04 july 2023

International conference


An International Conference
4-6 July 2023

The Nantes Institute for Advanced Study (France)


David M. Pritchard (IEA de Nantes/Queensland)
Ian Worthington (Macquarie)



Registration is now open for Fourth-Century Athens at War: After Claude Mossé. This international conference is taking place at the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study (France) from 4 to 6 July 2023. The poster of the conference can be downloaded in the insert on the left of this web page.

Ancient historians have traditionally understood the fourth century BC as period of general decline. Claude Mossé – the pioneering French ancient historian – did the most to promote this understanding. Her book La Fin de la démocratie athénienne argued that Athens never recovered from the Peloponnesian War, falling into a grave economic and political crisis. Mossé also held that this crisis had a clear military dimension. Athens after 404 BC was much weaker militarily and could not stop the conquests of Philip II and Alexander the Great.

In introducing social history into the study of politics, Mossé was truly innovative. It was not without reason that La Fin de la démocratie athénienne framed for decades how ancient historians understood fourth-century Athens. More recently, however, there has been an ever-growing calling into question of this traditional understanding. Sixty years after Mossé’s first book, ancient historians probably now agree that postwar Athens did recover economically and politically. In spite of this, we still do not have a thorough reassessment of what La Fin de la démocratie athénienne argued about how fourth-century Athens had performed militarily. This international conference aims to undertake this reassessment. In doing so, it will put the study of Athenian warmaking after 404 on a completely new footing.

Claude Mossé died on 12 December 2022 at the age of 97 years. After La Fin de la démocratie athénienne, she wrote many more books and was a pioneering figure in the teaching of Ancient History in France. Jean-Pierre Vernant himself rightly recognised Mossé as a leading figure in the Paris School. This conference is another scholarly homage to this great French historian of classical Greece.



The Australian Research Council is the principal financial sponsor of Fourth-Century Democracy at War: After Claude Mossé. The other sponsors are the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study, the Estate of the Late Nicholas Anthony Aroney (Australia), Macquarie University (Australia) and the University of Queensland (Australia).  



Fourth-Century Democracy at War: After Claude Mossé brings together ancient historians from France and across the world. The 23 paper-givers and session-chairs of this conference are Julien Baldacini (École des hautes études en sciences sociales/Université de Nantes), Paul Cartledge (University of Cambridge), Jérémy Clément (Université Paris Nanterre), Sviatoslav Dmitriev (Ball State University), Marie Durnerin (Université Toulouse–Jean Jaurès), Annabel Florence (University of Queensland), Vincent Gabrielsen (University of Copenhagen), Lucy Jackson (Durham University), Aggelos Kapellos (Academy of Athens/University of Ioannina), James Kierstead (Victoria University of Wellington), Pierre-Emmanuel Lebonnois (Université de Nantes), Lara O’Sullivan (University of Western Australia), Mischa Piekosz (University of Queensland), Isabelle Pimouguet-Pédarros (Université de Nantes), David M. Pritchard (University of Queensland), Dorothea Rohde (Bielefeld University), Hanna Roisman (Colby College), Joseph Roisman (Colby College), Annie Schnapp-Gourbeillon (Université de Paris VIII), Adam Schwartz (University of Copenhagen), Nicholas Sekunda (University of Gdańsk), Lucie Thévenet (Université de Nantes) and Ian Worthington (Macquarie University).



The conference is taking place in the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study (France). It begins at 10 am on Tuesday 4 July and finishes at 4 pm on Thursday 6 July. The official conference hotel is Apparthôtel Residhome. The Institute and the hotel are part of one building complex on the northern-most bank of the Loire River in Nantes. The complex sits where the Erdre River flows into the Loire River. The Institute and the hotel are 700 metres to the south of the main train station in Nantes and close to the city’s celebrated castle. The conference’s registration fee is 160€. This fee covers day-to-day catering as well as the conference dinner on Wednesday 5 July. Apparthôtel Residhome, which is a 4-star hotel, is offering conference participants the special rate of 115,40€ per night. There are several less expensive hotels directly to the north of Nantes’s main train station. Nantes is 3 hours by train from Paris and has an airport that is 10 kilometres to the south of the city centre. The shuttle bus between Nantes’s airport and its main train station runs every 20 minutes and costs 9€ per trip.   



French ancient historians were largely responsible for promulgating the traditional view of fourth-century Athens. They agreed that this state peaked in the fifth century, when it dominated Greece militarily, perfected democracy and was a cultural innovator. By contrast, they held fourth-century Athens in contempt. For example, Cornelius Castoriadis and Nicole Loraux thought the Athenians after 404 were simply incapable of political reform and literary innovation.

