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The Rule of Law in Action in Democratic Athens$
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Edward M. Harris

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199899166

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199899166.001.0001

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Cleon and the Defeat of Athens

Cleon and the Defeat of Athens

(p.305) 9 Cleon and the Defeat of Athens
The Rule of Law in Action in Democratic Athens

Edward M. Harris

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the breakdown of the rule of law during the Peloponnesian War and its impact on the Athenian military. It first reviews the traditional methods of gaining power and influence in Classical Athens. It then shows how a change in political culture occurred in the 420s. Before this decade politicians used ostracism to attack their enemies. This changed after 430, when some politicians exploited the weaknesses of the Athenian courts to eliminate their opponents. The leading practitioner of these new tactics was Cleon. The chapter shows how Cleon attempted to drag the tactics he used in the courts into the Assembly during the debate about the punishment of Mytilene. It traces the use of these tactics by other politicians after Cleon's death and the disastrous impact they had on Athenian military leadership.

Keywords:   Peloponnesian War, Athenian law, rule of law, Athenian military, political culture, ostracism, Cleon

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