On a summer night in 415 BCE, unknown persons systematically mutilated most of the domestic "herms"--guardian statues of the god Hermes--in Athens. The reaction was immediate and extreme: the Athenians feared a terrifying conspiracy was underway against the city and its large fleet--and possibly against democracy itself. The city established a board of investigators, which led to informants, accusations, and flight by many of the accused. Ultimately, dozens were exiled or executed, their property confiscated.
This dramatic period offers the opportunity to observe the city in crisis. Sequential events allow us to see the workings of the major institutions of the city (assembly, council, law courts, and theater, as well as public and private religion). Remarkably, the primary sources for these tumultuous months name conspirators from a very wide range of status-groups: citizens, women, slaves, and free residents. Thus the incident provides a particularly effective entry-point into a full multifaceted view of the way Athens worked in the late fifth century.
Designed for classroom use, Athens 415 is no potted history, but rather a source-based presentation of ancient urban life ideal for the study of a people and their institutions and beliefs. Original texts--all translated by poet Robert B. Hardy--are presented along with thoughtful discussion and analyses by Clara Shaw Hardy in an engaging narrative that draws students into Athens' crisis.