Complete Story


Summer 2002, pages 5-32

The Streets of Thurii: Discourse, Democracy, and Design in the Classical Polis

Abstract: The Greek colony of Thurii, founded in southern Italy around 444, BCE, was apparently planned to be a model polis. Any reconstruction of that plan must be speculative, but the stories about Thurii suggest that its design incorporated three entities not usually linked - a democratic constitution, an orthogonal street layout, and a rhetorically-oriented educational system. In trying to understand what these things might have had to do with one another, I examine the thought of three individuals who, sources tell us, participated in the colony: the rhtor Pericles, who apparently instigated the project; the designer Hippodamus, who supposedly laid out its streets; and the sophist Protagoras, who reportedly wrote its laws. If indeed these three collaborated on Thurii, what they may have sought there was a "bounded" democracy, a community of free and equal citizens, governed by open, transparent, and agonistic means but guided by an unmistakable sense of rightness, something manifest not only in the town's constitution but in its educational system and built space as well.

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