Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Military Matters.
Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of March 26, 2003
page 19 of 23
The Assembly passed decrees on military matters, beginning with votes to make preparations for war (Dem. 14.14). Since Athens relied on a citizen militia to fight its wars (see, for example, Dem. 3.4), military decisions were of immediate and vital relevance to those citizens as they gathered in the Assembly.
Military questions and financial questions were often inseparable, as when Philip was besieging Heraeum and the Assembly voted to launch a fleet of forty ships and levy a special tax to pay for the expedition (Dem. 3.4). It was not unknown for a private citizen to offer, during a meeting of the Assembly, a voluntary donation (ἐπίδοσις) for a military expedition (Dem. 21.161). The military decisions in the hands of the Assembly were not limited to broad political matters; while the Council decided, each year, whether to spend money on the construction of warships, it was the Assembly that decided what types of warships to build that year (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 46.1). Demosthenes, in one speech, asks the Assembly to vote to raise an army (to fight Philip) consisting of 2000 men, of whom 500 were to be Athenians, of any suitable age, serving for a specified period, and other specific details (Dem. 4.21); this request shows the level of detail with which the Assembly involved itself in planning. Demosthenes goes beyond appropriations to strategy when he asks that the Assembly vote that this army should wage a “war of continuous annoyance” against Philip (ἣ συνεχῶς πολεμήσει καὶ κακῶς ἐκεῖνον ποιήσει) (Dem. 4.19).
In times of crisis, the Assembly was responsible for voting to mobilize, and the first step seems to have been a vote that the trierarchs (τριήραρχαι) get their ships ready for sea (Dem. 50.4; Dem. 50.6). The Assembly could set incentives for speed in this matter, and hand down punishment for inefficiency; we hear of the Assembly awarding a crown for the first to get his ship ready, and at the same time decreeing that those who did not launch on time were subject to imprisonment (ὃς ἂν μὴ πρὸ τῆς ἕνης καὶ νέας ἐπὶ χῶμα τὴν ναῦν περιορμίσῃ, δῆσαι καὶ δικαστηρίῳ παραδοῦναι) (Dem. 51.4). Likewise, the Assembly could, at any time, replace one military commander with another, as when Autocles was relieved of command, and the Assembly dispatched Menon to replace him (Dem. 50.12; see also Impeachment).
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