In 411/0 B.C. the socio-economic consequences of the failed Sicilian expedition of 415-3 B.C. caused intense political divisions in the internal affairs of Athens. This resulted in an oligarchic reform of the constitution, the main demand being for the curtailment of demagogic activities. According to Aristotle, this was accompanied by the terrorisation of democrats and the imposition of an oligarchic group, the actual exercise of power by the Council (Boule) of 400 as well as the confinement of the Assembly of Citizens (Ecclesia) to the 5000 citizens best able by virtue of position and wealth to benefit the city. Moreover, the choice of archons (chief magistrates) was made not by selection by lot but by election, and payment for public duties (misthofora) was abolished, with a few exceptions.

In 404-3 B.C. Athens, following defeat in the Peloponnesian War, was forced to disarm and submit to the will of Sparta. It was in these circumstances that the Assembly of Citizens, under the pressure from the Spartan Lysander, appointed thirty superior archons known as the Thirty tyrants. After their assumption of power, they proceeded to the judicial assassination of democratic leaders and to the proscription of many citizens. Furthermore, they restored to the Areopagus the rights it had before the Ephialtic reforms (462/1 B.C.), abolished the courts of jurors and vested the Council of Five Hundred with the powers of a criminal court. They also drew up a catalogue of one thousand trustworthy citizens, who took turns in office and approved the decisions of the tyrants.

Between the full restoration of democracy, in 403 B.C. and the interference of the Macedonians in the internal affairs of Athens from the mid-4thcentury B.C., the constitution of Athens remained democratic.

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