If we lived in ancient Athens on this day — called the 5th day rising of Boedromion, in the archonship of Kalliades (our year 480 BC) — we’d be well into our morning’s business. Citizens would be in the Agora, discussing and debating the deeds of Themistokles, whose political acumen has resulted in a new, strong navy poised to leave for the straits of Artemisium. We’d be swapping rumors about the looming Persian threat — where were they, would they march into Hellas by winter, would the Spartans stop them by land? And we’d be debating the legality of a decree made last year, the text of which would be burned into our consciousness:
Resolved by the Boule and the People.
Themistokles son of Neokles of Phrearrhioi made the motion.
The city shall be entrusted to Athena, Athens’ protectress, and to the other gods, all of them, for protection and defense against the Barbarian on behalf of the country.
The Athenians in their entirety and the aliens who live in Athens shall place their children and their women in Troezen, [to be entrusted to Theseus ?] the founder of the land. The elderly and movable property shall for safety be deposited at Salamis. The treasurers and the priestesses are to remain on the Acropolis and guard the possessions of the gods.
The rest of the Athenians in their entirety and those aliens who have reached young manhood shall embark on the readied two hundred ships and they shall repulse the Barbarian for the sake of liberty, both their own and that of the other Greeks, in common with the Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Aeginetans and the others who wish to have a share in the danger.
Appointment will also be made of captains, two hundred in number, one for each ship, by the generals, beginning tomorrow, from those who are owners of both land and home in Athens and who have children who are legitimate. They shall not be more than fifty years old and the lot shall determine each man’s ship. The generals shall also enlist marines, ten for each ship, from men over twenty years of age up to thirty, and archers, four in number. They shall also by lot appoint the specialist officers for each ship when they appoint the captains by lot. A list shall be made also of the rowers, ship by ship, by the generals, on notice boards, with the Athenians to be selected from the lexiarchic registers, the aliens from the list of names registered with the polemarch. They shall write them up, assigning them by divisions, up to two hundred divisions, each of up to one hundred rowers, and they shall append to each division the name of the warship and the captain and the specialist officers, so that they may know on what warship each division shall embark.
When assignment of all the divisions has been made and they have been allotted to the warships, all the two hundred shall be manned by order of the Boule and the generals, after they have sacrificed to appease Zeus the All-powerful and Athena and Victory and Poseidon the Securer. When they have completed the manning of the ships, with one hundred they shall bring assistance to the Artemisium in Euboea, while the other hundred shall, all around Salamis and the rest of Attica, lie at anchor and guard the country.
To ensure that in a spirit of concord all Athenians will ward off the Barbarian, those banished for the ten year span shall leave for Salamis and they are to remain there until the people decide about them. Those who have been deprived of citizen rights are to have their rights restored.
Such things would have perhaps been on our lips, on this day in 480 BC . . .