Despair and fatigue are our greatest enemies. To win our country back, to preserve and improve our democracy, we must think in terms of years and decades, not weeks or months. It will be long, it will be hard, it will demand courage and sacrifice: but it will be successful if we stand and are true.
So to inspire you, my countrymen, I want to tell you a story. There is nothing better than a good story to lift the heart and invigorate the soul, especially when the story is true. Let me take you back 2,500 years to Ancient Greece, long revered as the cradle of democracy. The word itself is the rendering of the Greek “demokratia” or rule of the people. Athens nurtured some of the greatest names in democracy: Solon , Cleithenes, Ephialtes, Pericles, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle.These men and their city provided the inspiration for each succeeding generation of republicans. Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Chydenius, our own Founding Fathers: all owed a tremendous debt to Athens.
In this pantheon of greatness, Thrasybulus son of Lycus, holds a place of high honor, but little recognition. Almost nothing is known of his life before the Peloponnesian War; and no contemporary biographies survived, as they did for his more famous contemporaries. Yet Athens ranked him amongst the greatest of her sons. If Pericles raised Athens to the heights of her greatest power and glory, it was Thrasybulus who saved her. Let me tell you the story of how Thrasybulus lifted his people out of the depths of ignominy, defeat and enslavement.
The Rise of Democracy
As far as we know, democracy as a form of government arose only once in the 3,000 odd years of recorded history before it appeared in Greece at the end of the Sixth Century B.C. During the Mycenaean period, Greece conformed to the patterns of governments prevalent in the Near- and Middle East: god-kings ruled highly centralized palace/temple bureaucracies. After the collapse of this civilization, the three hundred years of the Greek Dark Ages were characterized by tribal warlords assuming the more grandiose title of “king” or “basileus”.
Greece left the Dark Ages when changes in land ownership and intensive agricultural methods permitted the rise of the independent farmer and enough food surpluses to generate a local population boom, turning villages into towns and cities and leading directly to the polis, the well-known city-state of classical antiquity. It was this property-owning, independent, family farmer who not only fed the polis, but whose relative wealth allowed him to purchase the panoply that permitted him to fight in the Greek phalanx. And since the heavy infantry of the Greek phalanx was the dominant form of military organization until the arrival of the Marian legion, 500 years later, these soldier-farmers were able to demand and acquire a voice in the government of the new poleis.
The 200 years of the Archaic period were characterized by the deposition of kings and military aristocracies, and their replacement by tyrannies and oligarchies with some form of representative assembly in polis after polis: representative of the new farmers, that is. Participation in the new assemblies (ecclesia) was not particularly democratic by our standards: it still excluded to women, slaves, non-citizens, those without property and often certain “inferior” classes, such as merchants. Yet even with these restrictions, the new regimes enfranchised a substantial portion of their populations, equivalent to the percentage of enfranchised voters in the early American Republic and 19th century Britain.
So while Athens was not the only Greek polis to have popular participation in government, it went the furthest in expanding popular representation. The peculiarly Athenian experiment in democracy was begun under Cleisthenes in 507 B.C. when this noble was recalled from exile to overthrow a tyranny and lead the city. He ended up rewriting the constitution which had permitted the tyranny in the first place, introducing some key democratic reforms:
- Replacing the traditional, tribal organization of citizens into one based on their area of residence (a very agrarian notion!);
- Reorganizing the appointment of city and legislative officials, now to be chosen by lottery from all eligible citizens, who could only hold each office once in their lifetime;
- Reorganizing the court system, introducing daily jury selection, also by lottery, from the eligible populace;
- Increasing the size of the executive council, or Boule, from 400 to 500 members, and introducing the “boulic oath”: “to advise according to the laws what was best for the people.”
Cleisthenes did not call these reforms “demokratia” but rather “isonomia”, which means equality before the laws. This is natural enough: the fiercely independent farmers viewed themselves as equal to anyone, with merit being demonstrated by success in farming and battle (both very dicey propositions, even today) rather than by birth. It may not have been their intention to usher in a democratic regime but that is what they achieved through their demands for political power and an equal voice.
