Friday, January 1, 2016

The Thirty in Power (404 BC)

The Thirty started by appointing supporters to the Council and various magistracies, including ten governors to the Piraeus (the outlying port), eleven guardians of the prison, and three hundred retainers carrying whips.  The ten at Piraeus include Charmides, son of Glaucon, the cousin of Critias and Plato and pupil of Socrates.*  The Eleven were headed by Satyrus, "most audacious and shameless," who had arranged the execution of Cleophon and the arrest of Stombichides for opposing the peace. As for the Council, it had 500 members as before, including a majority of members of the old Council.

Xenophon and Diodorus agree that they delayed drawing up and publishing law, although Aristotle names a few changes that appear to meet with his approval.  They restored the old powers of the Aeropagus and took away many of the uncertainties in law that gave discretion to popular jurors, such as allowing a will to be invalidated if the testator was insane, senile, or under the influence of a woman, and other such instances that Aristotle did not name.  This would appear to indicate that they continued to use juries in civil matters.  Criminal matters were transferred from juries to the Council; at least all criminal trials mentioned under the Thirty were by the Council.  Xenophon, it should be added, says that Critias and Charicles were primarily responsible for drawing the new laws and mentions a significant one.  They banned teaching the "art of words." Xenophon sees this as a  calculated insult to Socrates for upbraiding Critias for being overly enamored with one of Socrates' younger pupils.  Presumably they also saw the "art of words" as potentially politically subversive as well.

They began by executing malicious informants and demagogic politicians, after trial by the Council and, our three historians assure us, the people as a whole approved, or were at least indifferent.  First they came for the Communists. . . .**  Of course, the families and friend of these victims saw them in rather another light.  They included Dionysodorus, Strombichides and their alleged co-conspirators  who opposed the terms of the peace.  Ordered to be tried by jury, they were instead tried by the Councilvoting openly in the presence of the Thirty.  We are told that "all those who had entered that Council chamber for their trial were condemned to death: not one was acquitted," except the informant.  It is not clear whether that means throughout the duration of the Thirty, or only of this alleged conspiracy.

Seeking, then, to consolidate their power, they sent two of the Thirty (Aristotles and Aeschines) to Sparta to ask Lysander for a garrison to support them, which they promised to pay in order to save Sparta the expense.***  Lysander sent a garrison of 700, commanded by Callibius, who the Thirty proceeded to win over with bribes and flattery.  Plutarch gives the example of Autolycus, an athlete who threw Callibius down. Callibius struck him with his staff.  At the time, Lysander disapproved, saying that was no way to treat a free man, but the Thirty soon executed Autolycus to gratify Callibius.  Keep in mind that to the Greeks, sports were sacred activities, and a Olympian athlete's standing dwarfed even what we give sports stars today.  Now imagine what safety anyone else could find under the Thirty.

The Thirty then proceeded to execute any leading politician, even the most conservative, who they saw as a potential threat.  Nicias' brother, Eucrates, came from a most conservative political family and was wrongfully arrested over the vandalism of the herms, which cannot have endeared the democracy to him.  But when offered a place in the Thirty he indignantly refused and was executed, as was Nicias' son, Niceratus.  Other victims named included Antiphon, who supplied the city with two rapid warships, and Leon of Salamis (hold onto that name).  Needing money to pay the Spartan garrison, Theognis and Peison, members of the Thirty, proposed executing wealthy metics on false charges to seize their property.  They proposed to kill ten, including two poor people to disguise their intent (Lysias), or one each (Xenophon), or two each (Diodorus).

We have information on two of such arrests.  Lysias, later a professional speech writer, was a wealthy metic whose family had a shield factory.  Peison and others of the Thirty showed up in person to make the arrest, accompanied by their retainers, of course.  Lysias bribed Peison into letting him go. Peison did not dare release him at once because others of the Thirty showed up, but took him to a house for holding, where Theognis was guarding others.  Lysias asked the owner to bribe him as well and, while he was distracted, slipped out an unlocked back door and fled.  His brother was less fortunate; he was arrested in the street, executed without trial (by hemlock), and denied even a cloak  for his funeral.  The Thirty took even his wife's earrings.

