Democracy in ancient Greece

About the year 1000 BC, in the area of today's Greece, after long and hard fights the first city-states (polis) started to arise. As a result Greece was divided into: Doric part (Sparta), Achaian part (Arcadia) and Ionic part (Attica). From these three cultures the Spartan culture had the lowest status, although when we look at its military potential, it was the other way round.

Achaians and Ionians owed their independence to exceptionally inaccessible, mountainous terrain only because in battle they were always beaten by primitive Spartans. Fortunately a group of Ionians survived and thank to that, some time later, the world got the opportunity to be proud of special system of government called democracy.

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Athens – cradle of democracy

Cradle of democracy is Athens, ancient Greek city-state, situated in beautiful part of Peloponnese, in Attica. Athens owe the first penal and civil law code to Draco. That was him who differentiated premeditated murder from accidental manslaughter.

As a curiosity we can add that the state of those times had no right of prosecution or mercy but the sentences passed caused that law was perceived as very strict.

An outstanding statesman and poet called Solon acted in Athens at the same time as Draco.

In 594 BC he was elected the first archon – the highest state official who today could be compared to a prime minister. The difference between a prime minister and an archon lies in the fact that the latter was elected annually and had executive and judicial power, was in command of the army and performed priestly functions.The main Solon's credit was that he prepared basis for political changes in Athens. He divided citizens into four groups based on agricultural output, established the so-called Council of 400, the jury court, standardized the system of measures and weights and considerably increased rights of ekklesia – assembly of all citizens of Athens over 20.

Cleisthenes' reforms

In 510 BC Cleisthenes introduced profound reforms which made democracy exist as a system of government for the first time in the world.
The main ideas of Cleisthenes's reforms were:

  • 1. Replacement of division into tribes, fraternities and families with a territorial division.
  • 2. Division of Attica into three districts and districts – into smaller areas.
  • 3. Citizen's rights for foreigners living in Attica.
  • 4. Replacement of Solon's Council of 400 with a Council of 500, introduction of ostracism and Board of Generals.
    In general reforms were to diminish the role of aristocracy, eliminate financial differences and mix the society.
    An idea that would be so strong and fresh, as strong as gold, better yet tungsten carbide. The knowledge of the past has paved the way to make a stronger, more organized Athens.

    Athenian democracy

    Athenian democracy was established as a result of continuous reorganizations. The name comes from demos - people and kratos - power, so literally power of the people.. Apart from many smaller changes, it was mainly based on the opportunity for all citizens over 20 to take part in governing the country. Athenian democracy also had weak sides, like limited possibility of taking part in the Assembly of Citizens for people living outside Athens. Peasants, especially during harvest, could not take part in voting because of distance they would have to cover to vote. Solution of this problem was delegating a representative from each village who would take care of interests of food producers.

    The pace of making decisions was criticised by Plato and Aristotle, because it was of high importance in those turbulent times. In a situation when the state was in danger, despite the existence of the strategist's office, the most important decisions had to be made in the Assembly which was not always reasonable.

    One of the main advantages of Athenian democracy was that the archon and his eight assistants were elected annually. It was possible to prolong the rule for the next term but in case of any abnormalities a quick change of government took place.

    The biggest advantage of democracy in polis was the general possibility of taking part in public life for all free citizens. Undoubtedly it helped the citizens of Athens to broaden their minds, their cultural awareness and, what was probably most important, to develop intellectually.

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     2012-11-07


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