Cleithenes’ reforms did not place Athens too far beyond the mainstream of Greek poleis: most of her sister cities had similar structures, with the exception of Sparta and her helots, with only the degree of concentration of power determining whether the city was considered an aristocracy, oligarchy or a democracy. The Battle of Salamis, in which the Athenian navy routed the Persian navy, changed the political calculus in Athens. Salamis ended Persian hopes for a successful conquest of Greece even before the Battle of Plataea destroyed their army; it also forced the Persian evacuation of Athens, which had been occupied for some time before the battle. Most importantly, it was a battle that was won by the free-born – but propertyless – citizen rowers of the navy, rather than the free-born landowners of the Athenian citizen phalanx. This was nothing short of a revolution in military and political affairs.
The revolution continued in the wake of the Persian withdrawal from Greece. The Athenians organized the Delian League, an alliance of Greek cities, mostly in the Aegean Sea and Asia Minor, dedicated to freeing all Greeks from Persian dominance. The League was initially voluntary and every member contributed ships and men, or cash. Success followed success and the Persian was quickly driven from the shores of the Aegean. Some cities joined the League, on others tribute was levied. In time, the Athenians took on more and more of the burden of actual fighting and of maintaining the fleet. Some cities, seeing the withdrawal of the Persian Empire, felt that the danger was gone and wished to withdraw from the League, but the Athenians would not allow it: the League had been constituted in perpetuity and with the most solemn vows; it was sacrosanct. So was born the Athenian Empire, while at home the country had become a radical democracy.
The most important fact was that all of this was won mostly by the Athenian Navy. Up until this point in Greek history, phalanxes of hoplites had decided everything of importance, which was why Sparta was considered the strongest city. And hoplites were all farmers, men of property. Now, a wealthy and successful empire was being built by a navy: Athens had the largest and most powerful navy of the Mediterranean. And the Athenian Navy was crewed by citizen rowers who were not farmers, and without property. And now these citizen rowers were demanding a greater voice in government, even as the hoplite farmers had demanded it from the aristocratic horse nobility two hundred years earlier.
There were Athenian politicians prepared to listen to them. There had long been a populist party seeking reforms to reduce the remaining power of the aristocracy; some even wanted to go beyond the enfranchisement of the smaller farmers. The leader of this party in the 460’s was a man named Ephialtes, who was in constant conflict with the aristocratic party that controlled the Areopagus, the Athenian Executive Council. In 461 B.C., Ephialtes proposed a measure to radically reduce the power of the Areopagus and succeeded. He was assassinated by his noble enemies before he could celebrate his victory.
Leadership of the democratic power passed to Pericles, who ruled Athens for the next 40 years. So influential and successful was he in this task that the time was referred to as a “Golden Age” and the “Age of Pericles”. Of noble birth, Pericles son of Xanthippus extended the unfinished work of his murdered mentor throughout his long career in public service. The goal of his reforms was always to provide more access to political office and greater political rights to the lower classes. Pericles felt that the power of the Athenian state arose from the participation of all her citizens, and he sought to empower them to the maximum extent possible.
Thrasybulus was clearly in the democratic camp during the ascendancy of Pericles, but he was not a key leader. He was from a wealthy family – as many Athenian democrats were – for he had held high office several times, some of which required considerable personal expenditures. He was known as a strong supporter of Pericles and the Periclean policy of imperialism abroad and populist democracy at home.
All of these developments were anathema to the more aristocratic of Athens’ neighbors, and the city’s radical democracy would be one of the key factors leading to the cataclysmic Peloponnesian War against Sparta and her allies. The war would 27 years and be instrumental in destroying the foundations of the Hellenic world.
The Peloponnesian War
The war began in 431 B.C. and ended in 404 B.C. with the utter defeat of Athens. In between, there were numerous campaigns and changes of fortune: at one point, Sparta was on the verge of defeat. There was even a six year truce, the “Peace of Nicias”, observed mostly in the breach. I will not attempt to summarize the interminable struggle between Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies. There are any number of excellent works that accomplish that, beginning with the eye-witness history written by Thucydides. I will only focus on those events in which Thrasybulus played a critical role.
Thrasybulus was, of course, an active participant throughout the war. He was repeatedly elected to be one of the ten Athenian strategoi as well as trierarch. He participated in the land and naval campaigns of the war and was considered a successful general.
