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Historians often emphasize socioeconomic causes when describing the fall of the Roman republic, which began centuries before Augustus won the civil wars. For example, the sudden influx of wealth and slaves, uprooting of the peasant agricultural class, rapid urbanization, the poor treatment of the legions, urban unrest over grain, the financial corruption of the elites, etc.

By contrast, I've usually seen the end of Athenian democracy as a series of contingencies, driven by chance events and personal actors: Athens is crippled by the Peloponnesian War and the plague, and then Philip II and Alexander lead Macedon into Greece.

My question is, can one give a good account of the decline of Athenian democracy, in the approximately hundred year span between the Peloponnesian War and conquest by Macedon, that explains it in terms internal systemic socioeconomic weaknesses, building over time, comparable to though clearly not the same as the above example of the decline of republican Rome? What, at least in a brief sketch, does such an account look like?


I've edited this question to narrow the scope, and give brevity and clarity.

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    Thucydides wrote "The History of the Peloponnesian War", which provides the answer. A summary can be found at stmuhistorymedia.org/the-fall-of-athens – Peter Diehr Mar 14 at 19:20
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    This is actually a very complicated question on which there is a considerable amount of disagreement among academics. The Peloponnesian War is certainly a significant part of it, but on its own it falls some way short of giving a complete picture. I'll post an answer if I can muster enough brain cells to marshal the various factors involved (or possibly involved, depending on who one reads)... – Lars Bosteen Mar 15 at 5:53
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    @LarsBosteen: Should have know I was stumbling into something like that ... I always enjoy and appreciate your answers, so if you have the time that would be awesome, but if not just the names of a go-to book or two would also be very helpful, if there is one. (To me it's that old Socratic paradox, "how can you google what you don't already know?") – Random Mar 16 at 14:45
  • Thanks for the compliment. I've been mulling over an answer but, on a question like this, I can't do it the justice which a lengthier tome by a specialist can. The most useful item I can recommend which I know you can get hold of for free is this pdf: The Alleged Failure of Athens in the 4th Century. It summarizes some of the conflicting views before going on to largely 'blame' external factors. – Lars Bosteen Mar 17 at 11:20
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Question:
can one give a good account of the decline of Athenian democracy, in the approximately hundred year span between the Peloponnesian War and conquest by Macedon, that explains it in terms internal systemic socioeconomic weaknesses, building over time, comparable to though clearly not the same as the above example of the decline of republican Rome? What, at least in a brief sketch, does such an account look like?

Athenians lost the Peloponnesian war to Sparta and endured decades of occupation and tribute in favor of Sparta afterwards. She lost her empire, her wealth, a generation of fighting men and even self rule for a time ( the rule of "Thirty Tyrants"). She never regained her former leadership and glory falling to King Philipe II of Macedon, something Sparta resisted. Sparta fell to Alexander the Great after Philip's death.

Peloponnesian War

The overall effect of the war in Greece proper was to replace the Athenian Empire with a Spartan empire. After the battle of Aegospotami, Sparta took over the Athenian empire and kept all of its tribute revenues for itself; Sparta's allies, who had made greater sacrifices for the war effort than had Sparta, got nothing.

Although the power of Athens was broken, it made something of a recovery as a result of the Corinthian War and continued to play an active role in Greek politics. Sparta was later humbled by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, but the rivalry between Athens and Sparta was brought to an end a few decades later when Philip II of Macedon conquered all of Greece except Sparta, which was later subjugated by Philip's son Alexander in 331 BC.

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