Thucydides on the Fate of the Democratic Empire

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Park, Sungwoo
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Institute of International Affairs, Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University
Journal of International and Area Studies, Vol.15 No.1, pp. 93-109
ThucydidesPeloponnesian WarAthenian EmpireAthenian DemocracyDemocratic EmpirePericlesMytilenean DebatesSicilian Expedition
This paper investigates Thucydides’ instruction on the problematic concept of the democratic

empire. Although the term “democratic empire,” that is, the combination of democracy and empire, is

often justified in the modern context, it appeared to the ancient to be very problematic because of its

inherent contradiction. The paper examines how Thucydides dealt with the Athenian Empire as an

exemplary case of democratic empire. More specifically it examines how Thucydides related the rise

and fall of the Athenian Empire to its characteristics of democratic empire. Many scholars attributed

the collapse of the Empire to the excessive desire of the demos. I do not deny this traditional reading.

Yet I argue that the Athenian demos was fully aware of what it was doing: it preferred democracy to

empire when it had to choose either. By reading closely Thucydides I try to show how the Athenian

demos constantly maintained democracy even when its preference for democracy could endanger its

empire. Based on this reading of Thucydides, I conclude that Thucydides instructs both democratic

citizens and imperialist elites that they cannot maintain democratic empire in the long run: they should choose democracy or imperialism at a certain point.
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Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원)Dept. of International Studies (국제학과)Journal of International and Area StudiesJournal of International and Area Studies vol.15 (2008)
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