In 413 B.C., the 17th year of the conflict, Athens dispatched a massive expeditionary force to support one of her allies in Sicily that was being attacked by an ally of Sparta, the Tyrant of Syracuse. After two years of back and forth, the campaign ended in disaster: the entire Athenian expeditionary force along with 200 triremes were lost. This represented about two-thirds of the military power of Athens at the time, and while the ships could be replaced, the experienced hoplites and rowers could not. So devastating was this blow, that the Persian Empire entered the war as an ally of Sparta and many of Athens’ nominal allies began to rebel.
It also sparked an oligarchic coup in 411 B.C. Athens’ aristocrats had never been reconciled to the populist democracy in the city – think of the Koch brothers – and viewed this as a Zeus-sent opportunity to return their city to the natural state of politics, which of course meant aristocratic rule. These men successfully overthrew the democratic regime, still reeling from the defeat and discredit of Sicily, and instituted an oligarchy run by 400 aristocrats.
The oligarchs misread the temper of the army, however. Though shocked by the scale of their losses, the army and navy were steadfastly democratic. When news of the coup reached Samos, pro-democracy elements there notified the key leaders present on the island: Leon, Diomedon, Thrasyllus, and Thrasybulus. These officers rallied to the democracy and defeated the oligarchs when they attempted to overthrow the Samian government.
With their base secured, the army purged itself of officers suspected of pro-oligarchic leanings. They dispatched a ship to Athens to stir up the population against the new government as well as recalling the exiled Athenian general, Alcibiades, upon the urging of Thrasybulus. Events now spiraled out of control of the aristocrats: more and more cities declared themselves in support of the democracy, and without the support of most of the remaining military forces, the 400 were overthrown and democracy restored.
Thrasybulus did not act alone in achieving this feat, but he was one of the key leaders in resisting the coup. The experience would soon stand him in good stead. Thrasybulus remained at the forefront of the war: he commanded a number of successful naval battles, including a brilliant victory at the Battle of Cyzicus, and led hoplites in Thrace in the recapture of a number of strategic cities. After 407 B.C., for some unknown reason, Thrasybulus held no major command: perhaps he was out of political favor due to his support of Alcibiades, who was again exiled after a defeat in that year. He therefore played no role in the final three years of the war.
The Thirty Tyrants
After withstanding land defeats and the loss of the entire Sicilian expedition; withstanding an oligarchic coup attempt and a horrifying plague that decimated the population of the city, the war ended when the Athenian fleet suffered a final, decisive defeat at the Battle of Aegospotami. The fleet had been rebuilt on the reserve ships that had wisely been kept back, but it was never again up to the standards of the old navy. In any event, only 12 ships survived the debacle, fleeing to Cyprus; and Athens, cut off from her overseas food supply by a Peloponnesian siege and naval blockade was forced to surrender in 404 B.C.
Sparta’s allies, especially traditional Athenian enemies like Thebes and Corinth, now called for the utter destruction of the city, the enslavement of the population and the conversion of Attica into “pastoral land”. The Spartans refused; but they nevertheless razed the 20-mile long great wall that linked Athens with her port of Piraeus and had previously made her impervious to land attack. Athens lost her leadership of the Delian League – assumed by Sparta – and the government of the city was given to a group of thirty pro-Spartan oligarchs.
These reactionaries immediately deprived most of the citizens of the city of their rights and executed or exiled a number of the most prominent democratic leaders. They made themselves hated throughout the city and became known as the “Thirty Tyrants”, maintained only through the presence of a Spartan garrison in the city. The insecurity of their reign led them to increasingly brutal measures that alienated even the moderate oligarchs from their faction.
Many democrats did not sit around the acropolis waiting to be executed; they fled the city into exile. Surprisingly, the cities most welcoming of Athenian democrats were Thebes, Corinth and Megara: the same ones who, as allies of Sparta, had most strongly urged the utter destruction of Athens. Thrasybulus fled to Thebes and was succored by the Theban leader Ismenias. There he gathered men, money and arms and prepared to strike back after the winter.
