Was Ancient Greek a Democracy?
Each of the ancient Greek city-states had it own form of government, which included Tyranny and Oligarchy. While Athens established a direct democratic system, other states had a different form of government and many had democratic councils of citizens, although were not complete democracies like Athens.
The concept of Ancient Greek Athenian Democracy developed in the Greek city-state of Athens, comprising the central city-state of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, around 508 BC. Athens was one of the first known democracies.
Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model, none were as powerful, stable, or as well-documented as that of Athens.
Ancient Greek Athenian Democracy
It remains a unique and intriguing experiment in direct democracy where the people do not elect representatives to vote on their behalf but vote on legislation and executive bills in their own right.
Participation was by no means open, but the in-group of participants was constituted with no reference to economic class and they participated on a scale that was truly phenomenal. The public opinion of voters was remarkably influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theatres.
Solon (594 BC), Cleisthenes (508/7 BC), and Ephialtes (462 BC) all contributed to the development of Ancient Greek Athenian Democracy. Historians differ on which of them was responsible for which institution, and which of them most represented a truly democratic movement.
It is most usual to date Athenian democracy from Cleisthenes since Solon’s constitution fell and was replaced by the tyranny of Peisistratus, whereas Ephialtes revised Cleisthenes’ constitution relatively peacefully. Hipparchus, the brother of the tyrant Hippias, was killed by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who was subsequently honored by the Athenians for their alleged restoration of Athenian freedom.
The greatest and longest lasting democratic leader was Pericles; after his death, Athenian democracy was twice briefly interrupted by oligarchic revolution towards the end of the Peloponnesian War.
It was modified somewhat after it was restored under Eucleides; the most detailed accounts are of this fourth-century modification rather than the Periclean system. It was suppressed by the Macedonians in 322 BC. The Athenian institutions were later revived, but the extent of which they were a real democracy is debatable.
Main bodies of Athenian Democracy
There were some main institutional bodies through which the government worked in ancient Greeks composed of male citizens and they were:
- Ecclesia: This was the most central of the democratic system and can be said to be a sort of parliament. This is where all meetings and voting were conducted. The membership of this consisted of 6000 members who were currently present and voting. There was no representation but directly citizens getting to vote.This body had the right to vote on executive orders, elect legislators, and even sometimes try political crimes. The voting was conducted by a raising of hands or raising of white or black stones.
- The Boule: As a government conducted by 6000 people would be very difficult to manage so it facilitated for an upper council consisting of 500 members known as the Boule. The main functions were to set the deliberations of the assembly and the resolutions on which the voting was to take place. They were also to oversee the working of activities of the magistrates. Their membership was membership by ownership of property.
- Courts or Dikasteria: The courts were an important institution in ancient Athens. It consisted of jurors who had taken an oath and the court was responsible for overlooking the legality of decrees and orders. They were so influential that they even competed with the assembly for authority.
- The magistraties: The two types of magistrates, civil and military were both elected by the popular assembly.
The military magistrates were responsible for commanding the army and the soldiers while the civil magistrate was responsible for the treasury and other things.
The archons and the Aeropagus: The Archons were earlier the supreme executive person but after the establishment of democracy by Cleisthenes they were elected by the assembly, but only from the upper classes and can be said to be the head of Assembly while the Aeropagus was a body of former jurors and acted almost as a ‘Guardian of the Laws’ and could veto things they considered unconstitutional.
Who brought Athenian democracy to its fullest?
Pericles, born in 495 BC, is the one credited with developing Athens’ democracy to its fullest and also restoring Athens’s prominence making it the political and cultural focus in Greece.
Was Athens the only democracy in ancient Greece?
Athens was the most prominent, stable and prosperous of the Greek democracies. Although Athens was the only state proclaiming itself a democracy but there were other regimes who had democratic institutions like the Spartan Lower house under the elders which represented the people and even included the women and was established even before Athen’s Democracy. Even states like Argos, Magera,etc had certain democratic councils.
Why was Athens not a full democracy?
In modern sense Athenian democracy was not a full democracy because it excluded almost 90 per cent of its population and only 10 per cent took part. It excluded its women, the slaves and also foreigners in its political process. Only Athenian free men could become involved in the politics, while the Athenian meant being born from parents, in which both of them had to Athenian and others were considered foreigners, thus ineligible.
How was Athenian Democracy different than modern democracy?
Athens is considered to be the first democracy by many and was the general inspiration for modern peoples representative democracies. But ancient Athenian democracy was very different from the system we know today. In fact many scholars have even questioned it being called a democracy and many considered it to be a form oligarchy.
The identity of being a citizen was completely different from today as only ethnic Athenians or ones born from both Athenian parents were considered citizens while others were considered to be foreigners naturally excluding them from voting.
The form of democracy in Athens was directly from the people, and elections to the assembly were conducted unlike in modern times. All Male citizens could take part and were sometimes randomly picked out for attending the assembly.