Can justice be served by forgetting the past?
The Reign of the Thirty (April 404-April 403 BCE)
The Peloponnesian War ended with the triumph of Sparta and the defeat of Athens. Following the siege of Athens, Lysander – the Spartan commander – put in place a council of thirty oligarchs personally loyal to him to rule Athens. This body became known as the Thirty. They had no interest in the rule of law and asked for Spartan troops to support them while they purged the city. Sparta sent them seven hundred soldiers who were also loyal to Lysander. What followed was nothing short of a reign of terrors as the Thirty executed their enemies (especially democrats) and confiscated their property. Modern historians suggest that in a few short months, the Thirty had killed as many as 1,500 Athenians. Two voices stood out among the Thirty: Theramenes, the relative moderate who had earlier gone to Lysander and Sparta looking for peace terms, and Critias, a radicalized former friend of Socrates. Theramenes proposed drawing up a list of three thousand wealthy men (approximately 10% of the population) who would enjoy full citizenship; Critias proposed that anyone not on this list be killed or tortured. When the two could not come to a compromise, Theramenes was prosecuted and poisoned. Critias was left in charged.
Thousands decided that the only way to survive was to leave Athens. Many fled to Thebes, which had been an ardent opponent of Athens but at this particular moment offered asylum against the excesses of the Thirty. In January 403, a small force of seven hundred Athenian democrats setup a small fort at Phyle, on the border between Attica and Boetia and on a hill overlooking the Piraeus. Led by Thrasybulus, – a leading Athenian democrat, – they recruit a rebel army and wage war against the Thirty and the Spartan soldiers in Athens.
In April 403, Thrasybulus’ army wins a major battle at Piraeus and kills Critias. The surviving members of the Thirty ask Lysander for protection, but the Spartan king, suspicious of Lysander’s growing power, recalled the general instead. Most members of the Thirty fled; the Athenians were left to their own devices to craft their own future, and Thrasybulus announces the restoration of democracy in Athens.
The Reconciliation Agreement
In the immediate aftermath of the restoration of democracy in Athens, some citizens feared – some out of genuine concern, others for more self-serving reasons – that a thirst for revenge against those Athenians who had supported the Thirty may plunge the polis into chaos, and proposed a “Reconciliation Agreement” that read something like:
No Athenian shall remember the past wrongs of those who supported the Thirty, or initiate any lawsuits against them.
Needless to say, the Athenian Assembly (the government of the polis), found itself deeply divided by the proposed legislation.
Its supporters claimed that Athenians must stop obsessing over what happened during the past two years. They want Athens to move on, to restore the ties among all Athenians and focus on rebuilding. Some also added that harming something (or somebody) never makes it better: violence against any Athenian weakens Athens as a whole. Athens must come together: a set of trials against supporters of the Thirty will rip Athens apart.
Its opponents claimed that to grant amnesty to those who supported the Thirty and requiring that all Athenians forget the “past wrongs” of those associated with the Thirty defied the concept of justice. Can justice be served by forgetting the past? The Reconciliation Agreement would make it against the law to tell children – and everyone else – of the villainy of the Thirty. Can a democracy truly exist if people are not free to speak their minds, to tell their stories and that of Athens as well? Those who committed crimes against the democracy must be brought before the law courts and punished.
This assignment asks you to write a 1,000 words persuasive speech in support of or in opposition to the Reconciliation Agreement, from the perspective of an Athenian citizen speaking to fellow Athenians in 403 BCE and using only information from the following sources:
your textbook: Western Civilizations, chapter 3
Thucydides, On Justice, Power, and Human Nature
any information on this page (cite it as “Assignment”)
pp. 117-167 from Xenophon, (Links to an external site.)Hellenica (Links to an external site.): Xenophon (ca. 430 BCE-354 BCE)’s Hellenica is a history of Athens that picks up where Thucydides’ history left off. Pages 117-167 discuss the reign of terror set in place by the Thirty Tyrants and the fighting of the supporters of democracy in exiles to regain Athens. This selection starts with the conflict between two of the Thirty: Critias and Theramenes, which ends with Theramenes’ execution. Note that the fighting described here is a civil war, one that pitted fellow citizens, relatives, and friends against one another. [note: pp. 117-167 include he original in Greek with the translation in English, meaning that the selection you need to read is only about 25 – small – pages].
