Metella

The police force in Athens was made up from Scythian slaves

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So this quote from Klingon caught my eye.


 


I know that slaves in the ancient world often had a more secure and comfortable life then even their masters ...  so slavery was a viable way of "making a living."


 


However, slave comes with restrictions ... so I am wondering how well they did as a police force ?


 


Were they conquered and if so - was there no immediate danger in having them as a police force ?


 


Curious as to how this came about - how it worked and how long it worked.


 


 


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Don't know much about it, but it sounds like an easy opportunity for rebellion. 


 


 


Some near eastern cultures did have slave armies, which seemed effective.


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I had the briefest of looks on this the other day (as I planned to write something about it here) and realized that we really have very little real evidence for the phenomenon; one of our most important sources seems to be Aristophanes Acharnians. More soon!


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Good - as I said - the info caught my eye and attention - I would like to hear more about the structure - as Barca mentioned, it seems a great opening for some bloody rebellion.   I don't know that I would feel my family was safe in the streets with this type of police forces.


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I thought we had some mention in Herodotus and Thucydides, with even a mention of some of the police force being deployed with the army on one occasion.


 


I would say that the number of policemen in Athens was never huge, and that all the thousands of citizens were armed at home : while one on one a scythian was an impressive barbarian able to really make you regret breaking the law, as a group they were too few to cause issues. For them their slavery might have been bad, but better as policemen as working the Laurion mines, it was more being a kind of mercenary. 


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This turned out to be a little bit more complicated than I thought. They Scythian are actually not mentioned in Aristophanes Archanians other then when it is noted that a character is captured by the Scythian police .This is, however, in an note on how the play is to be acted, not a line by one of the characters - I really don't know when this acting notes were added to the manuscripts.


 


Compare the two versions here and here.


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So is it an exaggeration for dramatic purposes ?   A Scythian who became part of a police force - then stretched to a whole force for drama ?  


 


I guess they all were armed - but then why have a police force ... just trying to get into the times and figure how I would feel my family was safe walking to market with such a police force in the city.


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Thanks for the article Bryaxis. Here are the relevant sources given in the text. Notice the frequent word Ï„οξότης (archer).

 

Aristophanes, Acharnians 54

 

A PRYTANIS

Guards [τοξόται]!

 

AMPHITHEUS

Oh, Triptolemus and Ceres, do ye thus forsake your own blood?

 

Note: the text simply says archers (τοξόται). The inference that these would be Scythians is from a presumably much later, quite possibly byzantine) later scholia.

 

 

 

Aristophanes, Lysistrata 184

 


LYSISTRATA

Of course.... Well then

Where is our Scythianess [Σκύθαινα]? Why are you staring?

First lay the shield, boss downward, on the floor

And bring the victim's inwards.


 

 

Note: the Greek specifies that it is one female Scythian. This is quite possibly part of the joke.

 

 

 

Aristophanes, Lysistrata 434

 


MAGISTRATE

Indeed, you slut! Where is the archer [ὁ τοξότης] now?

Arrest this woman, tie her hands behind.

 

LYSISTRATA

If he brushes me with a finger, by Artemis,

The public menial, he'll be sorry for it.

 

MAGISTRATE

Are you afraid? Grab her about the middle.

Two of you then, lay hands on her and end it.

 

CALONICE

By Pandrosos I if your hand touches her

I'll spread you out and trample on your guts.

 

MAGISTRATE

My guts! Where is the other archer [τοξότης] gone?

Bind that minx there who talks so prettily.

 

Note: the magistrate is talking about a specific archer in this case, not just any one.

 

 


 

Aristophanes, Lysistrata 445

 


MAGISTRATE

You too! Where is that archer [τοξότης]? Take that woman.

I'll put a stop to these surprise-parties.

 

Note: As in the other cases, we are simply dealing with an archer.

 

 

 

Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 923-933

 


Third Woman

[920] You seem to me to be a cunning rascal too; you are in collusion with this man, and it wasn't for nothing that you kept babbling about Egypt. But the hour for punishment has come; here is the Magistrate with his Scythian [τοξότης].

 

[...]


 

Magistrate

Is this the rascal Cleisthenes told us about? Why are you trying to make yourself so small? Officer [τοξότ᾽], arrest him, fasten him to the post, then take up your position there and keep guard over him. Let none approach him. A sound lash with your whip for him who attempts to break the order.

 

Note: as in the other cases have archer (τοξότης) simply been translated into Scythian based on much later scholia.

 


Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae 143

 


First Woman

Yes, by Artemis, and neat wine too. That's why their decrees breathe of drunkenness and madness. [140] And why libations, why so many ceremonies, if wine plays no part in them? Besides, they abuse each other like drunken men, and you can see the archers [τοξόται] dragging more than one uproarious drunkard out of the market-place.

 

Note: Yet again we are dealing with unidentified archers.


