subject = History 209 (Ancient Greek History)title = Was the 5th CenturyBCE a “Golden Age” for Athens?The5th century BCE was a period of great development in Ancient Greece, and specificallyin Athens. The development of so many cultural achievements within Athensand the Athenian Empire has led scholars to deem this period a “Golden Age.”It is true that his period had many achievements, but in the light of theAthenians treatment of women, metics (non-Athenians living in Athens), andslaves it is given to question whether or not the period can truly be called”Golden.”The 5th century and the Athenian Empire gave birth to an amazingamount of accomplishments.
One such accomplishment was the minting of standardAthenian coins that were used throughout the Athenian holdings as valid fortrade. The use of standard Athenian-minted coins helped the Athenians establishand maintain control over their empire by helping to control trade and theeconomy of the area to the Athenians benefit.Since Athens regularly receivedtribute from the states it controlled, Pericles, the leader of Athens, begana building project in Athens that was legendary.
Athens had been sacked bythe Persians during the Persian Wars and Pericles set out to rebuild the city.The citys walls had already been rebuilt right after the end of the secondPersian War so Pericles rebuilt temples, public grounds, and other impressivestructures. One of the most famous structures to result from Pericles buildingproject was the Parthenon. The Parthenon and other such structures re-establishedAthenss glory and while some Athenians criticized the projects as too lavish,most Athenians enjoyed the benefits of the program. A major benefit to theAthenian people was that there was an abundance of work in the polis.
The5th century BCE was also an important time for Athenian thought. “Sophists,”paid teachers, taught rhetoric amongst other subjects to wealthy Athenian citizens.The Sophists were criticized by Athenians who thought that Sophists were destroyingGreek tradition by emphasizing rationalism over a belief in superstition, howeverit was this rationalism that became so important to Greek philosophers suchas Socrates and Plato, both who belonged to the 5th century BCE.
The Sophistshigh regard for rhetoric was later of great use to citizen addressing the Assemblyin the developing Athenian democracy.Athenian democracy is perhaps consideredthe crowning achievement of the 5th century BCE. Democracy grew out of thestatus that poorer Athenians were gaining as rowers for the ships of the largeAthenian fleet. Since these poorer Athenians now played a large part in theAthenian military, they ga8ined more say in the Athenian government.
Thisled to a democratic government where “every male citizen over 18 years waseligible to attend and vote in the Assembly, which made all the important decisionsof Athens in the 5th century BC” (Demand 223). This democratic governmentis considered by some scholars to show the full enlightenment of the Atheniansin the 5th century BCE.This glorious enlightenment seems somehow less enlightening,however, when one views this period from other than a male Athenians eyes.Athenian enlightenment and democracy was by and for male citizens. The underprivilegedof Athens included women, metics and slaves.The position of Athenian wivesin Athenian society is clearly stated by Xenephon in his Oeconomicus. Ischomacus,a young husband, is conversing with Socrates about the duties of husband andwife.
Ischomacus relates how he explained to his wife that the duties neededto support a household consisted of “indoor” and “outdoor” activities. Hethen explains to his wife, “And since labor and diligence are required bothindoors and outdoorsit seems to me that the god prepared the womans natureespecially for indoor jobs and cares and the mans nature for outdoor jobsand concerns.” (Spyridakis 206). This is the general attitude that Atheniansheld toward their wives. The Athenian wife was expected to marry and bringa dowry into her husbands house. Although this dowry was attached to thewoman, she was in no way allowed to control the lands and moneys she mightbring to her husband.. Similarly, women were not allowed to vote or take anypart in the Assembly, being seen as unfit for this privilege.
The primaryfunction of a citizens wife was to take care of domestic affairs and providethe citizen with an heir. Athenian wives were rarely seen outside of theirhouses, for respectable wives had at least one slave who would purchase neededitems at market. Poorer Athenian women were seen at market because they lackedslaves to run their errands. Women were considered intellectual non-entitiesand were treated as such in the Athenian Empire.Metics also had a low statusin Athenian society. Metics were not allowed voting privileges in the Atheniandemocracy, but were compulsed to serve a specified time in the Athenian militaryand were taxed by the Athenians. Metics usually were lower-class tradesmenor craftsmen. Although some metics families eventually gained wealth, thevast majority of the metics remained second-class inhabitants of Athens, eventhough they performed some of the polis most activities, such as militaryservice and trade.
Slavery was also matter-of -fact in 5th century Athenianlife. Slaves were the property of specific owners and subject to the wishesof their owners. Like women and metics, slaves had no citizenship rights.It was possible for a slave to save enough money to buy his freedom, but afreed slave had only as much status as a metic.
Aristotle defended slaveryas necessary and a law of nature, saying in his Politics, “That some shouldrule and others should be ruled is not only necessary but expedient; indeed,from the very moment of birth some are set apart to obey and others to command.”(Spyridakis 62) and also stating that, “He is by nature a slave who is capableof belonging to another (and therefore does belong to another) and who hasaccess to reason in that he senses it and understands it but does not possessit.” (Spyridakis 63). Many Athenians viewed slavery as necessary to societyin order to give a citizen more time to participate in government affairs andother matters that were viewed as more important than a slaves work. Althoughsome lower-class Athenians may have been forced to share labor with slaves,most Athenians did not participate in slaves work.
Male slaves did harderlabor such as construction and agriculture. Female slaves ran their mistresserrands and generally took care of domestic affairs under the watchful eyeof their mistress. Slaves also acted as State scribes. In short, slaves didmuch of the work that allowed Athens to prosper in a period of “enlightenment.”Inlight of the unrecognized people who helped to build the foundations for theAthenian Empire, this “Golden Age” seem far less golden.
However, many majoraccomplishments grew out of this period as well. Before one can or cannotplace a “Golden Age” label on 5th century Athens, one must consider other timeswhen the ends of mans accomplishments may not have justified the means. Athenscould be compared to post- Revolutionary America, where a “democratic” governmentwas only available to white male citizens. Yet Americans tend to view thistime with much patriotism and pride.
Likewise the Industrial Revolution issaid to be a great accomplishment of mankind, but little recognition is givento the horrible factory conditions that employees, many women and children,endured. I would say that the 5th century BCE was as much a “Golden Age” forman as either of the above mentioned time periods. I think that most of ouraccomplishments as humans rest on the shoulders of invisible and overlookedpeoples.
Works CitedDemand, Nancy. A History of Ancient Greece. NewYork: McGraw-Hill, 1996.Spyridakis, Stylianos V. and Bradley P.
Nystrom,eds., trans. Ancient Greece: Documantary Perspectives. Dubuque: Kendall-Hunt,1985.