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Remembering Defeat

Civil War and Civic Memory in Ancient Athens

Andrew Wolpert

Publication Year: 2001

In 404 b.c. the Peloponnesian War finally came to an end, when the Athenians, starved into submission, were forced to accept Sparta's terms of surrender. Shortly afterwards a group of thirty conspirators, with Spartan backing ("the Thirty"), overthrew the democracy and established a narrow oligarchy. Although the oligarchs were in power for only thirteen months, they killed more than 5 percent of the citizenry and terrorized the rest by confiscating the property of some and banishing many others. Despite this brutality, members of the democratic resistance movement that regained control of Athens came to terms with the oligarchs and agreed to an amnesty that protected collaborators from prosecution for all but the most severe crimes. The war and subsequent reconciliation of Athenian society has been a rich field for historians of ancient Greece. From a rhetorical and ideological standpoint, this period is unique because of the extraordinary lengths to which the Athenians went to maintain peace. In Remembering Defeat, Andrew Wolpert claims that the peace was "negotiated and constructed in civic discourse" and not imposed upon the populace. Rather than explaining why the reconciliation was successful, as a way of shedding light on changes in Athenian ideology Wolpert uses public speeches of the early fourth century to consider how the Athenians confronted the troubling memories of defeat and civil war, and how they explained to themselves an agreement that allowed the conspirators and their collaborators to go unpunished. Encompassing rhetorical analysis, trauma studies, and recent scholarship on identity, memory, and law, Wolpert's study sheds new light on a pivotal period in Athens' history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Completion of this project was made possible by a Loeb Faculty Grant, Harvard University, and by a Summer Research Grant, University of Wisconsin. Preliminary drafts were read at the meetings of the APA and CAMWS as well as at the University of Chicago, the University of Durham, Harvard University, and the University of Washington. ...

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pp. xi-xviii

In 404 B.C.E., the Peloponnesian War finally came to an end when the Athenians, starved into submission, were forced to accept Sparta’s terms of surrender. Shortly afterward, a group of thirty conspirators with Spartan backing overthrew the democracy and established a narrow oligarchy. ...

Part One: The Historical Setting

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1: Civil War

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pp. 3-28

Sources for the civil war are numerous and detailed; examined collectively, however, they provide a confused and contradictory picture of the surrender, the rule of the Thirty, and the restoration of the democracy.1 No doubt many of the variations are due to the different genres of the works as well as the personal idiosyncrasies ...

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2: Restoration of the Democracy

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pp. 29-47

After the restoration of the democracy, the Athenians engaged in a flurry of legislative activity, of which the new procedures for enacting laws had perhaps the greatest long-term impact on the shape of the democracy. But for our purposes, what appears most striking is how such measures became a way for the Athenians to deny that the civil war had lasting repercussions, ...

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3: Recrimination

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pp. 48-72

Many of the extant speeches delivered in the first generation after the reconciliation focus on the civil war and the terms of the amnesty.1 Some went to court, attempting to circumvent the agreement, and others sought satisfaction by alternate means. Sometimes the period of civil unrest was recalled even when it was not directly relevant to the case at hand, ...

Part Two: Civic Memory

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4: Remembering Amnesty

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pp. 75-99

The civil war shattered Athenians’ notions about their community. With little resistance from the rest of the population, conspirators seized power. They carried out a brutal reign, and when democratic exiles began their campaign to remove the oligarchs, they received only modest support from the rest of the citizens. ...

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5: Loyalty to the Demos

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pp. 100-118

Even if civic memory of the civil war eased the tension between the former factions, conciliatory representations did not prevent accusations and counteraccusations such as the above. At least in some cases, disgruntled citizens advanced favorable representations of their former enemies as a group ...

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6: Constructing a Future

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pp. 119-136

As the Athenians assigned meaning to the civil war, they drew lessons from the past which had an impact not only on the success of the reconciliation but also on the future of the restored democracy. We have already seen that memory of the past could either promote peace or factionalize the community. ...

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pp. 137-142

The events of 403 bear directly on the debate about the nature of the Athenian democracy. Most historians conclude either that the democracy continued where it had left off before the Thirty seized power or that the Athenians retreated from popular rule. Central to the debate is the creation of boards of nomothetai. ...


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pp. 143-144


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pp. 145-168


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pp. 169-184


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pp. 185-190

E-ISBN-13: 9780801877193
E-ISBN-10: 0801877199
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801867903
Print-ISBN-10: 0801867908

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2001

OCLC Number: 51615947
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Remembering Defeat

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Athens (Greece) -- History -- Thirty Tyrants, 404-403 B.C.
  • Greece -- History -- Spartan and Theban Supremacies, 404-362 B.C.
  • Greece -- History -- Macedonian Expansion, 359-323 B.C.
  • Democracy -- Greece.
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