How was democracy impacted by the improvement of naval technology in Athens?

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enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The expanding Persian Empire under Darius I around 2500 years ago had pushed Greek settlements out of Asia.  By the time his son Xerxes was ruling twenty years later, Athens and other Greek cities on the mainland were under attack.  The Greeks, being mostly seafarers and traders, had incorporated the latest naval technology in their fleet with superior trieme design (many countries had triemes at the time), including the incorporation an extended prow designed for ramming enemy ships, and a smaller, more manuverable and faster boat design. Although Athens had been looted and much of it destroyed after her land forces were overwhelmed by the Persians, the navy remained intact.  The Greeks defeated the Persians at the naval battle of Salamis in 479 BC; the Greeks also won the ensuing land battle and Persia was never again a threat.  By ridding themselves of a long term enemy, becoming the dominant naval power, reestablishing trade in the region, the "Golden" Age of Athens began, where classic Greek concepts were first developed, including a radical concept of governance known as democracy.


First Ancient History, Oxford University Press, 2000. pg. 153.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to John Hale, a professor at the University of Louisville, the invention of the trireme (the three-decked oar-propelled ship that the Athenians used for their navy) led to their democracy.

He argues that it was the trireme that allowed them to have a dominant navy.  Having a dominant navy allowed them to prosper.  This prosperity allowed them to develop democracy, the arts, etc.

Finally, he argues that the effort of building up a huge navy forced the Athenian society to all pull together.  This effort helped bind the society together and allow democracy to start.