Fighting tyranny in fifth-century athens: Democratic citizenship and the oath of demophantus

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By way of explaining why he turned to the Athenian tyrannicides while narrating the Affair of the Mysteries in 415, Thucydides asserts at 6.60.1 that the Athenian demos, 'remembering all that they knew from report' about their civic heroes, became 'unmanageable and suspicious of those blamed for the affair'. Should historians believe him? Perhaps not. This paper discusses the oath of Demophantus, which the Athenians collectively recited after restoring democracy in 410/09 (And. 1.97-98) and which gives prominent place to Harmodius and Aristogeiton. The tyrannicides support the oath's obvious ideological impulse, the assimilation of oligarchy and tyranny: citizens watch for threats of the few, just as Harmodius and Aristogeiton stood against tyranny. More importantly, I argue, the oath adopts tyrannicide as a model for democratic citizenship: the oath transforms the everyday political activities of citizenship into tyrannicide: standing with Harmodius and Aristogeiton (and his real neighbours), the citizen protects democracy with confidence, not suspicion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-99
Number of pages9
JournalBulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics
  • Archaeology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Linguistics and Language


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