By the spring of 403 B.C., the Thirty had made themselves sufficiently hated that Thrasybulus felt he could act. A daring stroke might rally support to him and topple the oligarchs from their unsteady hold on the city. He moved his band of 70 democrats to a defensible location at Phylae on the border between Boeotia and Attica and there sent out a call for recruits. What he got was the army of the Thirty Tyrants sent to capture or kill him. Now Providence intervened: a snow storm prevented the Tyrants’ army from closing on Phylae, and they were forced to return to Athens. This “victory” brought heart to the democrats and new recruits began to stream in.
The humiliated Tyrants, now seriously worried, asked the Spartan garrison for help. The Spartans were disgusted at the pitiful failure of their allies, but agreed to send out a force to accompany a second attempt to expel Thrasybulus. This time there would be no snow storm; and Spartans didn’t give a damn about the snow anyway. The job would be done properly. They were not counting on Thrasybulus, who had just spent the last 30 years fighting Spartans. His little band of 70 heroes had now grown to over 700. Rather than wait for the Spartans to form into line of battle, from which they were usually unbeatable, he launched a daring morning raid on their camp. He routed the oligarchs’ Athenians and even killed 120 Spartans before the rest retreated in good order.
The situation had gone from being an annoyance to becoming desperate in the matter of a couple of months. Thrasybulus chased the routed oligarchic army all the way back to Athens. Nothing brings confidence like victory, and more waverers rallied to his colors. He was able to leave Phylae defended with 200 men while he marched another 1,000 to the Piraeus, the port of Athens: now conveniently without walls thanks to the Spartans! There he fortified himself on the highest hill overlooking the port and awaited the next, inevitable attack.
It was not long in coming. The Thirty felt power slipping from their hands: the hostile Athenian citizenry were obviously supporting Thrasybulus, and the Spartans would hardly back them forever if they proved themselves incompetent. They gathered their remaining forces, convinced the Spartan garrison to support them again, and went against Thrasybulus. The oligarchic army was reputed to be five times the size of the force Thrasybulus had at his command, but Thrasybulus held the high ground as well as a moral ascendancy: he had whipped the oligarchs twice already and his men were inspired with fervor, while the oligarchs’ men were not. Details of the battle are lacking, but it is easy to see the oligarchic army break and rout after a few half-hearted attempts to charge the summit (in 90 lbs of bronze armor!) with Thrasybulus’ phalanx running downhill after them, and the Spartans refusing to be involved in so unmanly a debacle.
Thrasybulus had won the battle and secured his position. He had killed the leader of the Thirty, an aristocrat named Critias, and the remainder of the Thirty fled the city. But Athens did not fall to Thrasybulus. New oligarchs were elected. The Spartan garrison remained. These new leaders attempted to reach an accommodation with their adversary, but Thrasybulus refused to treat with them. In desperation, the oligarchs called on Sparta itself to defeat their enemy.
The Spartans held a long debate on the subject. Lysander, victor of Aegospotami and chief proponent of a Spartan Empire, was all for going in and killing every last one of Thrasybulus’ men. Not all the Spartans were so keen, however. The moderate party, led by Pausanias, were unwilling to have to keep a large garrison perpetually in Attica, and it was becoming apparent that this would be the only way to keep an oligarchy in power in Athens. They also saw this as an opportunity to bring their opponent Lysander down a peg or two: after all, the Thirty had been his creatures.
In the end, the Spartans did send an army, but elected Pausanias to lead it. Thrasybulus faced off against the Spartan force and lost; but he did not lose badly. The Athenian hoplites fought very well, and their Spartan opponents gave them honor for their bravery. This was enough of an excuse for Pausanias, who was unwilling to force the issue anyway. He demanded that Thrasybulus and the oligarchs reach an agreement; since Thrasybulus remained unwilling to compromise despite his recent defeat, this essentially forced the oligarchs to give in to his terms, a restoration of democracy.
One reason this was possible was because Thrasybulus was a man of honor: he met with Pausanias after the battle, and the two got along well, warrior to warrior. Another was that his program was extremely moderate: a general pardon for all Athenians, both democrats and oligarchs. No one would be executed; no one would be exiled and their properties confiscated, not even the Thirty Tyrants. Any oligarch who wished to withdraw from the city after the restoration of democracy, could do so in peace, retiring to the nearby city of Eleusis.
