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The rule of the Thirty Tyrants

The Spartan leaders resisted the demand of their allies the Corinthians1, the bitterest enemy of the Athenians, for the utter destruction of Athens. They feared Corinth2, with its large fleet and strategic location on the isthmus potentially blocking access to and from the Peloponnese, might grow too strong if Athens were no longer in existence to serve as a counterweight. Instead of ruining Athens, Sparta installed as the conquered city's rulers a collaborationist regime of anti-democratic Athenian aristocrats, who became known as the Thirty Tyrants.3 These men came from the class of aristocrats that had traditionally despised democracy and admired oligarchy. Brutally suppressing their opposition and stealing shamelessly from people whose only crime was to possess desirable property, these oligarchs embarked on an eight-month-long period of terror in 404-403 B.C. The metic and famous speechwriter-to-be, Lysias, for example, whose father had earlier moved his family from their native Syracuse at the invitation of Pericles, reported that the henchmen of the Thirty seized his brother4 for execution as a way of stealing the family's valuables. The plunderers even ripped the gold earrings5 from the ears of his brother's wife in their pursuit of loot. As a result of political divisions among their leadership, the Spartans did not interfere when aprodemocracy resistance movement came to power in Athens after a series of street battles in 403 B.C.6 To put an end to the internal strife that threatened to tear Athens apart, the newly restored democracy proclaimed an amnesty7, the first known in Western history, under which all further charges and official recriminations concering the period of terror in 404-403 B.C. were forbidden. Athens' government was once again a functioning democracy; its financial and military strength, however, was shattered, and its society harbored the memory of a bitter divisiveness that no amnesty could completely dispel.

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