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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book V. - 4/25 -


volunteered by individuals.

VII. The expenses incurred for the defence or wants of the state were not regular, but extraordinary liturgies--such as the TRIERARCHY, or equipment of ships, which entailed also the obligation of personal service on those by whom the triremes were fitted out. Personal service was indeed the characteristic of all liturgies, a property- tax, which was not yet invented, alone excepted; and this, though bearing the name, has not the features, of a liturgy. Of the extraordinary liturgies, the trierarchy was the most important. It was of very early origin. Boeckh observes [280] that it was mentioned in the time of Hippias. At the period of which we treat each vessel had one trierarch. The vessel was given to the trierarch, sometimes ready equipped; he also received the public money for certain expenses; others fell on himself [281]. Occasionally, but rarely, an ambitious or patriotic trierarch defrayed the whole cost; but in any case he rendered strict account of the expenses incurred. The cost of a whole trierarchy was not less than forty minas, nor more than a talent.

VIII. Two liturgies could not be demanded simultaneously from any individual, nor was he liable to any one more often than every other year. He who served the trierarchies was exempted from all other contributions. Orphans were exempted till the year after they had obtained their majority, and a similar exemption was, in a very few instances, the reward of eminent public services. The nine archons were also exempted from the trierarchies.

IX. The moral defects of liturgies were the defects of a noble theory, which almost always terminates in practical abuses. Their principle was that of making it an honour to contribute to the public splendour or the national wants. Hence, in the earlier times, an emulation among the rich to purchase favour by a liberal, but often calculating and interested ostentation; hence, among the poor, actuated by an equal ambition, was created so great a necessity for riches as the means to power [282], that the mode by which they were to be acquired was often overlooked. What the theory designed as the munificence of patriotism, became in practice but a showy engine of corruption; and men vied with each other in the choregia or the trierarchy, not so much for the sake of service done to the state, as in the hope of influence acquired over the people. I may also observe, that in a merely fiscal point of view, the principle of liturgies was radically wrong; that principle went to tax the few instead of the many; its operation was therefore not more unequal in its assessments than it was unproductive to the state in proportion to its burden on individuals.

X. The various duties were farmed--a pernicious plan of finance common to most of the Greek states. The farmers gave sureties, and punctuality was rigorously exacted from them, on penalty of imprisonment, the doubling of the debt, the confiscation of their properties, the compulsory hold upon their sureties.

XI. Such were the main sources of the Athenian revenue. Opportunities will occur to fill up the brief outline and amplify each detail. This sketch is now presented to the reader as comprising a knowledge necessary to a clear insight into the policy of Pericles. A rapid glance over the preceding pages will suffice to show that it was on a rigid avoidance of all unnecessary war--above all, of distant and perilous enterprises, that the revenue of Athens rested. Her commercial duties--her tax on settlers--the harvest of judicial fees, obtained from the dependant allies--the chief profits from the mines-- all rested upon the maintenance of peace: even the foreign tribute, the most productive of the Athenian resources, might fail at once, if the Athenian arms should sustain a single reverse, as indeed it did after the fatal battle of Aegospotamos [283]. This it was which might have shown to the great finance minister that peace with the Peloponnesus could scarce be too dearly purchased [284]. The surrender of a few towns and fortresses was nothing in comparison with the arrest and paralysis of all the springs of her wealth, which would be the necessary result of a long war upon her own soil. For this reason Pericles strenuously checked all the wild schemes of the Athenians for extended empire. Yet dazzled with the glories of Cimon, some entertained the hopes of recovering Egypt, some agitated the invasion of the Persian coasts; the fair and fatal Sicily already aroused the cupidity and ambition of others; and the vain enthusiasts of the Agora even dreamed of making that island the base and centre of a new and vast dominion, including Carthage on one hand and Etruria on the other [285]. Such schemes it was the great object of Pericles to oppose. He was not less ambitious for the greatness of Athens than the most daring of these visionaries; but he better understood on what foundations it should be built. His objects were to strengthen the possessions already acquired, to confine the Athenian energies within the frontiers of Greece, and to curb, as might better be done by peace than war, the Peloponnesian forces to their own rocky barriers. The means by which he sought to attain these objects were, 1st, by a maritime force; 2dly, by that inert and silent power which springs as it were from the moral dignity and renown of a nation; whatever, in this latter respect, could make Athens illustrious, made Athens formidable.

