Political Thinking on Kingship in Democratic Athens

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought


Democratic Athens seems to have been the first place in the Greek world where there developed systematically a positive theorising of kingship. Initially this might seem surprising, since the Athenians had a strong tradition of rejecting one-man-rule. The study of kingship among the political thinkers of the fifth and fourth century has not received much scholarly attention until recent years, and particularly not the striking fact that it was democratic Athens, or at least writers directing themselves to an Athenian democratic audience, that produced a positive theorising of kingship. The aim of this essay, then, is not only to show how the political language around kingship became a way of forming definitions of what democracy was and was not, but also (more significantly), among some fourth-century intellectuals, of shaping new ideas about what it could be.

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