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taboo against bearing arms on the streets of Athens?

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taboo against bearing arms on the streets of Athens?

Postby daivid » Sat Sep 07, 2013 12:23 am

A lot of the court speeches describe brawls on the streets of Athens. While what I have read so far does give me the impression that Athens was a rather rough place it seems to be rare that anyone resorted to anything much worse than fists. This seems to me remarkable given that citizens were expected to provide their own arms when called out by the city for war. Presumably these were kept at home.

So was there a strong taboo or law against the carrying of swords etc on the streets of Athens expect when summoned by the generals to fight for the city?
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Re: taboo against bearing arms on the streets of Athens?

Postby Qimmik » Mon Sep 09, 2013 12:45 pm

Wouldn't it have been difficult for Athenians to go about their daily business encumbered by weapons? Cudgels were probably the primary instruments of Athenian thugs.
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Re: taboo against bearing arms on the streets of Athens?

Postby daivid » Tue Sep 10, 2013 5:51 pm

Qimmik wrote:Wouldn't it have been difficult for Athenians to go about their daily business encumbered by weapons? Cudgels were probably the primary instruments of Athenian thugs.


I am not entirely convinced by this. How much would a sword plus scabbard weigh - one and half kilos maybe two?
But thanks for the thought.
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Re: taboo against bearing arms on the streets of Athens?

Postby Scribo » Wed Sep 11, 2013 6:06 pm

Indeed swords weigh very little, however they're never really commonplace. With in Greece itself finding anything like proper swords is often difficult and more often than not you'd be looking at an akinakes or a glorified knife. I find it odd...but then these are the idle musings of someone interested in swordplay.

I don't know HOW commonplace weapons actually ever were in everyday Athens. Given the strict Hybris laws I suspect not too often, even slapping an actual citizen could cause serious problems. The Old Oligarch complains that the citizenry is so diluted that one can not tell slave from citizen and hence slapping someone out of the way could get you in trouble. In the forensic speeches, especially Demosthenes, we occasionally get references to fights and weapons don't come up outside of murder charges. So Konon slaps someone around and then struts like a chicken (worthy of a hybris charge!) but didn't have access to a club. The city employed "Scythian" policemen for this reason, so that they could manhandle citizens without fear. (Though citizens arrest did sort of exist, this again is drifting).

Bear in mind Aristotle's remarks on Peisistratos (Athenian Constitution) that he maintained his power by disarming the citizens. The rhetoric in this passage is odd. What exactly is going on here? Is it a moral lesson in the importance of an armed citizenry contra Tyranny? Does that mean the Athenians of his day had weapons? I'm unsure. Obviously people owned weapons. They needed them for the army. This doesn't tell us anything about carrying them, however.

I think most would have had eating knives on them. I doubt we'd be seeing full blown swords and clubs. On the other hand, I'm not aware of a religious taboo as with the Romans and their pomerium. I don't know, this is an interesting question! Never considered it before.
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Re: taboo against bearing arms on the streets of Athens?

Postby daivid » Sun Sep 15, 2013 5:33 pm

Scribo wrote:I think most would have had eating knives on them. I doubt we'd be seeing full blown swords and clubs. On the other hand, I'm not aware of a religious taboo as with the Romans and their pomerium. I don't know, this is an interesting question! Never considered it before.


I wasn't thinking of a religious taboo more a strong feeling that no decent citizen would be so uncouth as to wander round with a sword as if it were a fashion accessory (ie unlike the Verona of Romeo and Juliet).

My impression from a somewhat limited reading of the forensic speeches is that Athenians did not carry arms on the streets of Athens for reasons that were so obvious to the Athenians of the time no one felt that the need to state the obvious and hence we can only guess. That you too are so uncertain confirms that.

So my guess is that were some high-born Athenian young blood, were to step onto the streets of Athens sporting a sword,  the first reaction of passers-by would be "Is the city under attack".  As soon as they concluded that this could not be the case their alarm would turn to anger and said young blood would quickly be surrounded by fellow citizens telling to stop being such an idiot and take his sword home.
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