XII. Then rapidly progressed those glorious fabrics which seemed, as Plutarch gracefully expresses it, endowed with the bloom of a perennial youth. Still the houses of private citizens remained simple and unadorned; still were the streets narrow and irregular; and even centuries afterward, a stranger entering Athens would not at first have recognised the claims of the mistress of Grecian art. But to the homeliness of her common thoroughfares and private mansions, the magnificence of her public edifices now made a dazzling contrast. The Acropolis, that towered above the homes and thoroughfares of men--a spot too sacred for human habitation--became, to use a proverbial phrase, "a city of the gods." The citizen was everywhere to be reminded of the majesty of the STATE--his patriotism was to be increased by the pride in her beauty--his taste to be elevated by the spectacle of her splendour. Thus flocked to Athens all who throughout Greece were eminent in art. Sculptors and architects vied with each other in adorning the young empress of the seas [286]; then rose the masterpieces of Phidias, of Callicrates, of Mnesicles [287], which even, either in their broken remains, or in the feeble copies of imitators less inspired, still command so intense a wonder, and furnish models so immortal. And if, so to speak, their bones and relics excite our awe and envy, as testifying of a lovelier and grander race, which the deluge of time has swept away, what, in that day, must have been their brilliant effect--unmutilated in their fair proportions--fresh in all their lineaments and hues? For their beauty was not limited to the symmetry of arch and column, nor their materials confined to the marbles of Pentelicus and Paros. Even the exterior of the temples glowed with the richest harmony of colours, and was decorated with the purest gold; an atmosphere peculiarly favourable both to the display and the preservation of art, permitted to external pediments and friezes all the minuteness of ornament--all the brilliancy of colours; such as in the interior of Italian churches may yet be seen--vitiated, in the last, by a gaudy and barbarous taste. Nor did the Athenians spare any cost upon the works that were, like the tombs and tripods of their heroes, to be the monuments of a nation to distant ages, and to transmit the most irrefragable proof "that the power of ancient Greece was not an idle legend." [288] The whole democracy were animated with the passion of Pericles; and when Phidias recommended marble as a cheaper material than ivory for the great statue of Minerva, it was for that reason that ivory was preferred by the unanimous voice of the assembly. Thus, whether it were extravagance or magnificence, the blame in one case, the admiration in another, rests not more with the minister than the populace. It was, indeed, the great characteristic of those works, that they were entirely the creations of the people: without the people, Pericles could not have built a temple or engaged a sculptor. The miracles of that day resulted from the enthusiasm of a population yet young--full of the first ardour for the beautiful--dedicating to the state, as to a mistress, the trophies, honourably won or the treasures injuriously extorted--and uniting the resources of a nation with the energy of an individual, because the toil, the cost, were borne by those who succeeded to the enjoyment and arrogated the glory.

XIII. It was from two sources that Athens derived her chief political vices; 1st, Her empire of the seas and her exactions from her allies; 2dly, an unchecked, unmitigated democratic action, void of the two vents known in all modern commonwealths--the press, and a representative, instead of a popular, assembly. But from these sources she now drew all her greatness also, moral and intellectual. Before the Persian war, and even scarcely before the time of Cimon, Athens cannot be said to have eclipsed her neighbours in the arts and sciences. She became the centre and capital of the most polished communities of Greece, and she drew into a focus all the Grecian intellect; she obtained from her dependants the wealth to administer the arts, which universal traffic and intercourse taught her to appreciate; and thus the Odeon, and the Parthenon, and the Propylaea arose! During the same administration, the fortifications were completed, and a third wall, parallel [289] and near to that uniting Piraeus with Athens, consummated the works of Themistocles and Cimon, and preserved the communication between the twofold city, even should the outer walls fall into the hands of an enemy.

But honour and wealth alone would not have sufficed for the universal emulation, the universal devotion to all that could adorn or exalt the nation. It was the innovations of Aristides and Ephialtes that breathed into that abstract and cold formality, THE STATE, the breath and vigour of a pervading people, and made the meanest citizen struggle for Athens with that zeal with which an ambitious statesman struggles for himself [290]. These two causes united reveal to us the true secret why Athens obtained a pre-eminence in intellectual grandeur over the rest of Greece. Had Corinth obtained the command of the seas and the treasury of Delos--had Corinth established abroad a power equally arbitrary and extensive, and at home a democracy equally broad and pure--Corinth might have had her Pericles and Demosthenes, her Phidias, her Sophocles, her Aristophanes, her Plato--and posterity might not have allowed the claim of Athens to be the Hellas Hellados, "the Greece of Greece."

XIV. But the increase of wealth bounded not its effects to these magnificent works of art--they poured into and pervaded the whole domestic policy of Athens. We must recollect, that as the greatness of the state was that of the democracy, so its treasures were the property of the free population. It was the people who were rich; and according to all the notions of political economy in that day, the people desired practically to enjoy their own opulence. Thus was introduced the principal of payment for service, and thus was sanctioned and legalized the right of a common admission to spectacles, the principal cost of which was defrayed from common property. That such innovations would he the necessary and unavoidable result of an overflowing treasury in a state thus democratic is so obvious, that nothing can be more absurd than to lay the blame of the change upon Pericles. He only yielded to, and regulated the irresistible current of the general wish. And we may also observe, that most of those innovations, which were ultimately injurious to Athens, rested upon the acknowledged maxims of modern civilization; some were rather erroneous from details than principles; others, from the want of harmony between the new principles and the old constitution to which then were applied. Each of the elements might be healthful--amalgamated, they produced a poison.


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book V. - 4/25

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