As for Leon, the Thirty summoned five men, including Socrates and ordered them to arrest him, in order to force as many to be their accomplices as possible.  The other four proceeded; Socrates returned home. The Thirty gave many such orders, wishing for as many accomplices as possible in their crimes.  This is not the only mention we have of Leon.  Andocides in a later speech attempts to discredit his accuser by pointing out that he took part in the arrest of Leon and his therefore responsible for his execution without trial.  Theramenes names him, along with the son of Nicias as  "men of worth and standing" who should not have been executed.

This had led to a certain curiosity about who Leon of Salamis was.  The journalist I.F. Stone, in his Trial of Socrates (p. 113) simply assumes that he was a wealthy metic, like Lysias.  I assume that the reasons for his assumption are (1) "of Salamis" implies a foreign origin, (2) the absence of a trial implies a non-citizen, and (3) Stone is eager to portray all of Athens' aristocracy as supporting the Thirty.  And certainly killing a metic who had done no wrong simply for his money was an injustice and would have been recognized by the Athenians as such.  Socrates might boast of his refusal to arrest a metic as proof of his commitment to justice or Andocides hold out the wrongful arrest of a metic as something to discredit his accuser. But it seems unlikely that Theramenes would have named a metic as on a par with the son of Nicias.  To be named along with Nicias' family implies a citizen, and a prominent one at that.  And Salamis was an island just off the coast of Athens, under Athens' control since Solon's time.  A citizen could certainly have been of Salamis.  All the historian emphasize the wealth and prominence of the Thirty's victims.  This has led modern historians to speculate that he may have been the admiral who  commanded during the war, rallied the fleet against the oligarchic coup in 411 BC, was elected after Alcibides was deposed, and was last seen with Conon, trapped at Lesbos.  The speculation was that he was on one of the two ships that tried to carry the message to Athens but was captured and repatriated after the war.

Theramenes, though originally a supporter of Critias and his measures increasingly began to protest,  saying that it was not reasonable to execute politicians who were not populists simply because they were popular.  Critias answered that anyone who was popular was dangerous because he was a possible source of leadership for people who opposed the Thirty.  But it became increasingly clear  that even if the Thirty eliminated any outsider who might offer leadership to their opponents, a new  potential leader of their enemies was arising -- Theramenes himself.  Critias and the rest tried at first to conciliate him by proposing a citizen body of 3000.  They then kept postponing listing the names. To Theramenes, this must have looked like history repeating itself.  Recall that at the time of 400, they had promised to create a larger citizen body with 5000 eligible participants, but kept postponing it, wanting all power to remain with the 400.

While historians generally agree that the 5000 were not meant literally and ultimately meant all men of hoplite status or higher, the 3000 appear to have been meant quite literally, and to have consisted of (most of) the cavalry and some hoplites selected as politically reliable.  Theramenes protested that there was no way to limit worthy participants to any fixed number.  As with the 400, the Thirty postponed publishing their list of the 3000 and kept changing who was on it to keep the people in suspense.  It is pure speculation on my party, but this leads me to suspect that when the Thirty sent out citizen's posses to make arrests, like the one that Socrates was on, there may have been a carrot at work as well as a stick.  They may have been offering hoplites a chance to "earn" their citizenship, or watching their reaction to see who to admit.

Theramenes also protested that the Thirty were trying to do two contrary things -- to build their government on force, and to make the rulers weaker than the ruled.  The rule based on force is straightforward enough.  I never understood what he meant by saying that the rulers were weaker than the ruled.  But I am inclined to think that George Grote (p. 466) gets it right, saying that he meant that the rulers were outnumbered by an armed and angry populace. The Thirty resolved that latter problem in much the same way as Pisistratus over a century earlier.  They called out the soldiers for review, taking care to assemble all the ones on their short list in the agora and to scatter the rest.  When they set down their arms and went to eat, the Spartan garrison and the 3000 gathered them up and took them to the temple.  The Thirty introduced a law to the Council "with orders to pass," allowing anyone not on the list of the 3000 to be executed without trial on the orders of the Thirty.