And Thrasybulus kept his word. When he entered the city and assumed power, he prevented the bloodthirsty reprisal that many of his followers demanded. He maintained public order and restored the democratic constitution. He recalled exiled Athenians, even the luckless Alcibiades. In fact, he advocated a return to the exact same politics championed by Pericles during the “Golden Age”. His fellow citizens were not ready to go quite so far and soon voted in favor of a less radical, less populist democrat, Archinus. Thrasybulus accepted his electoral defeat and peacefully stepped down.
Thrasybulus did not fade from view. He was no longer the undisputed leader of Athens – a position he had held for less than a year anyway – but he was still one of her foremost leaders. When Sparta’s arrogance and expansionism led to a break within the Peloponnesian League in 395 B.C., a coalition of anti-Spartan cities was formed, including Corinth, Thebes and Argos with Persia providing financial and naval support. These cities sent emissaries to woo Athens – proving that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests – and Thrasybulus argued in favor of joining. In the resulting Corinthian War, Thrasybulus urged Athens to a maximum effort to regain her lost empire and, in fact, they were fairly on their way to accomplishing it when the Persians took fright and forced a negotiated peace on all parties.
Thrasybulus never stopped promoting the interests of his city. He initiated the rebuilding of the long walls during the Corinthian War; he recaptured many cities that had been part of the Athenian Empire and restored much of the trade and tribute of those days. He died in the year 388 B.C. while on campaign. But none of these achievements come close to his supreme moment, when, practically alone, he stood up against the might of a victorious Sparta in the name of the people of Athens. And when he had achieved victory, he did not exploit it for personal gain or vengeance: he forgave his enemies, averted bloodshed, and stepped down peacefully when his countrymen chose another to lead them.
He failed to restore Athens to the height of her glory, but that was an impossible feat for any man or group of men. But through him, Athens reclaimed much of what it had lost in the war; much more than anyone would have thought possible in the dark days of 404 B.C. Posterity owes Thrasybulus a greater debt still: Athens remained a democracy for another 260 years until the Romans decided to directly administer the Greek cities in 146 B.C. If demokratia had died on Spartan spears, the Romans might never have had direct experience of it; and of course, we learned of democracy mostly through the Romans themselves.
Pausanias, the great travelographer of the 2nd century A.D., wrote that on his approach to Athens, he passed a cemetery amongst the sanctuaries and temples of the gods:
“Such are their sanctuaries here, and of the graves the first is that of Thrasybulus son of Lycus, in all respects the greatest of all famous Athenians, whether they lived before him or after him. The greater number of his achievements I shall pass by, but the following facts will suffice to bear out my assertion. He put down what is known as the tyranny of the Thirty, setting out from Thebes with a force amounting at first to sixty men; he also persuaded the Athenians, who were torn by factions, to be reconciled, and to abide by their compact. His is the first grave, and after it come those of Pericles, Chabrias and Phormio.”
I leave the last word to Cornelius Nepos, a Roman historian of the first century B.C., who in his work on the lives of famous commanders wrote:
“If excellence were to be weighed by itself, apart from luck, I believe I would rank this man first of all. This much is certain: I put no one ahead of him in sense of honor, steadfastness, greatness of soul and love of country.”
So be of good cheer, my countrymen. There is no foreign enemy garrisoning our cities, ready to wreak havoc on our people. So long as every patriot is ready to do their duty, and remain steadfast in their love of country and demand for democracy, we will not fail. The preservation of our nation, of our constitution and of our system of government is entirely in our hands.
 δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) is the compound form of δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (kratos) “power” or “rule”. From Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “A Greek-English Lexicon”
 Enlightenment thinking tended to look more towards the Roman Republic, than to Athenian democracy, as a model; but since the Romans themselves admired their Attic precursors, one can argue that the link remains. Most “democracies” today are representative democracies – republics – not direct democracies in the Athenian sense of all enfranchised citizens voting on all public matters.
 At least at anything above the town level; there are records of small, “proto-democracies” in the Near East and of “Raja Republics” in India, but Information is very sketchy.