pp. 3-52 from Plato, The Republic Download Plato, The Republic : Plato (ca. 428 CE-348 BCE) was the most famous follower of Socrates. He often chose to express his philosophical ideas in the form of dialogues. This selection represents the opening chapter of The Republic in which Socrates (the main character of The Republic) discusses with other characters what justice is. This selection is quite long: use the short summaries (written in italics) to help you navigate the pages more efficiently (you still need to read the actual text)
The assignment wants you to apply knowledge & skills that you have acquired in class: it’s your opportunity to show me your understanding of the historical context and the readings that you have done for class so far (textbook, Thucydides), and your ability to understand new sources on your own (Xenophon, Plato). For this reason, the ones listed above are the only sources you can use for the assignment.
You need to back your argument with evidence from the sources, and cite your sources. You can use any citation format you’d like.
You can choose what stance to take, but you will need to write the paper in first person, as if you were an Athenian citizen living in Athens in 403 BCE; the “audience” for your written speech is the Athenian Assembly, where some six thousand citizens (adult males only) gather to make political decisions. With this in mind:
Do not use any convoluted or excessively flourished wording or terminology. You are writing “in character” to gain insights in how Athenians in 403 BCE thought and felt, not to make a caricature of past people :-).
Choose what stance you want to argue, and make an outline for yourself, identifying arguments you will make in support of your stance and sources that you plan on using to back your argument. Example of how to organize your paper in the following way (which need to have separate paragraphs):
Stance: IN FAVOR OF THE RECONCILIATION AGREEMENT
ARGUMENT #1: THE ATHENIAN ASSEMBLY SHOULD PASS THIS LAW BECAUSE……
(SOURCE BACKING THIS ARGUMENT: remember, it is not about your opinion as a student; it’s about how an ancient Athenian would have thought about it))
ARGUMENT #2: ANOTHER REASON WHY THE RECONCILIATION AGREEMENT IS A GOOD IDEA…..
(SOURCE BACKING THIS ARGUMENT: same as above)
ARGUMENT #3: THOSE WHO OPPOSE THIS AGREEMENT ARE WRONG BECAUSE….
(SOURCE BACKING THIS ARGUMENT: same as above)
ETC. (you want to have 2-3 solid arguments to support your stance properly)
Provide details / explain things: do not just say “remember what happened in Mytylene” and expect your reader to fill in the blanks for you :-). Explain what happened in Mytilene (or Melos, or Athens, or during the reign of the Thirty, or the Persian War, etc.) and why it matters in the context of what you are discussing.
Be precise with who is saying what to whom and when: read the passages that you want to use carefully, and make sure you understand them. If something is not clear to you, I am here to help.
Strong papers combine information from multiple documents (Thucydides, etc.) and the historical context (the textbook, the info in the assignment, my lectures, the siege :-)). Yes, you want to argue whether that reconciliation agreement is a just (or unjust) thing for Athens to do, but you want your discussion to be grounded in the real world. For example: one could talk about some of the dramatic aspects of the Peloponnesian War to make the point that it’s time for Athens to leave the past behind; or one could focus on the killings perpetrated by the Thirty to ask for retribution (Xenophon is a good source about the Thirty).
Last but not least: the Reconciliation Agreement is not about pardoning the Thirty Tyrants (they are dead of have fled Athens); it’s about what to do with the Athenians who had supported their regime.
VERY IMPORTANT: you are making an argument from the perspective of an Athenian living in 403 BCE who wants to persuade fellow Athenians, which means that the information, facts, logic upon which you will base your argument must come form the historical context and the historical sources.
CITE YOUR SOUCES using parenthetic citations with precise page number. Example: “In his funeral oration for those who died in the first year of our long war with Sparta, the great Pericles spoke of the exceptionalism that Athens as a city enjoys [Thucydides, 43].”
You cite your sources every time you borrow an idea, information, fact from a source, even if you are stating it in your won words (paraphrasing). Papers that do not cite the sources cannot receive a passing grade because history is a matter of evidence, not opinion, and the citations is the way you point to your evidence.
No more than 2, short (5-6 words) direct quotations: paraphrase instead and cite your source.