 

Andocides, On the Peace 3.5

 

To begin with, we fortified Peiraeus in the course of this period: secondly, we built the Long Wall to the north: then the existing fleet of old, unseaworthy triremes with which we had won Greece her independence by defeating the king of Persia and his barbarians—these existing vessels were replaced by a hundred new ones: and it was at this time that we first enrolled three hundred cavalry and purchased three hundred Scythian archers [τοξότας τριακοσίους Σκύθας ἐπριάμεθα]. Such were the benefits which Athens derived from the peace with Sparta, such the strength which was added thereby to the Athenian democracy.

 

Note: In this case it seems like the archers simply were added to the military strength of Athens.

 

 


Aeschines, On the Embassy 2.173-179

 

During this period we fortified the Peiraeus and built the north wall; we added one hundred new triremes to our fleet; we also equipped three hundred cavalrymen and bought three hundred Scythians [τριακοσίους Σκύθας ἐπριάμεθα]; and we held the democratic constitution unshaken.

 

Note: The wording is extremely close to that in the previous quote and it is likely that one of them was the source for the other.

 

 


 

Add to these sources the Suda, a thoroughly unreliable source, which is 1500 years younger. I have disregard it as evidence. Moreover, Aristophanes gives the archers (τοξόται) in the Thesmophoriazusae a funny accent, but it is nowhere stated that they are neither Scythian (rather than another group) not polices/guards.

 

It does seem clear that archers indeed were used as guards/polices/peace keepers in ancient Athens, but it is very doubtful if we can identify them as specifically Scythian. This is, of course, only if there are no other sources unknown to me stating otherwise!

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Aristophanes was a comedian.

Note that he not always mentions anything in reality, like the story about the three sexes in Platoon's Symposion (like that, for the interpretation of the feeling of love - force of Eroos: always want to be reunited with your other part).

It's dangerous to derive conclusions from anything from his own plays.

Could be comic, notice that.

Auris Arrectibus

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Aristophanes was a comedian.

Note that he not always mentions anything in reality, like the story about the three sexes in Platoon's Symposion (like that, for the interpretation of the feeling of love - force of Eroos: always want to be reunited with your other part).

It's dangerous to derive conclusions from anything from his own plays.

Could be comic, notice that.

Auris Arrectibus

 

Very good point, which I should have brought up - I would probably have dismissed it almost out of hand had it not been so deeply engraved in the mentality of modern scholarship. Thanks a lot!

 

(I come to think about the Atlantis myth as well, baah).

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The latest issue os Ancient Warfare  (vol VIII, Is 3)


 


Article 2 - Herodotus and the Scythians .... page 9-10   ....  QUOTE:   .... While it may seem odd that Athens would maintain a foreign police force, in the politically charged and notoriously litigious atmosphere of democratic Athens, it made sense that the power to beat or bind an Athenian citizen was give to 'neutral' foreign slaves, rather than locals who might abuse it in pursuit of private grudges....


 


 


In fact - to me it makes non-sense ....knowing the nature of slavery .... so who owned them?  were not all itching to find a way to freedom?  Were not many influenced by their masters for expediency's sake and just as prone to actions based on political motive as any other ?    


 


So while the rest of the article is ok - this strikes me as just spitting out an idea created thousands of years ago with no foundation .....


 


???   


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I think this may have been mentioned in Bethany Hughes hemlock cup. I don't recall anything from Thucydides but was allot to take in.

It's worth beating in mind the dress and appearance of Athenian knights documented on pottery and difficult to distinguish for Thracian riders, with knee high boots and striped cloak. Could it be that these men acted as a marshal force and that Scythian is being parralled with Thracian in this instance. Scythian police referring to horsemen dressed in the Thracian style which appears to be the early import of Greek cavalry unit. (Info from "gods of war" a study of Thracian military practice)

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I don't feel it's entirely senseless that the police were foreign slaves. Even after the democracy was established clan and partisan ties, which had riven Athens in the past were probably still extant. The current situation in the Semitic countries shows how how difficult it can be to supercede those affiliations. The Andocides quote says that three hundred Scythians were bought, making it sound as though the three hundred were consciously acquired as a group deal, maybe in some sort of limited bondage contract, specifically because they would be loyal only to the magistrates and the state. The use of German slaves as an imperial guard in later Roman times, and the enoblement of a slave to fulfill the role of sultan in one of the mediaeval Muslim Mamluk dynasties of Egypt lend credibility to this idea. As do later black slave troops in Fatimid Egypt. The Janissaries, the elite fighting and police force of the Ottoman Turks were usually Christian young men who started out their careers as dancing boys in Turkish inns, engaged in passive homosexual relations with important Turkish men who gained them entry into a contractual quasi bondage in the the Jannisaries, where they were trained in military arts, became Muslims, and often rose to important posts. We should also not forget that Theodora started out as a prostitute, a form of bondage. When Justinian married her, he probably had to buy her contract from her pimp or madam.

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The use of German slaves as an imperial guard in later Roman times, and the enoblement of a slave to fulfill the role of sultan in one of the mediaeval Muslim Mamluk dynasties of Egypt lend credibility to this idea. As do later black slave troops in Fatimid Egypt.

 

Good points. A a twist to the freedman principle; free a slave and he comes into your service. Here remain a slave, probably far from home, but hold a trusted position.

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