Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Foreign Policy: General Issues.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of March 26, 2003
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Plot on a Map
The Assembly directed most of Athens’ foreign policy, including making specific decisions regarding alliances and military strategy.
When the Assembly sent out ambassadors or received ambassadors from elsewhere, it was conducting foreign policy. So, on the motion of Demosthenes, the Assembly dispatched five citizens as ambassadors to negotiate a treaty of peace between Athens and Philip of Macedon (Dem. 18.29). But the Assembly’s powers over foreign policy extended far beyond the dispatch of embassies. When the embassy just mentioned returned to Athens, the Assembly had to decide how to respond to the diplomatic developments. We hear of two subsequent meetings. At one, the Assembly discussed formalizing a treaty of peace with Philip, and at the other, it discussed making an alliance with Philip (Aeschin. 2.53). When these diplomatic efforts resulted in a specific proposal, the Assembly voted to make the treaty official (Aeschin. 2.82; Aeschin. 2.109; Dem. 19.14).
There are other examples of the Assembly managing foreign policy. The Assembly voted to send Timotheus to help the Persian Ariobarzanes, who was leading a revolt against the Persian king (Dem. 15.9). The Assembly voted to exclude all Megarians from the celebration of the Mysteries at Eleusis, after Megara had arrested some Athenian ambassadors (Dem. 12.4). The Assembly received a petition from Thessaly, which was asking that Philip of Macedon be admitted into the Amphictyonic Council, which was a body, consisting of representatives from several cities, that governed the shrines of Apollo at Delphi (Dem. 19.111).
One significant disadvantage of conducting foreign policy in the Assembly, on the Pnyx, out in the open, was a complete lack of secrecy. When Athens voted to make peace with Philip of Macedon (Aeschin. 2.82; Aeschin. 2.109; Dem. 19.14), the people of Phocis, who were at war with Philip, learned of this within four days, according to Demosthenes, because some Phocians were in Athens and overheard the proceedings on the Pnyx (Dem. 19.53; Dem. 19.59).
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