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The time a second referendum saved thousands of lives

The Athenian electorate voted to kill all the men in Mytilene. Then they had a second vote and changed their minds

A people's vote in Athens led to a rethink. Illustration: Kate Hazell

Athenian democracy is often sentimentalised as the great ancestor of modern western democracies. But as usual when thinking about the ancient world, it’s really the points of difference with our own times that are interesting.

Radical Athenian democracy involved the entire eligible populace voting on intricate details of foreign policy, which is certainly not part of our system—or, at least, it never was until that “what have we done?” moment in June 2016. “Eligible” is also an…

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