Nationa Junior Honor Society
Ever wonder where and how democracy began? According to an article entitled “Athenian Government Prior to Democracy”; ancient Athens is credited with having developed one of the first democracies on this earth (1). Blackwell states that the name democracy comes from “demos-people and kratos-power”, meaning “power of the people” (2). Mills states that Athenian democracy did not come about easy, yet it was through the efforts of continuous reorganizations that democracy came to the Greeks and history says that the intent of these reorganizations was to allow for all citizens over 20 years of age to take part in governing the country (99).
Early rulers of Athens did not seek to build such a democracy instead they sought to control everything that when on in the ancient city of Athens. The early rulers were kings or “basileus” (Ancient Athens 1). First Rulers of Athens – Monarchy Monarchy: In early Athens kings were considered a necessity for the establishment of government as they acted as judges, chief priest and war generals at their age of power (Bardi 17). This sort of power known as Monarchy existed from around 9th century into the 8th centuries, a king also called a basileus ruled the city-state with a group of nobles under him (Ancient Athens 1).
Nationa Junior Honor Society Essay Example
One of the first kings was Cecrops who according to legend was half man and half serpent (Mills 91). Cecrops is said to been the founder of Greek civilization and the city of Athens yet in spite of these accomplishments it is Theseus who is said to have been the greatest of all the early ancient kings of Athens (Mills 92). In Theseus’s age of power he slew the Minotaur and freed Athens from paying tribute to Minos, the sea king of Crete but his greatest known achievement was uniting all of Attica under the leadership of Athens (Mills 92).
This was important because before this time “Attica had been independent but Theseus, with his power and knowledge was able to pull them together making them the people of one city and giving the entire state the name Athens” (Mills 92). He was considered a caring person helpful to those in need and a protector of the oppressed (Mills 93). The early kings were hereditary rulers that became less powerful over time yet retained the office of king for the duration of their lives. The goal of the Athenian people was to establish a form of leadership that enabled them to have more input and control while reducing the tenure of its leaders.
This began with the elimination of “hereditary” leadership and brought about the change of requiring kings to be elected every ten years (Mills 94). One of the last and most significant changes during the Monarchy government was the elimination of the office of king thereby eliminating the ruling of one person with significant power (Mills. 94). This benefitted the Athenian people as during this period each king had a group of nobles who served under him and there riches grew which culminated in a powerful body called the “Areopagus”.
Areopagus was the name of the hill that the nobles met on and it was from this group that the oligarchy would develop (Ancient Athens 1). Oligarchy: a government where a small group of people exercise control for corrupt and selfish purposes (Merriam- Webster: online dictionary). The Rule of the Few: The Oligarchy The oligarchy was composed of men who came from and were elected by the Areopagus which by definition is the “highest judicial and legislative council of ancient Athens” (Connolly & Dodge 24). Areopagus was made up of nine archons or “rulers.
” There were three key Archons; a chief representative of the State who gave his name to the year, the King-Archon who was the chief priest who had authority over all the sacrifices offered by the State, and the Polemarch or War-Archon, who was the chief general. The remaining six elected archons were to assist and see to it that the laws of the State were obeyed (Mills 94). The Oligarchy governing period presented many benefits to the Athenian people as it presented an opportunity for the nobles to learn how to govern and they quickly realized that order was better than disorder.
These beliefs led to the implementation of high standards for devotion and public duty. However there were many drawbacks such as the inability for all men to have opportunity to be an Archon. This was not allowed as “only men from noble families could be elected therefore power passed into the hands of only a few men”; all nobles belonged to one class of people which were “the wealthy (Mills 95). Nobles considered themselves “superior in every way to the common people and they grew to consider the property of the Athenian’s to be their own exclusive property” (Mills 95).
In time the Athenian people grew tired of the Oligarchy rule and the injustices of the nobles. The Athenians began to feel as if things under the Oligarchy rule were no different than under the Monarchy rule, and with the wars, bad harvest and the famine as well as harsh laws which allow debtors who could not pay their debts to sell themselves as slaves. The myriad of problems under the oligarchy rule resulted in the end of “The Rule of a Few” (Mills 96). Solon, And the Rule of Many
According to Connolly & Dodge, it was at the time of “confusion and distress that Solon, one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, appeared” (25). Solon was described as a well-respected aristocrat. He was elected archon in about 594 BC with the expectation that he would reconcile the difference and bridge the relationship gap between the common Athenian’s and the aristocracy (Connolly & Dodge 25). Though he was a noble by birth he was poor man which gave him favor among the commoners. Almost immediately after being elected Archon Solon passed laws limiting the power of the old noble leadership (Dodge & Connolly 25).
