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“Democracy in Athens”  - Prof. Shoshana Brassfield (Frostburg State University)


The course will center around the role-playing game The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE, which is a Reacting to the Past (RTTP) role-playing game designed for college classes. Students will be assigned roles and factions, and they read primary texts and then draw on them in order to make speeches, debate issues, and pass
their own laws in the Athenian assembly on issues such as democracy, justice, freedom of speech, and the rights of women and non-citizens. In the middle of the game, students will put Socrates on trial. Students will play the leadership roles of president of the assembly and archon in the courts, and will lead all of the game sessions
themselves. The events they are acting out are real or realistic historical events, but the outcomes of the game are determined by the students’ actions and votes.

Authors' Game Description

The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. recreates the intellectual dynamics of one of the most formative periods in the human experience. After nearly three decades of war, Sparta crushed democratic Athens, destroyed its great walls and warships, occupied the city, and installed a brutal regime, “the Thirty Tyrants.” The excesses of the tyrants resulted in civil war and, as the game begins, they have been expelled and the democracy restored. But doubts about democracy remain, expressed most ingeniously by Socrates and his young supporters. Will Athens retain a political system where all decisions are made by an Assembly of 6,000 or so citizens? Will
leaders continue to be chosen by random lottery? Will citizenship be broadened to include slaves who fought for the democracy and foreign-born metics who paid taxes in its support? Will Athens rebuild its long walls and warships and again extract tribute from city-states throughout the eastern Mediterranean? These and other issues are sorted out by a polity fractured into radical and moderate democrats, oligarchs, and Socratics, among others.
The debates are informed by Plato’s Republic, as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Xenophon, and other contemporary sources. By examining democracy at its threshold, the game provides the perspective to consider
its subsequent evolution. (Ober e al.)

Required Texts

Plato, Socrates’ Defense (Apology). Translated by Cathal Woods and Ryan Pack. 2016.

Plato. “Death Scene from Phaedo” Translated by Cathal Woods and Ryan Pack. 2012.

Plato. Republic. 2nd ed. Trans. G. M. A. Grube. Revis. C. D. C. Reeve. Hackett, 1992. ISBN: 9780872201361. $13.00 new. (Copies of the 1st edition are also acceptable.)

Ober, Josiah, et al. The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.E. 4th ed. W. W. Norton, 2015. ISBN: 9780393938876. $34.80 new. (Previous editions are not equivalent.)


Day 1: Introductions, Roles, Questions, Excitement, Chaos
Day 2: Prep: Socrates the Gadfly

Reading: Plato’s Apology
Recommended: Death scene from Phaedo

Day 3: Prep: Plato’s Vision of City & Soul

Reading: Selections from Republic Books II, III, IV, VIII, and IX

Day 4: Game Session 1: Reconciliation Agreement

Main Agenda Topics:

  • Should Athenians forget the "past wrong" of the supporters of the Thirty?
  • Should they be prohibited from filing lawsuits against the supporters of the Thirty?


  • Xenophon's Hellenica selection
  • Lysias 12 selection + Laws against slander, hubris, and wronging the Athenian people
Day 5: Game Sessions 2/3: Electorate & Social Welfare

Main Agenda Topics:

  • Should metics and worthy slaves be admitted to and allowed to vote in the Pnyx
  • Should they be allowed to serve as jurors in the law courts?
  • Should Assemblymen and jurors be paid?


  • Plato's Protagoras selection
  • Plato's Republic, Book V selections on the roles of the family and women
  • Xenophon's "The Estate Manager" from The Economist
Day 6: Game Session 4: Trial Day

Main Agenda Topic:

  • This session is reserved for a trial. If no archon requests a trial in advance, then the GM will ask President4 to hold an Assembly session and announce the topic in advance.


  • Plato's Republic, Books II-IV selections on education
  • Review Plato's Apology
Day 7: Prep: Democracy


  • Plato – Allegory of the Cave and Ship of State Republic Bk. VII, 514a-518d, 519b-521b, Bk. VI, 488a-489c
  • John Dewey – “Democracy” selections excerpted from "Democracy and Educational Administration" (1937)
Day 8: Game Session 5: Governance

Main Agenda Topics:

  • Should laws and major decisions be made by the Assembly, or by a governing council?
  • If the latter, how should the council members be chosen?


  • Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus selections
  • Review Plato's Republic, Republic, Books II-IV selections on education
Day 9: Game Session 6: Remilitarization/Restoration of the Athenian Empire

Main Agenda Topic:

  • Should Athens rebuild its fleet, recommence tribute collection, and reconstitute its empire?


  • Plutarch's Life of Cimon selection
Day 10: Post-Mortem: Winners and Losers; What Really Happened; What Did We Learn?
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