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Democratic characterizations of democracy: liberty's relationship to equality and speech in ancient Athens

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At least since Benjamin Constant gave a speech on the subject in 1819 at the Athenee Royal in Paris, there has been occasional debate over the exact character of ancient democracy. This debate lives on today in a spirited and lively exchange going on largely among ancient historians over the character of Athenian democracy, particularly on its political and theoretical articulations. The purpose of this paper is to investigate two specific aspects of this debate, namely the understanding Athenian citizens - and particularly democratically inclined Athenian citizens - had of equality and liberty of speech, and their linkage in the Athenian mind. It is argued that the Athenian notion of equality and free speech were linked with liberty, and are not entirely dissimilar to modern understandings of the same concepts.

Keywords: Ancient Athens; Ancient Greece; Democratic Theory; Demosthenes; Equality; Freedom; Freedom of Speech; Liberty; Oratory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science & International Relations, State University of New York, New Paltz, 75 S. Mannheim Blvd., Suite 9, New Paltz, New York 12561-2443, USA. Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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