led by Aristocrates, revolted and seized the commanding general prisoner.  Theramenes, with some difficulty, persuaded the rest of the 400 not to crush the revolt by force, but to let him go down to the harbor, talk to the soldiers, and procure the release of the general.  When he arrived, negotiations achieved nothing.  The soldiers asked whether he thought the fortification did any good, or whether he thought they should be demolished. Theramenes, rather cryptically, said he believed what they did.  The soldiers then proceeded to demolish the walls, and Theramenes to take charge of the revolt.  The  hoplites, having demolished the walls, released the general and marched on the city, demanding that the 400 actually enroll the promised 5,000 as citizens.

The 400, fearing outright civil war in a city under siege, agreed to appoint the 5,000.  This job was apparently assigned an elderly member named Polystratus, only recently appointed to the Council (perhaps to replace Phrynichus).  Andocides mentions a Polystratus as the only person executed for profaning the Mysteries (all the others escaped into exile).  Obviously this is not the same Polystratus, although he might be a relative.  In fact, the list of the 5,000 did not exist and was merely used as a bait-and-switch by the 400.  Polystratus, as a newcomer, presumably did not know this detail.  Failing to find such a list, he simply included all men of hoplite status or higher, numbering about 9,000.

At this point military crisis struck.  A Peloponnesian fleet arrived, and the army, believing that the city had been betrayed, rushed down to Pireaus to defend it.  Instead, the fleet sailed past Athens to the neighboring island of Euboea (see map above), which promptly revolted.  The Athenians (including Polystratus) rushed what ships they had to the scene, but were defeated.  A near neighbor and major source of food had defected.  Athens was in a worse situation than ever before.  Cut off from the countryside, with no ships or reserves left, the Athenians were highly vulnerable to blockage.  Indeed, Thucydides says, if the Peloponnesians had decided to blockade them at that point, the fleet in Samos would have had no choice but to come home, and the entire empire would have been lost.  We can almost seen him roll his eyes in disgust as he adds, "But on this as on so many other occasions the Lacedaemonians proved themselves to be the most convenient enemies whom the Athenians could possibly have had," as they failed to follow up on their advantage.

The 400 were formally deposed.  Government by men of the hoplite status and above was instituted. All civil offices were declared unpaid, a savings measure that had the effect of limiting office to rich men.  Alcibiades was recalled.  Most of the 400 fled and defected to the enemy.****  And Thucydides  famously says of the moderate oligarchy that followed, "This government during its early days was the best which the Athenians ever enjoyed within my memory. Oligarchy and Democracy were duly attempered."  Other translation, "And now first (at least in my time) the Athenians seem to have ordered their state aright; which consisted now of a moderate temper, both of the few and of the many."  Donald Kagan suggests that there was not much protest from Athens' poorest citizens because very few poor eligible participants were left in the city.  Most were abroad, serving in the navy.  If so, then the city had truly become like Sparta, with productive work done by slaves and foreign residents, and eligible participants specializing solely in military service.

But the full democracy was reinstituted shortly afterward.  No one gives any details on how, why, or when, except that it was not long after.  My guess would be that Athens' poor men were restored to citizenship out of appreciation for the remarkable services that they would soon perform in the navy. But more on that later.

*Watch this man.  He will be important.
**He was then sent back into exile and returned later, upon a general amnesty and made a successful career as a speech writer.  That he narrowly escaped execution by the Council may be a sign that the 400 had abandoned the practice of trial by jury, except in major cases, in favor of trial by the Council.
***Permanent legal residents.  I suppose they could have been foreigners who just happened to be in town, but given conditions at the time, it seems unlikely.
****This alone should call the Lycurgus oration into question.  It specifically mentions as escaping the two oligarchs the oration says were executed.

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