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The Threshold of Democracy:
Athens in 403 B.C.E.

by Naomi Norman, Josiah Ober, and Mark C. Carnes

Democracy in peril in ancient Athens

The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.E. recreates the intellectual confrontations of a formative period in the human experience. After losing the Peloponnesian war to Sparta, Athens has restored its direct democracy, embodied by its 6,000-man Assembly. But doubts about democracy remain, brilliantly articulated by Socrates and his wealthy young acolytes. Should Athens retain its direct democracy? Should magistrates and other leaders continue to be chosen by random lottery? Should citizenship be broadened to include slaves who fought for the democracy and foreign-born metics who pay taxes in its support? Should Athens restore the empire that extracted wealth from tribute-paying city-states throughout the eastern Mediterranean? The debates are informed by Plato’s Republic, as well as by Thucydides, Xenophon, and other contemporary sources. By examining democracy at its threshold, the game provides perspective on its subsequent evolution.

Available in French Translation



World History; Classics, Ancient History; Political Theory; Philosophy; First-Year Seminar

5th Century BCE; Ancient History


Notable Roles
Thrasybulus, Xenophon, Aristocles (Aristotle)

Themes and Issues  
The merits and weaknesses of democracy; Democracy and oligarchy; Political justice; Imperialism; Immigration; Women’s rights; Gender; Class

Sample Class Titles
The Origins of Democracy; Democracy in Ancient Greece; Political Theory

Published Level 5 game (what's that mean?)

Primary Source Highlights

Plato’s Republic, Parts 1-3, 5; and Pericles’ Funeral Oration

Divided Spaces, Money, Secret Voting, Random lottery elements; Rolling Dice; Differentiated Voting; Formal Podium Rule; Physical Props

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 

The game is not especially demanding; apart from assigning roles and jobs. the game unfolds quite directly. The final session, which usually involves the Assembly voting to embark on tribute missions (and actually go on one), is fairly chaotic.

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is recommended for classes with 11-50 students. Expanded role sheets and an expanded role assignment chart are available for Reacting Consortium Members. 

Class Time  
For this game, 7-15 class sessions are recommended (2 to 5 setup sessions, 4 to 8 game sessions, 1-2 debrief sessions). 
Read more about class time recommendations for this game...

Setup: 2-5 Classes
The purpose of the “setup” session is not to “teach” the material but to provide students with an introduction to it--a roadmap they can consult when writing papers and strategizing. There are two obligatory setup sessions. The first introduces students to the historical context: the rise of Athenian democracy, the Peloponnesian war, and the reign of the Thirty Tyrants and the restoration of democracy. The second session provides an introduction to the major texts, especially the “Funeral Oration” by Pericles (Thucydides) and Plato’s Republic, an implicit criticism of democracy. A third session enables members of a faction to meet and to strategize for the first game session (and perhaps take a quiz). Students in history or classics classes who have already learned the historical context can skip the “historical context” session; and students in classics or philosophy who have already studied the Republic can omit the 2nd session. Some students may require extra sessions for further discussion of Plato's Republic or to figure out how Athenian democracy “works”.

Game sequence: 4-8 sessions
The game was designed specifically for six sessions, with each session lasting about 75 minutes. Nearly all of the factional roles require students to write two papers, one during the first three sessions, and the second during the last three sessions. Because the game sessions have a (partially) prescribed agenda, the paper assignments for each student (in one of the four main factions) are tailored to those specific sessions. Instructors with large classes (over 25) may require more time to get through the materials, as will instructors whose classes are shorter in duration (i.e., 50 minutes).

Possible Reacting Game Pairings

This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. The Threshold of Democracy may pair well with:

You can adjust the assignments to fit the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include traditional paper/research/thesis-driven writing, as well as persuasive and creative writing. All roles may have to give formal speeches.
Read more about assignments for this game...

Most students are assigned to one of four factions; and each factional student’s role sheet indicates two recommended writing assignments, one for the first half of the game, another for the second half. The remaining students are listed as “indeterminate,” and their assignments differ: Gorgias the Younger, a teacher of logic, will write a short paper after every session, indicating which speaker exhibited the best grasp of logic. Thucydides, by contrast, writes a “history” of what transpired during the game, to be submitted during the post-mortem. Diognetus may end up writing a scene from a play, while other indeterminates may be exercising substantial creativity in completing their writing assignments.


 Confirmed instructors who are not yet members can access basic instructor materials. Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading. 


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content. The Athens Gamebook is published by UNC Press. 

PAPERBACK ISBN: 978-1-4696-7075-1
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-4696-7234-2
Published July 2022 
Available wherever books are sold.

Role Sheets 

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

.zip file of .pdf files.

.zip file of .pdf and .docx files.

Expanded Role Sheets 29-50. Updated August 2021. .pdf file.

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.   

.pdf file.

Expanded 50 Role Assignment Guide. Updated August 2021. .docx file.

Additional Resources 

Proctor Financial System Guide
This is a very simple economic system for Athens 403 BCE. Rather than talents and obols it deals with abstract “tax units.”

Digital Assets

This includes digital Zoom backgrounds for your students.


Reacting Consortium members can request the game materials.

Athens 403 BCE has been translated into French by Frederique Desharnais and Vincent Thibeault, who can provide these materials directly to qualified instructors who are members of the Reacting Consortium. 

Forums for Athens 403 BCE

Please note that these forums are in a beta phase and that functionality may be limited. Game authors have discretion when deciding what community materials can be publicized on the Reacting website.



Last message



Naomi Norman

Naomi Norman, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, is Associate Vice President for Instruction of the University of Georgia. Formerly Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Archaeology, she has directed the University of Georgia Excavations at Carthage (Tunisia) project since 1992. She also directs the Reacting to the Past program at the University of Georgia, which has hosted the Reacting Winter Conference since 2015.

Reacting and Related Titles

Josiah Ober

Josiah Ober is the Mitsotakis Professor of Political Science and Classics at Stanford University and author of many books on Athenian democracy, including, most recently, Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism in Theory and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Mark C. Carnes

Mark C. Carnes is a professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University, co-author of six Reacting games, General Editor of the 24-volume American National Biography, and author of many works of history along with Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College (Harvard University Press, 2014). He is also Executive Director of the Reacting Consortium, Inc.


Martina Slatamacchia

"The more I play this game, the more I want to play it!!!"

Kimberly Faith Jones

"Today one of the students in my Athens class stayed behind to talk to me and my peer leaders. He told me how much he loved the class. He loves the fact that the game gives the students the opportunity to become friends."

Steven Kaufman

"I've played Athens as a student and a [professor], it's such a great game!"


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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