Theramenes was an Athenian oligarch, prominent in the final decade of the Peloponnesian War. Successful in replacing a narrow oligarchy with a broader one in 411 BC, he failed to achieve the same end in 404 BC. He was executed by the extremists whose policies he had opposed. The details of his actions, his motivations, and his character continue to be debated down to the present day.
About Theramenes in brief
Theramenes was an Athenian statesman, prominent in the final decade of the Peloponnesian War. A moderate oligarch, he often found himself caught between the democrats on the one hand and the extremist oligarchs on the other. Successful in replacing a narrow oligarchy with a broader one in 411 BC, he failed to achieve the same end in 404 BC, and was executed by the extremists whose policies he had opposed. The details of his actions, his motivations, and his character continue to be debated down to the present day. Modern historical assessments have shifted over time; in the 19th century, Theramenes’s part in the coup of 411 BC and his use of Arginusae were widely condemned, but newly discovered ancient texts and 20th-century scholarship supported more positive assessments. No ancient biographies of Theramene are known, but his life and actions are relatively well documented, due to the extensive treatment given him in several surviving works. The Attic orator Lysias deals with him at length in several of his speeches, albeit in a very hostile manner. He also appears in several ancient narrative histories: Thucydides, Xenophon, Diodorus Siculus, and Xenophon’s account of several episodes from his career including a sympathetic and vivid description of his last actions and words. His father, Hagnon, had played a significant role in Athenian public life in the decades before his appearance on the scene.
He had commanded the group of Greek colonists who founded Amphipolis in 437 BC–6 BC. He was one of the signers of the Peace of the Amphoponnus, and overlapped with his son’s career when he served as one of ten commissioners to draft a new constitution in 400 BC. In 412 BC, a number of Athenian aristocrats led a break out among Athens’ aristocrats, leading to the break-out of the Aegean Sea states’ subjection to the Nicopnesian states. In this context, he led the revolt that led to the fall of Peias, the first of the Greek states. He died in 404BC, and is buried in the Acropolis in Athens, along with his wife, who he had married in 438 BC. His son, Ptolemy, was a member of the Council of Athens, which was responsible for the founding of the University of Athens. He is buried at Athens, alongside his father, who died in 439 BC, in what is now known as the Ptolemies’ Tomb. His daughter, Ephorus, was buried in Athens in 434 BC, after her father’s death in the Battle of the Lysiad. She is buried next to her father, and has been described as “the most beautiful woman in the world” in her letters to her husband. She was also the only member of her family to survive the death of her father-in-law.