The Athenian Experiment

Building an Imagined Political Community in Ancient Attica, 508-490 B.C.
Greg Anderson
This book rewrites the political and public history of Athens


This book shows how, in barely the space of a generation, Athens was transformed from a relatively conventional city-state into a very new kind of polity, a region-state on a previously unthinkable scale. This bold experiment in political community laid the foundations for the world's first complex, stable democracy and, ultimately, allowed the Athenians to shape the political and cultural destiny of the Greek world.

The author sets out to answer a simple question. How and when did the Athenian state acquire the anomalous size that made possible its remarkable influence on Greek politics and culture in the classical period? The standard answer is that the Athenian incorporation of the surrounding region of Attica was a gradual development, albeit a process which was largely complete some two or more centuries before the classical era. This new study proposes a very different solution: it is not until the very end of the sixth century that we see the first systematic attempt to integrate all of Attica within the polis of Athens, thus explaining why there are so few signs of impending Athenian greatness in earlier times. In supporting this claim, the book substantially rewrites the history of politics and public life in pre-classical Athens.

Greek historians and other classicists will find here the most complete account of all the evidence, documentary and material, yet assembled for this transformation, along with extensive discussion of pertinent developments in earlier times. The reader will find a way of looking at the history of archaic Athens that is refreshingly novel, unusually synoptic and, in many ways, more coherent than the standard narratives.

Greg Anderson is Assistant Professor of History at Ohio State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "The Athenian Experiment is a clear-eyed, original, and compelling reinterpretation of sixth-century Athenian history and the origins of Athens' democracy. Always positive and constructive, its consistently fresh readings of politics, mythology, and archaeology will be required reading both for historians of archaic Greece and for students of democracy. A real page turner."
    —Robert Wallace, Northwestern University
  • "Greg Anderson points the way to how historical analysis of ancient Greece must now be practiced. By boldly combining political and cultural history he provides compelling new insights about the late sixth and early fifth centuries before our era, a crucial period in the shaping of Athenian civic identity and democracy. The Athenian Experiment shows what a genuinely integrative approach can achieve."
    —W. Robert Connor, Emeritus, Princeton University
  • ". . . a bold and important new book. . . . Anderson is making a grand argument here, urging in effect the complete reconceptualization of late Archaic Athenian history, but he backs up his audacious ideas by masterfully deploying a great deal of physical evidence and religious and cultural material to complement (or at times, contradict) the scant historical texts that scholars typically rely upon. Altogether, he builds a very strong case for the lateness of Attica's true political integration and for the creation of a new imagined community in the Cleisthenic era. Anderson also persuasively handles the much-contested question of when and why demokratia came to Athens. . . . The Athenian Experiment represents a major contribution to the field and is recommended for anyone interested in the history of Athens."

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Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 328pp.
  • 9 drawings, 10 photographs, 8 maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11320-0

Add to Cart
  • $99.95 U.S.



  • classical studies, classics, Greece, Greek history, ancient Greece, antiquities, social science, history, Athens, political science, Attica, archaic Athens, Cleisthenes, Panathenaia, Theseus