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Athens in the Age of Demosthenes and Lykourgos - 10 credits (HS3371)

Staff: Stephen Lambert

On the accession of Philip II to the Macedonian throne in 359 Athens was one of the most powerful cities in Greece and confident leader of an alliance of Aegean states. By 321 the Greek world had been transformed by the military and political successes of Philip and his son, Alexander the Great. For Athens, military defeat at the battle of Chaironeia in 338 was followed by loss of Empire, erosion of freedom and eventually, in 322, the installation of a Macedonian garrison and the extinction of democracy. Athens is by far the best documented ancient Greek city and the documentation of this period is especially rich thanks to an abundance of two types of contemporary source: speeches made in the lawcourts and the Assembly; and inscriptions. This module will explore the history of Athens c. 350–321 via study of about 10 speeches delivered during this period (by, or attributed to, Isokrates, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Lykourgos, Dinarchos or Hypereides); and of a translated selection of inscribed Athenian laws and decrees. The general subject will be Athens' response to the growing power of Macedon. Specific topics and themes will vary, but may include, e.g.: the dispute between Demosthenes and Aeschines; the Harpalos affair; the Lykourgan programme, including measures aimed at the young (e.g. reform of the ephebate), at improving the city's financial and military strength, and at the enhancement of the city's religion, culture and public buildings; developing attitudes to the past; shifts and tensions in Athenian foreign policy; policies towards the theatre and in relation to the grain supply; developing attitudes to 'democracy'.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: spring semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay or source criticism exercise (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

The period covered will be c. 350–321 BC. The module will be divided into three parts:

  1. Introduction: a narrative outline of the period; an introduction to Athenian law and the Attic orators; an introduction to inscribed Athenian laws and decrees.
  2. Study of a selection of speeches of Attic orators of the period. The selection may vary, but will normally cover about 10 speeches. This may include the speeches documenting the dispute between Demosthenes and Aeschines (Demosthenes 18 and 19, Aeschines 1–3); Lykourgos' speech Against Leokrates (Lykourgos 1); the speeches of Hypereides and Dinarchos relating to the Harpalos affair (Hypereides 5 and Dinarchos 1–3).
  3. Study of the inscribed Athenian laws and decrees of the period. This will be based on a translated selection of the major decrees of the period, in five thematic categories: decrees honouring foreigners; decrees honouring Athenians; religious regulations; inter-state treaties; other laws and decrees.

One seminar will focus on study of one or more speeches, one on inscriptions.


To gain a knowledge of the history of Athens in the period c. 350–321 BC through study of a selection of the two most important contemporary sources: speeches of the orators Isokrates, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Lykourgos, Hypereides and Dinarchos; and the inscribed laws and decrees of the Athenian Council and Assembly.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the history of Athens, c. 359–321 BC, and an understanding of the political developments of the period.
  • a knowledge and understanding of the most important sources for the period, in particular inscriptions and speeches made in the courts or the Assembly.
  • an ability to absorb complex information about the history of the period and deploy it effectively in addressing issues and problems.
  • an ability to apply critically the literary evidence (especially the speeches of the Attic orators) and the material evidence (especially inscriptions) in studying the history of Athens at this period.
  • an ability to use archaeological evidence (especially inscriptions) for ancient history in an informed way / an ability to use literary evidence (especially orators) for ancient history in an informed way.
  • an ability to contribute to group discussions, ask pertinent questions and co-operate with and learn from peers.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Primary sources

Speeches of Isokrates, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Lykourgos, Dinarchos, Hypereides, in the series The Oratory of Classical Greece, ed. M. Gagarin, Texas University Press:

Aeschines, translated by C. Carey (2000)
Demosthenes 18–19, translated by H. Yunis (2005)
Dinarchus, Hyperides and Lycurgus, translated by I. Worthington, C. Cooper & E.M. Harris (2001)
A selection of inscribed laws and decrees in translation (which will be supplied in a sourcebook), together with P.J. Rhodes & R. Osborne, Greek Historical Inscriptions 404–323 BC.

Preliminary reading

Primary sources and introductions and notes to Texas translations of orators, as above
C. Habicht, Athens from Alexander to Antony (1997), chapters 1–2
S. Humphreys, ‘Lycurgus of Boutadai: an Athenian aristocrat’, in The Strangeness of Gods (2004), chapter 3
S. D. Lambert, ‘What was the point of inscribed honorific decrees in Classical Athens?’, in S. D. Lambert (ed.), Sociable Man. Studies in Greek Social Behaviour in Honour of Nick Fisher (2011/2)
S. D. Lambert, ‘Some political shifts in Lykourgan Athens’, in V. Azoulay & P. Ismard (eds.), Clisthène et Lycurgue d’Athènes. Autour du politique dans la cité classique (2011)
S. D. Lambert, ‘Connecting with the past in Lykourgan Athens: an epigraphical perspective’, in L. Foxhall, H.-J. Gehrke & N. Luraghi (eds.), Intentional History. Spinning Time in Ancient Greece (2010) 225–238
S. D. Lambert, ‘Inscribed treaties ca. 350–321 BC: an epigraphical perspective on Athenian foreign policy’, in G. Reger, F.X. Ryan & T.F. Winters (eds.), Studies in Greek Epigraphy and History in Honor of Stephen V. Tracy (2010) 153–160
P. J. Rhodes & R. Osborne, Greek Historical Inscriptions 404323 BC (2003)
S. V. Tracy, Athenian Democracy in Transition (1995) 7–51
I. Worthington (ed.), Demosthenes. Statesman and Orator (2000)

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3101 Introduction to Ancient Greek History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3314 Expansion and Conflict in the Greek Poleis

HS3315 Kingdoms, Cities and Hellenization

HS3345/6 Greek Historical Texts

HS2389 Art and Archaeology of Classical Greece

HS4356 Hellenistic Art and Architecture