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9.16.2003

On reading the History News Network's history of the California recall provision, I *knew* that it reminded me of something from ancient Greek history, and I was right. I finally had a bit of time to research it, and sure enough:

A more firmly attested and even more striking instance of Pericles' inveterate and unscrupulous political activity against his lifeling adversary occurred in 450 B.C. while Kimon was still alive. It will be recalled that in the spring of that year Kimon was in command of the Athenian allied forces in an expedition against the island of Cyprus. During his absence from his native land of Attica Pericles introduced into the popular assembly, and succeeded in getting ratified, a decree to the effect that only those whose father and mother were both native-born Athenians could continue to be enrolled as citizens. Whatever its ostensible purpose, its immediate intent would have been to divest Kimon of Athenian citizenship and therewith of his military commandand political power, inasmuch as his mother Hegesipyle was a Thracian princess and not herself a citizen of Athens.

The sudden death of Kimon in Cyprus, before the provisions of the new law could be exercised against him, presumably explains why this law was not enforced in Athens at the time of its passage, but remained in abeyance until, several years later, a new element of popular self-interest was introduced by the arrival of a munificient gift of a shipment of grain from Egypt to be distributed among all Athenian citizens. The failure to implement the law at the time it was originally decreed shows that it was little else than an underhanded political move by Pericles against his illustrious political opponent.


Excerpt from The Architects Of the Parthenon by Rhys Carpenter.

Using unenforced- or rarely-enforced laws against one's opponents appears to be, literally, one of the oldest tricks in the book. Were I political consultant, I suppose I'd have a working knowledge of what these laws might be . . . if not, I'd be doing research into which ones I might be able to use!

I am also almost sure that this not the only example of the use of such laws in classical Athenian political history. I seem to recall that the use of ostracism fell into and out of use over the course of the fifth century in a somewhat similar way to how the recall tool has been used in California since its passage.
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