He then repealed earlier laws known as the “Draco Law” which included eliminating the right to sell oneself or their family members into slavery to satisfy a debt (Abbot 2). Solon passed laws to protect the poor from oppression by the rich and established courts where people could be tried by their fellow citizens. As great as these accomplishments were, Solon’s most significant reform was to allow all male citizens over the age 18 to vote and the creation of a new council of 500 citizens also called the boule, (Abbot 3). The chosen citizens would then take over for the current council of the Areopagus (Connolly& Dodge 25).
Under Solon’s rule the people of Athens were divided into “four classes which were determined primarily by financial status. The first two classes, the wealthiest, were members of the Areopagus. The third class was given power by being allowed to serve on the elected Council of 500, which was composed of 100 citizens from each of four Athenian tribes. He also gave the power to a fourth class of people, those who were the poorest citizens” (Ancient Athens 2). In spite of all of Solon’s accomplishments and efforts, eh was unable to solve the city-states, famine and harvest woes. The
economic challenges continued and Peisistratus seized power from Solon (Mills 97). Tyranny and Peisistratus The word “tyrant”, by definition should be cause for concern for all in its path. According to the online Merriam Webster dictionary, a Tyrant “is an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution”. In ancient Athens Tyrants were described as well educated men who encouraged literature and art. They were recognized as ambitious men who even sought to extend their power beyond the limits of their own state (Blackwell 5). Considered to be the most famous tyrant in ancient Athens history is Peisistratus.
Peisistratus, like all tyrants sought to appeal to all Athenian’s, rich and poor by ensuring each person received fair treatment (Blackwell 5). He enacted a law that called for men wounded in battle to be cared for by the state and the families of those killed battles would also be cared for (Mills 106). However, he deprived the Athenian people of a key right which was to govern themselves. This wasn’t enough to have him removed from office; instead he died of natural causes and was succeeded by his sons Hippias and Hipparchus (Blackwell, 5).
Athens went through many rulers after the death Peisistratus, including those who were installed by Sparta until Cleisthenes came into power by the people in 508 BC (Ancient Athens 3). Cleisthenes & the Beginning of Athenian Democracy The ruling period of Cleisthenes brought about new reforms as he began to lay the foundation for democracy. He gave all free men living in Athens and Attica the power of citizenship enabling them to participate in all parts of the government (Ancient Athens 3).
He abolished the old tribal organization of Athenian society which included dividing the citizens into one of ten new tribes, each of which supplied fifty men for the boule (Connolly & Dodge 25). The new council held administrative and executive power in the city-state and allowed citizens over the ages of 30 to become a member of the council with council selections occurring every year by lot (Bardi 13). The council was then a part of a yearly Assembly held to discuss and address matters of the city-state. These reforms were intended to eliminate the role of aristocracy, eliminate financial differences and mix society.
Cleisthenes most famous innovation was ostracism, a process by which the assembly of Athenian citizens would vote by show of hands for anyone they felt should be ostracized from Athens. “The selected party would be required to leave Athens for a period of ten years yet he would retain his property and his rights as an Athenian citizen” (Blackwell 7). The Quest for Democracy & Pericles Pericles, an Athenian leader continued the works of Cleisthenes and strengthened democracy during what is considered the golden age of Athens.
Pericles was elected to the office of “General”, or Strategos and was one of the few in the Athenian democracy that was elected, rather than chosen randomly by lot. The office of General was the only office that an Athenian could hold for multiple successive terms. There were typically ten Generals each year with power derived from the office that that could wield extraordinary influence over the affairs and polices of the city (Blackwell 10). Pericles is said to have been created Direct Democracy which is a form of government that allows citizens to vote regardless of their social class.
This Direct Democracy consisted of 3 political bodies, The Assembly, The Council and The Courts. In the Assembly there were 6000 people gathered. The Council had 500 people gathered and The Courts had 200-6000 people gathered. The courts were staffed by a different body of citizens, above the age of 30. And the voters were not allowed to review and prosecute, like the council members and other officials (Jathar 2). In the Council the presidency of the citizens appointed to run daily affairs of the city (boule), rotated monthly.
With the establishment of a democracy several reforms began to come into existence; including Law and Order, and ensuring that fairness came to all and corruption was stamped out. The main Athenian court was the Helaia which heard all cases other than those concerning state officials and murder. State officials were tried by their peers in the boule (Connolly & Dodge 29). There were trails by jury and the juries were extremely large in size with the normal size being between 501 and 2001 jurors which included an extremely complicated selection process.
The “Athenian Constitution outlines the guidelines for jury selection and service” (Connolly & Dodge 29). The development of democracy in Athens was slowly taking shape as far back as under the rule of Solon, yet it was under Pericles that Athens began to solidify a stable government that would be replicated throughout certain parts of the world today. In my research I have come to appreciate the history of Athens for what the democracy that they built which benefits much of the world today.