The Thirty then summoned the Council and had young men noted for their audacity present, with hidden daggers.  Critias accused Theramenes before the Council of being a danger to their government.  He minced no words.  If their government was violent, well, you can't make omelets without breaking eggs.  The common people would not agree to their form of government; it must therefore be imposed by force. Theramens opposed the oligarchy, let him suffer the consequences. He mocked Theramenes for his willingness to change sides, trying to please both oligarchs and democrats and only showing that he could be trusted by neither.  Theramenes replied, making clear that he approved the first wave of executions but not of executing respectable citizens, of killing metics for their wealth, of disarming the citizenry or imposing a foreign garrison.  He denounced these things, not so much on moral grounds (morality obviously meant nothing to Critias), but as making needless  enemies.  And he said that while he might be accused of favoring both sides, Critias favored neither,  offending the common people under the democracy and the aristocracy under the oligarchy.  That sounds very much like an accusation (probably accurate) of aspiring to be a one-man dictator.   The Council applauded, and Theramenes was clearly going to be acquitted.  Critias and the others then summoned their bully-boys, and Critias declared that since anyone not on the list of the 3000 could be executed without trial on the orders of the Thirty, he was excommunicating Theramenes from the citizen body and sentencing him to death.  Theramenes seized the hearth, (all hearths were sacred to Hestia and therefore sanctuary), warning the Council that if the Thirty could deal so arbitrarily with one of their own, then none of them were safe, and saying that he did not expect Critias to respect sanctuary, but wanted to force him to incur the wrath of the gods.  And, indeed, the Eleven dragged Theramenes from sanctuary.  The Council, intimidated by the bully boys,  dared not intervene.  Theramenes drank his hemlock as a toast, in poison, to Critias.

Aristotle, incidentally, gives events in a different sequence, saying that the disarmament of the citizens and introduction of the garrison happened after Theramenes was executed, and that the pretext for removing him from the 3000 was a new law barring from citizenship anyone who opposed the 400.

All sources agree that the execution of Theramenes removed the last constraint on the Thirty.  They  evicted everyone not on the list of the 3000 from the city proper.  Many fled to the countryside, or to the Piraeus (the outlying port), but they were not even safe there, as many were driven from their lands so that the Thirty could seize them, or evicted from the Piraeus.  Refugees streamed from Athens.  The Spartans forbade receiving any Athenians exiles and ordered them to be delivered up to the Thirty, imposing a five-talent fine on any city that disobeyed.  Smaller states obeyed, but the  Argives defied them, as did the Thebans (who had only recently favored turning Athens into pasture and selling its people as slaves).  Aristotle estimates the total number of executions at 1500, a figure also given by the orator Isocrates,  who also estimates that some 5,000 fled.  Diodorus, with obvious exaggeration, says that half the citizens fled.

Next: Reflections on the Thirty

*Presumably counted among the youth that Socrates "corrupted."  
**I actually got a whole new perspective on this famous poem from a speech by, of all people Julius Caesar.  Originally I had simply thought of it as a warning that freedom is indivisible, that if you ignore wrongs done to others, others will ignore wrongs done to you.  Later, when Jonah Goldberg war arguing that Hitler was a left-winger, this poem was an obvious refutation, showing how his victims marched a steady stream from left to right, from Communists to Socialists, to unions to Jews to Catholics.  Bur reading Caesar's speech arguing that even the worst offenders should not be executed without trial, I realized it had another significance.  The Communists were not very sympathetic victims to most Germans.  Many were no doubt not merely indifferent but glad to seem them dragged away.  
***Aristotle sets the arrival of the garrison later, after a revolt had begun.  In this he appears either to be confusing the arrival of the garrison with a later request for aid or (my version suggests) whitewashing Theramenes by post-dating most of the Thirty's worst atrocities to after his execution.

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