The Decline of the Athenian Polis

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History of Civilizations
09 March 2009
The Decline of the Athenian Polis
“Only a polis could have a victor in the pan-Hellenic games; only a polis could designated a citizen of a neighboring city as its proxenos; only a polis could designated a theorodokis; only a polis could declare war or make peace or join a federation or become a member of a federal state; only a polis could strike coins…” (Hansen, 52). The polis was the Greek city-state for excellence and the most successful and enduring political institution in the history of western civilization. Greeks perceived the polis as the appropriate political and geographic context for the good life, as well as the center of social, economic, religious, and cultural life. Following Aristotle, the polis “comes into existence for the sake of mere life; but it exists for the sake of (purpose!) the good life”. The 5th and 4th century was the time in which the Greek polis decline. The fall of the Athenian polis was an unnoticeable and very long-drawn process. The polis did not disappeared in its material form, but its characteristics, ideals and spirits changed and transform contrary to its true essence. Many causes destroyed the polis. The war, the commercials trades and the individualism were the more important. Independence is regarded as the most important characteristic of a city-state like the polis, and the city-state lost their independence at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. Losing their independence and “autonomy” signifies that they lost their identity as polis, they manners and customs. The powers of the polis disappeared when Macedon became a major power under Philip II. The hegemonial polis of the type of Athens disappeared. According to Hansen, the Greek view of the polis was that it was a community of citizens as to their political institutions: “A polis was a self governing community. But self government does not necessarily imply independence”. (Polis, 49) Along the Hellenistic and Roman imperial period, the concept of autonomy changed it’s meaning: it not longer implied full independence, but simply self-government. Kitto states, “The continuous war virtually meant the end of the city-state as a creative force” (The Greeks, 367). Throughout the 5th century Greece moves forward to news ways of thinking and living as a result of the environmental conditions. The politic history of Greece during this century is confusing and depressing. During this time Greeks wasted their energy fighting between them, and left the way open to Macedon to come in and take over. With this, the classic and old Greece has ended. The life has a new completely different meaning from the former. The war triggered a self-destructive cycle. The hostility between individual poleis and the Macedon kingdom invasion affected the diplomacy at that time. The collapse of such a politic system had to have an explanation. Greece was materially and spiritually exhausted as a result of the nonstop periods of wars. Things could not continue as they were; the city-state didn’t provide a comfortable lifestyle any longer. The problems of the polis were not externally, but internally as well, while was loosing its power. Athens seemed to be in some politics lethargy, citizens felt indifferent and about politics. People were interested in new things, not in the polis anymore. It was not about that the Peloponnesian war have left Athens exhausted. It was about a change in their idiosyncrasy. The citizens changed their tempered permanently. They had a different attitude towards their existence. They were focusing more in the individual essence rather than common-welfare. It can be perceived by dramatics changes on arts, philosophy and life. The sculpture, as an example, begun to be introspective, they stopped expressing all the ideal and collective. Art started to focused on rationalism, rather than the simply exaltation of the human anatomy. Consequently, dramatic...
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