Before La Fin de la démocratie athénienne, French scholars had found the reason for this postwar decline in politics. Mossé, who was still a traditional Marxist in the 1960s, located it instead in economics. Her La Fin de la démocratie athénienne argued that the fifth-century empire had suppressed the longstanding class-struggle among the Athenians by giving thousands of them farmland overseas. When they were forced home after the defeat, they swelled the ranks of a huge underclass because the Peloponnesian War had destroyed Attica’s agriculture and urban economy. As they became poorer, Mossé argued, the Athenian people were no longer willing to contribute to public life. La Fin de la démocratie athénienne concluded that a reawakened class-struggle had destroyed the capacity of the Athenian democracy of the fourth century to resolve grave collective problems.

Mossé was probably the first ancient historian to offer a comprehensive account of fourth-century Athens at war. She argued that the Athenians increasingly refused to serve in wars, leaving the fighting of them to mercenaries. They also refused to raise internal taxes to pay for these foreign troops, preferring to exploit as much as possible the Greek states in their new league. The Athenian people licensed their generals to engage in piracy and pillaging, which made it harder for their state to create viable military coalitions. By asking generals to do more independently, fourth-century Athens ultimately lost control of them. La Fin de la démocratie athénienne concluded that postwar Athenians could no longer deploy adequate fleets nor armies. For Mossé, it was no great surprise that they ultimately failed to stop Macedonia’s conquest of the Greek World.

Scholarship of recent decades has called into question the traditional understanding of postwar Athens. It is now clear that the Peloponnesian War had much less of an impact on the rural and urban economies. Fourth-century Athenians were no less committed to political reform and cultural innovation. It is true that this revisionist historiography also challenges elements of Mossé’s assessment of Athenian warfare. Leonhard Burckhardt continues to show that Athenians after 404 still regularly served in the armed forces. Philip Harding has reminded us how fourth-century Athens quickly became a regional military power. George Cawkwell has confirmed that it could normally launch adequate fleets. In spite of these new findings, we still do not have a comprehensive reassessment of fourth-century Athens at war. The aim of our conference is to draw this new detailed picture of this military record.

Fourth-Century Athens at War: After Claude Mossé considers the reforms that the Athenian people enacted in relation to different military branches. It also analyses how each military corps performed in actual campaigns. Adam Schwartz is doing this for hoplites, Jérémy Clément for horsemen, Vincent Gabrielsen for sailors and Nick Sekunda for light troops.

The conference also reconsiders different general aspects of Athenian wars after 404. Mossé criticised fourth-century Athenians for doing too little to control their generals. Joseph Roisman and Aggelos Kapellos are reviewing this vital principal–agent relationship after the Peloponnesian War. Postwar Athens actually repeatedly reformed the financing of war. Focussing on the 370s, Annabel Florence is reassessing the effectiveness of these reforms. Fifth-century Athens had had unprecedented fortifications and had been Greece’s leading besieger of cities. Julien Baldacini is weighing up whether it maintained this record after 404.

The conference investigates how postwar Athens fared in specific wars. Marie Durnerin is looking again at what it got out of the Corinthian War. There is still a debate about whether the league that fourth-century Athens created was more or less exploitative than the fifth-century empire. In resolving this debate, Svatoslav Dmitriev will focus on the Athenian wars of the 360s and the 350s. For Mossé, not stopping Philip II was the definitive proof that postwar Athens was a military failure. But other ancient historians have argued that no Greek city-state could have ever stopped the much larger regional state that Philip II had skilfully created. Ian Worthington is adjudicating this central debate about fourth-century Greece. In doing so, he is focussing on the Athenian wars against Philip II in the 350s and the 340s. For her part, Lara O’Sullivan is looking closely at how Athens fought the Lamian War of the 320s.

The warmaking of Athens after 404 did not happen in a vacuum. Fourth-century Athens at War: After Claude Mossé concludes by exploring its performance in other public domains. After the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians introduced an enormous number of political and economic reforms. James Kierstead considers whether the goal of these political reforms was to make the democracy more or less democratic. For her part, Dorothea Rohde is considering what roles the economic reforms played in the general economic recovery of Athens after the Peloponnesian War. French historiography especially has taken the supposedly poor quality of fourth-century literature as further evidence of a general Athenian decline. Lucy Jackson is showing how comic and tragic poets after 404 generally continued to push the boundaries of theatre, while public oratory developed at a truly staggering pace. 

Fourth-Century Athens at War: After Claude Mossé is also an occasion to reflect on the legacy of a truly great figure in French historiography of ancient Greece. In closing the conference, two paper-givers especially are considering Mossé’s larger legacy. Annie Schnapp-Gourbeillon is reflecting on her pivotal role in Paris School and her pioneering work as a teacher of ancient Greek history. Paul Cartledge is offering a critical reassessment of Mossé’s analysis of Athenian democracy.



Photo caption: Australian soldiers visit the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens a few weeks before the German invasion of Greece in April 1941. Photo by George Silk. Canberra, Australian War Memorial, acc. no. 006793.