Essays on Leadership Ethics
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Joanne B. Ciulla, Terry L. Price and Susan E. Murphy
Chapter 1: The shape of freedom: democratic leadership in the ancient world
Paul Woodruff Ancient Greece, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, was developing a concept of leadership along with the concept of democracy. Of the many democracies that emerged in this period, only one is recorded in any detail, and we are lucky enough to know this one very well. The city-state of Athens was far from perfect democracy, but it was founded on ideals that deserve our attention today. This chapter is based on a larger study of the goals of ancient democracy.1 After the battle on the plain of Marathon, the Athenian commander dedicated his helmet to Zeus at Olympia. It is still there. You may see it in the museum, its classic shape almost intact, its inscription still legible: “Miltiades dedicated this.” The Athenians won at Marathon in the year we call 490BC, less than twenty years after the dawn of an experiment in democracy, which was to be increasingly successful over most of the next two centuries, before it was put down by the larger armies of Macedon after the death of Alexander the Great. It was never a perfect democracy. The freedoms that the men of Athens cherished they never extended completely to women or foreigners, and they denied it to slaves altogether. Still, democracy helped Athens become the most successful Greek city-state of its time. And along with the idea of democracy came the idea of a kind of leadership that is compatible with freedom. Miltiades and the army of Athens had been astonished...
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