 “Basileus” (pl. “basileis”) originally was closer to “prince” or “chieftain” with the older word “wanax” being used to describe a “high king” or “overlord”. However, after the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, the wanax disappears from use except in some names and inherited compound words. (Kagan, Donald, Ancient Greek History, Yale University open course). This is indicative of the degeneracy of power and organization during the Greek Dark Ages, even as during the later European Dark Ages, the Imperial Roman “Caesar” ceased to exist in the West and the lesser “dux” (pl. “duces”) or “military leader” came to become the highly aristocratic, feudal title “duke”.
 Hanson, Victor Davis, “The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization,” Free Press, 1 June 1995
 In Ancient Greece, a tyrant was …
 So determined where these farmers on maintaining their rights and privileges as free-born landholders, that much of Greek law is focused on preventing the accumulation of vast estates through purchase or inheritance. And they were remarkably successful: with the exception of post-Lycurgus Sparta, Greece was essentially made up of small- and mid-scale farmers, who owned only as much land as they could work. This system lasted for somewhat more than 400 years: longer than the American Republic has been around. (Hanson).
 The cities forming the Delian League initially asked the Spartans to lead it; but the Spartans refused, not wishing to become engaged outside of the Peloponnese, so the leadership was offered to the Athenians, who were happy to oblige. An early example of the dangers of isolationism.
 In those days, politician did not have the same greasy connotation that it holds today. In Athens, every free born male with property was expected to have a public role, and most served throughout their lives in one public capacity or other. That being said, there were the old noble families that every generation produced “great” public figures and leaders, it was expected; this was a close to the professional politician as the Athenians felt comfortable with.
 Thucydides, in his work “The Peloponnesian War” mentions that Thrasybulus had been trierarch several times. The trierarch was a commander of galleys, and was required to outfit and pay for the maintenance of a galley out of their personal wealth: a substantial sum was required.
 Yes, Pericles and Thrasybulus were the original neo-cons.
 The destruction of the Athenian Empire laid the basis for the Spartan Empire, which was universally hated. It was in turn overthrown by the Thebans. All this internecine warfare between Greeks allowed the unchecked growth of Macedonian power, which would eventually subjugate them completely until in turn subjugated by Roman power.
 Strategos (pl. strategoi) is the Greek term of general. In Athens, there were 10 strategoi, who were elected yearly to fill the role. These 10 were assigned different role: one to command the hoplites in Athens, one to command the defense of Attica, two to command the hoplites in the Piraeus and one to command the trierarchs and the navy. The other five were assigned duties as the need arose.
 The Spartans said that they would not destroy a city that had done such great service to Greece at the time of her greatest danger during the Persian Wars. Another, more practical reason, might have been that the destruction of Athens would have led to the creation of a Theban super-power on the other side of the Corinthian peninsula: which is in fact what happened only 35 years later. The parallel with the Morgenthau Plan of World War 2 is eerily apparent.
 It took the Athenians about 30 years to make themselves despised by their Delian allies; the arrogance of the Spartans accomplished the same feat almost immediately. The Delian cities also found that their liberation from Athenian control did not liberate them from continuing to pay the hated tribute: now it went to the Spartans.
 They went so far as to execute the leader of the moderate oligarchs, Theramenes, who wished to moderate the violence and expand the franchise to include all Athenians wealthy enough to be hoplites, i.e. to afford the costly panoply necessary to stand in the phalanx.
 This was not a new found piety on their part. The Spartans had offended them with their arrogance and their disdain for their counsel; they had not share d in the booty of the Athenian Empire as much as the Spartans themselves did (or as much as they thought they should anyway); and more importantly, with Athens humbled, they feared a too great Spartan ascendancy. They realized that they needed a democratic Athens as a counterweight.
 Donald Kagan draws the allusion between Thrasybulus and Charles de Gaulle. While the Spartans were by no means as wicked and detestable as the Third Reich, both Athens and France were equally prostrate before a seemingly unstoppable military machine.
 Pausanias, “Description of Greece” translated by W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Ormerod (1918)
 Nepos, Cornelius, “Excellentium Imperatorum Vitae”: translated by the Rev. John Selby Watson (1886) as “Cornelius Nepos: The Lives of Eminent Commanders”