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  • It's 427 BCE and the worst internal conflict ever to occur

  • in the ancient Greek world is in its fourth year.

  • The Peloponnesian War is being fought

  • between the city-states of Athens and Sparta, as well as their allies.

  • The Athenians can't match the formidable Spartan army on land.

  • So they've abandoned the countryside

  • and moved inside the walls surrounding their city and port,

  • now provisioned by a superior fleet and extensive maritime empire.

  • The cramped conditions have taken a toll

  • and a recent plague wiped out a third of the population.

  • But city life goes on.

  • Archias and Dexileia live in the center of Athens.

  • As a painter of high-class pottery,

  • Archias is relatively well-off and takes great interest in the city's affairs.

  • Dexileia, on the other hand, can't participate in politics or own property.

  • The couple are grateful to the gods that three of their four children,

  • a son and two daughters,

  • have survived past infancy.

  • Many parents see daughters as a liability

  • since they require dowries to find husbands.

  • But Archias is confident that his wealth

  • will allow him to make good matches for them without going bankrupt.

  • Like many Athenians, the family owns slaves.

  • Originally from Thrace, they were captured in war.

  • Thratta does most of the housework and helps raise the children.

  • Philon is a paidagôgos,

  • who supervises the son's education, teaching him reading and writing.

  • Archias is up early because there's a meeting of the Ekklêsia,

  • the assembly of citizens,

  • taking place at dawn.

  • Before setting out, he burns incense

  • and pours a libation at the small shrine in the courtyard

  • on behalf of his entire household.

  • Dexileia will remain at home all day, teaching her daughters domestic skills.

  • Later, she'll retire to the inner courtyard for some fresh air.

  • When Archias arrives at the agora,

  • the civic and commercial heart of the city,

  • he finds the square swarming with his fellow citizens,

  • native-born adult males who have completed military training.

  • Attached to the central monument is a noticeboard with the meeting's agenda.

  • Today, there's only one item of discussion:

  • what to do with the people of Mytilene,

  • a city on the island of Lesbos

  • where a revolt against Athenian rule has just been put down.

  • The meeting takes place on a hill west of the acropolis known as the Pnyx.

  • The word meanstightly packed,"

  • and the crowd of 5,000 citizens makes it clear why.

  • The heralds purify the hill by sprinkling its boundary with pig's blood

  • and call for order.

  • As everyone sits on benches facing the platform,

  • the presiding officer opens the meeting with the words:

  • Tis agoreuein bouleutai?”

  • Who wishes to address the assembly?”

  • One by one, citizens speak, some advising mercy, others bent on vengeance.

  • A motion is proposed to execute all the Mytileneans

  • and enslave their women and children

  • because they betrayed their Athenian allies during a time of war.

  • A majority raises their right hands in favor.

  • Once the meeting's over, Archias heads back to the agora to buy food and wine.

  • Hundreds have gathered there to discuss the results,

  • many unhappy with the decision.

  • When Archias returns home, he tells Dexileia about the debate.

  • She thinks that killing the innocent as well as the guilty

  • is harsh and counterproductive,

  • and tells him as much.

  • Around dusk, Archias goes to a friend's house for a symposium.

  • The nine men drink wine and discuss the meeting well into the night.

  • Archias shares his wife's opinion urging mercy, and his friends eventually agree.

  • Before dawn, something unprecedented happens.

  • Heralds circulate throughout Athens

  • announcing the council has called another meeting.

  • The second debate is equally heated,

  • but a new resolution, to execute only the leaders of the revolt,

  • narrowly passes.

  • Yet there's a problem

  • a ship with orders to carry out the first resolution

  • was dispatched the previous day.

  • And so another ship quickly sets sail to countermand the order

  • a race of democracy against time.

It's 427 BCE and the worst internal conflict ever to occur

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B1 US TED-Ed meeting athens courtyard assembly execute

A day in the life of an ancient Athenian - Robert Garland

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    April Lu posted on 2018/03/19
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