Mawr Classical Review 2003.06.25
Angela Pabst, Die Athenische Demokratie. Munich:
C.H. Beck, 2003. Pp. 124; ills. 6. ISBN
3-406-48008-X. EUR 7.90.
Reviewed by James P. Holoka, Eastern Michigan University
Word count: 525
This little book is an entry in Beck's attractive "Wissen" series
of short, inexpensive monographs. In the field of classical
antiquity there are, for example, volumes on Die griechische
Fr?hzeit, Die Etrusker, Karthago, Augustus und
seine Zeit, Hannibal, Sparta, among other
subjects. The title and length of the present book, sight unseen,
led me to expect a nuts-and-bolts sort of presentation, as in
Christopher Carey's excellent Democracy in Classical Athens
(London 2000). And, indeed, the author does provide many details of
the practical functioning of democratic institutions in classical
Athens. But the principal concerns of the book are situated on a
rather higher level of abstraction, as in the work of Josiah Ober
and Kurt Raaflaub.1
Angela Pabst is Professor of Ancient History at Erlangen, where she
helped form an interdisciplinary study-group, "Demokratia," so the
comparative value of research into Athenian democracy is also a
prominent leitmotif in this book.
The first chapter (9-65), longer than the other three together,
is divided into three investigations of key concepts in the
vocabulary of ancient democratic theory and practice: "die zentralen
Prinzipien der antiken Demokratie"; these are sophisticated
semantic-field studies really. In each case, the bases of discussion
are passages in authors such as Plato, Thucydides, Aristotle,
Xenophon, the Old Oligarch, and occasionally the dramatists. The
first section deals with the notion of "The Power of the People."
Pabst is at pains to show that the entire concept of rulers and
ruled is precisely what democratic reform sought to minimize in
political life. The second section concentrates on "Equality,"
distinguishing the specific senses of the word in social and
economic as well as political terms, and contrasting modern
denotations. The third section, on "Freedom," delineates various
manifestations of personal and political liberty -- freedom of
speech within the ekklesia, etc. It also discusses the status
of the unfree or less free in Athenian society.
The second chapter (68-80) sketches the actual processes of
governance at Athens, focusing on the sequence "consultation,
decision, preparation, execution." The dynamics of action by and
interaction among public officials, advisory bodies (Areopagus,
Boule of 500) and the assembly of citizens is detailed.
Chapter 3 (81-101) examines some of the practical aspects of
everyday life within a democratic society. Pabst offers here some
acute analysis of occupations, informal and formal distinctions of
status among citizens, male and female, and non-citizens (slaves,
metics). She draws chiefly on court cases for her evidence.
A final chapter (102-13) makes careful discriminations between
ancient and modern concepts of democratic government. Pabst
judiciously assesses the extent to which the institutions and ideas
of democratic Athenians are germane to present-day notions and
An appended "Zeittafel" (114-17) helpfully plots particulars of
the development of democracy against general trends in ancient Greek
This thoughtful and thought-provoking book achieves both a terse
summary of Athenian political practices and a discerning analysis of
certain philosophical nuances of what might be called the vocabulary
of democracy. Though perhaps not a book for beginners, owing in part
to its rather complex prose style, it is a handy guide to many of
the topics of current, more exhaustive investigations by both German
and Anglophone scholars.
1. Pabst cites neither Ober nor
Raaflaub nor the English-language book most like hers in its
concerns and conclusions: R.K. Sinclair, Democracy and
Participation in Athens (Cambridge 1988). The need for concision
imposed by the scale of works in the series no doubt also ruled out
citation (esp. vis-?-vis chapter 3) of such pertinent sources as
K.J. Dover's Greek Popular Morality (Oxford 1974). Her
sixteen-item "Literaturverzeichnis" (118) is restricted to recent
works in German (a few are translations), notably by G.-A. Lehmann,
C. Meier on the ancient side of things, and G. Sartori and M.G.
Schmid on the modern.