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The constitution of the Athenians is a short treatise to the government of the ancient Athens society. It gives a critique of the Athenian constitution that had been adopted at the time, making the community a democratic state. The authors of the document are unknown, but it was once attributed to Xenophon because the text was found preserved among the minor works by the same author. Most scholars disagree with the views of the document, given the fact that it is against the democratic form of government adopted by most of the modern-day countries. The estimated date for the document range from as early 443 and as late as 406 BC, though most scholars think that the document should be dated sometime in the Archidamian War.
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The thesis of the work is laid out in the introduction, where the author states that though he may dislike the Athenian form of government, he still acknowledges that is well designed to serve its purpose (Bowersock, 2000) which is the inclusion of all the people in the state. The author describes the specific aspects of the Athenian form of government that works for the advancement if the democracy.
The document is a clear evidence that some of the Athenians were not pleased with the form of government. It is therefore essential to examine the flip side, the empowerment that the type of government provided for the lower class, known as the commons in the document. Democracy provided the commoners with numerous opportunities that would not be otherwise available to them. This includes the chance to have a say in the government proceedings.
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Before the institution of the democracy, the top class had the final say in the government proceedings. Though the author is bitter about this, it is not hard for readers to see the benefits of such a government and the control of the so-called allies to both the city and the commoners. During the end of the Persian war, both the strong and the weaker cities in Greek-inhabited areas had to band together against Persia. Over time, Athens became the headquarters of the cities, and they had to pay tributes to the town. After the Persian threat was eliminated, a few cities decided that it was the time to end the treaty with Athens. Athens, however, being used to the taxes that it received from these cities, was reluctant to let them go and weakened the cities to the point that they were unable to leave the league. It was the ability of the cities to pay their tributes that kept Athens strong. The Democrats saw it worthy that all the Athenians, despite their social status should share in the wealth of Athens.
This, however, was not the case, as the wealthy and aristocratic class continued to influence the decisions that were made by the government. There were other effects to the society, as the author of the documents, comments that it was easier for the wicked to escape the law in a democratic city (Bowersock, 2000). The leaders, even the commoners that had risen to the ranks of leadership, sought the positions, not for service but to seek honour and wealth. The perspective of the author, if it had been taken into consideration, would have saved Athens from her ultimate demise.
- Bowersock, G.W., 2000. ‘Pseudo-Xenophon, Constitution of the Athenians,’ Xenophon, Scripta Minora, pp.460-507.