Four Hundred

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A revolutionary oligarchic council set up to rule Athens in 411 bc. The movement started in the fleet at Samos in summer 412, when Alcibiades offered to win Persian help for Athens if an oligarchy were established. Pisander was sent to Athens to prepare the way, and secured an embassy to negotiate with Persia. Though the Persian negotiation failed and the oligarchs discarded Alcibiades, it was then too late to stop. In spring 411 the oligarchic clubs (hetaireiai) murdered prominent democrats and intimidated the council (boule) and assembly (ekklesia). So far the published programme was ‘moderate’: abolition of civilian stipends (see democracy, athenian, 3 for such political pay) and the restriction of the franchise to 5,000, those ‘best able to serve the city physically and financially’. But after Pisander's return to Athens in May a meeting of the assembly, summoned to hear the proposals of a constitutional commission, was persuaded into electing five men who, indirectly, selected 400 to act as a council with full powers to govern. The supporters of the original ‘moderate’ programme were overwhelmed by the extremists of the 400, who never summoned the 5,000, and who attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with Sparta. But the democrats regained the upper hand in the fleet at Samos; and when the Peloponnesians attacked Euboea, the squadron hastily sent by the 400 was defeated. Theramenes, who had been one of the men behind the oligarchy, now came out for the moderates, the 400 were overthrown, and the 5,000 were instituted (September); but after the victory at Cyzicus (410) full democracy was restored.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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