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Athenian Democracy

Грачева А.Д.

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Political system of democratic Athens in the fifth century BC

From approximately 594 to 321 BC, the Athenian Polis had a democratic form of government. It is called the world's first democratic system. Every citizen had the right (and even the duty) to participate in the work of the People's Assembly. As noted, during the heyday of Athenian democracy, about a third of citizens simultaneously held one or another public office. According to Dr. Carlin Romano, the experience of Athenian democracy still attracts the attention of scientists more than modern implementations of democracy. On modern representative democracies, the Guardian writes that the ancient Athenians would rather call the British and American political systems oligarchic. At the end of the 20th century, a campaign was held in the Western world to celebrate 2,500 years of democracy (from the reforms of Cleisthenes 508/507 BC). V. P. Buzeskul emphasized the legal nature of Athenian democracy, where the will of the people was limited by law. Ancient Greek democracy was a limited democracy of only free citizens, leaving without political rights women and slaves, who made up the absolute majority of the population, ancient democracy was a slave-owning democracy. Slaves, Meteks (foreigners and freed slaves), and women had no civil rights and could not participate in government. It is very likely that the ratio of free citizens to slaves was 1: 3, so no more than 15% of the population participated in government (excluding women, children and meteks). From the middle of the fifth century BC, a citizen of the Athenian polis could be considered either a person whose both parents had to be citizens of Athens, or citizenship could be obtained individually by legal election at a Popular Assembly. Political democracy coincided in time and geographical location with the" peak " of the classical heritage of the culture of antiquity.


With the fall of tsarist power in the ninth and eighth centuries BC and the resulting establishment of an aristocratic and later oligarchic system, the Athenian people were increasingly oppressed by the ruling elites. From that time on, there was no political unity in Athenian society. Aristocrats and well - to-do people were supporters of the existing stratum, the poor were in favor of radical democracy, and the emerging middle class was in favor of a mixture of oligarchic and democratic principles. The split of society was accompanied by periodic popular unrest, and political instability took place. The situation was not resolved by the adoption of the Dracont laws, which practically did not affect the political sphere, only consolidating the already moderate oligarchic system. This led to further turmoil and even greater polarization of society. The first steps towards improving the situation of demos were taken at the beginning of the VI century BC by Solon. He abolished debt slavery, forbade the conversion of debtors into slaves, gave all classes access to participate in the ecclesia (People's Assembly) and courts, and divided the Athenians into classes according to their property status.

The establishment of traditional institutions of Athenian democracy is associated with the name of Cleisthenes. He carried out territorial reforms. If under Solon Athens was divided into 4 tribal philae, now in administrative and territorial terms, the Athenian Polis consisted of 10 philae. Introducing such a territorial unit as Philae, Cleisthenes divided Attica into 30 parts-trittium. Tritiae were located as follows: 10 around the city and its district, 10 in the coastal zone and 10 in the interior of Attica. which, in turn, were divided into demes. Thus, 3 tritias were obtained for each fillet, i.e. each fila had its own part in all the localities. The main administrative unit of Athens became demes-local civil communities. Equally important for the development of democracy in Athens were the reforms of the city Council, namely the creation of the Council of Five Hundred on the basis of a new administrative division and the introduction of ostracism or "court of potsherds".

Themistocles is considered one of the" founding fathers " of Athenian democracy, a well-known political figure and commander of the Greco-Persian wars. c. 524 BC-459 BC). It was his "naval program"at the beginning of the Greco-Persian wars that played a significant role in the development of Athenian democracy. V. S. Sergeev writes: with the increasing role of the fleet, the share in the public life of Athens and those who were directly connected with it— Athenian sailors, who were among the least well-off citizens, ranked in the fourth, lowest qualification category of fetes. These same citizens formed the usual majority in the Athenian People's Assembly, whose political importance under Themistocles increases markedly." Thus, this program is not only military, but also political.

Pericles (494 BC-426 BC) was one of the most prominent political figures of the ancient world. Under him, the Athenian polis reached its maximum cultural, economic and political flourishing. Under Pericles, the most democratic system that had ever existed was formed.

Athenian Agora, 6th century BC Athens
Dionysus Theatre, 5th century BC Athens
The hill Пникс.VI c. BC Athens

Legislative power.

1. Ecclesia (other Greek :κκκλησί) or People's Assembly


1) Election of officers

2) Passed laws and regulations

3) Citizens had the right of legislative initiative and the right to "count paranom" ("a claim for illegal legislation").

4) Controlled the activities of magistrates

5) Resolved issues of war and peace

6) Religious issues

7) Questions about granting civil rights to foreigners, freedmen and metis

The People's Assembly met 40 times a year, and could also be convened in case of special need.

Venue: Mount Pnyx, Dionysus Theatre or Piraeus.

Participants: all male citizens over the age of 20.

1. Bule (other Greek: βουλή) or the Council of Five Hundred. An organ of representative democracy, it worked on a permanent basis.


1) Military matters

2) Foreign policy

3) Organized community service

4) Resolved issues of state financing

5) Religious issues

The Council of five Hundred met every day except weekends.

Venue: Athenian Agora.

Participants: 50 citizens were chosen from each fila (10 fila) by lot. Representatives from each fila led in turn for 35-36 days each.

The Areopagus. the hill of Ares. Athens

Executive power.

1. Boards of Officials


Each magistrate performed his duties in accordance with the collegium in which he served.

1) Board of 10 strategists: they commanded the army and navy, provided security in peacetime.

2) Board of 10 agronomists: quality control of goods on the market.

3) Board of 10 metronomes: they were responsible for the compliance of weights and measures with the state standard.

4) Board of 10 Port Trustees:they were engaged in the delivery of bread to the city.

5) A panel of 10 sitophylacts (later their number will increase to 35): they controlled the quality and prices of flour.

6) Board of 10 astinoms: monitored the implementation of construction standards and cleanliness in the city.

Participants: most often, each board consisted of 10 citizens at least 30 years old, chosen by lot for a year. There was reporting and payment of labor.

2. College of 9 Archons (other Greek :ρρχων, ἄρχοντος) Composition:

1) eponym (his name was called the year, the head of the executive branch)

2) basileus (in charge of the cult, had priestly duties)

3) polemarch (military commander)

4) 6 thesmophets (control of trials and their recording)

Participants: all positions are elective. Since the 2nd half of the fifth century BC, they were chosen by lot.

3. The Areopagus (Greek :ρρειος πάγος)


1) handled murder cases

2) conducted inquiries

3) solved religious issues.

From the 2nd half of the fifth century BC, the above functions were transferred to the People's Assembly and Helia.

Judicial power.

Helieia (Greek :λλιαία) or the Athenian People's Court


1) resolution of legal disputes.

Participants: all male citizens over the age of 30. Only 6 thousand people. 501 jurors are required to attend the court session. There were no public prosecutors or lawyers, and the plaintiff and defendant argued their own case. The jury decided by secret ballot. Heliasts (other-Greek. heliastes) or jurors received 2-3 obols per day of participation in the trial.

Venue: Athenian Agora

Solon. VII-VI-centuries BC
Cleisthenes. VI century BC
Themistocles. VI-V centuries BC

Related topics

Ancient Greece, Athens