|Government in Classical Greece 515 to 450 BC|
Ancient Greece was divided into areas called city-states. Although some city-states did not change their governments, many of the city-states, notably Athens, passed through four forms of government. First kings ruled the city-states, with advice from wealthy nobles. But by 750 BC, the nobles in most city-states had overthrown the kings and become rulers. This form of government is called Oligarchy, that is a rule of few. The oligarchies were ruled by wealthy landowning nobles, the aristocrats. However, the rivalry among these aristocrats and the discontent of the oppressed masses was so great in some cuty-states that soon a third form appeared. The third type of government was known as Tyranny. The growing unrest brought tyrants to power in many Greek city-states. The term tyrant meant an ambitious aristocrat who appealed to the people (demos) as a whole, to help him take sole power. The tyrants of the seventh century BC were a step to democracy, or the rule of the people. It was the tyrant who taught the demos their rights and power. Many of the city-states remained oligarchies or tyrannies, but some city-states, notably Athens, moved toward democracy.
Solon's constitutional reforms divided the citizens into four classes according to income. The classes were allowed to serve on an elected council of four hundred. Solon established a council of four hundred to take over the political powers tyrants and set up courts in which citizens could appeal official decisions. This council was organized according to the four tribes making up Athenian people; each tribe was allowed to elect one hundred representatives from this third class. The fourth class, the poorest class, was allowed to participate in an assembly. This assembly voted on affairs brought to it by the council of four hundred, and even elected local magistrates. Citizens of all classes were allowed to participate in the assembly and public law courts. He kept the old provision that allowed only the three higher classes to hold public office, and only the highest class could hold the archonship. These provisions continued the oligarchy, but his reforms were a step to democracy. Solon's reforms increased freedom for citizens but aristocratic rivalry could not be legislated away and tyranny came anyway. Solons reform only delayed the overthrow of the aristocracy.
Although Solon reformed the government, he did not solve the economic crisis. Shortly after Solon left office, Athens was collapsing in anarchy. In 561 BC, a tyrant seized power. Pisistratus, supported by the discontented populace, made himself tyrant.
The tyranny of Pisistratus was an important part to the foundation of Athenian democracy. He continued the work of Solon in sharply reducing the power of the nobility. He increased the power of the assembly and the courts associated with the poorest classes, and used all his power to make sure that Solonian government worked smoothly and that elections were held. Pisistratus ruled for more than thirty years, fostering commerce, agriculture, and the arts and laying the foundation for much of Athens' future greatness.
After the death of Pisistratus, the tyranny
fell to his two sons Hippias and Hipparchus. They attempted to
continue their father's power, however Hipparchus was assassinated.
The murder of his brother caused Hippias great fear and consternation.
He had many enemies who would like to overthrow him. In, particular,
a wealthy family, the Alcmaeonids, who had been exiled by Peisistratus,
prevailed on Sparta to assist them in the overthrow of Hippias.
Under the Spartan king, Cleomenes I, Athens was overcome in 510 BC and
Hippias ran to exile in Persia.
After the exile of Hippias, Sparta entered into a treaty with Athens and installed an Athenian, Isagorus, to lead the government. Isagorus set about restoring the Solonic government, and he also set about purifying Athenian citizenship. Under Solon and later Peisistratus, a number of people had been franchised as citizens even though they weren't originally Athenian. However, Isagorus began to throw people off the citizenship rolls in great numbers.
Cleisthenes, a member of the Alcmaeonid family, rallied popular support and threatened the power of Isagorus, who promptly appealed to Cleomenes for help. The Spartans invaded a second time, and Cleisthenes was exiled (forced to leave town), but soon a popular uprising swept Isagorus from power and installed Cleisthenes.
Cleisthenes became the most powerful statesman in Athens. Cleisthenes proposed a constitution that made Athens a democracy. Cleisthenes' reforms changed the basis of Athenian citizenship and the nature of the tribes, which were the political and military divisions of the people.
Previously, Athenian citizenship had been based on blood relationship to the four Ionic tribes that had originally settled in Attica. Cleisthenes made the basis for citizenship geographical by dividing Attica into 150 demes.Those living within the boundaries of a deme were put on its roll, and deme rolls were the basic citizenship lists. He allowed everyone living in Attica to become a citizen (though not new people who arrived later).
Cleisthenes formed ten tribes. Each was composed of groups of demes from the city, the coast and the interiors. Cleisthenes established the council of five hundred, which would be the chief arm of government with all executive administrative control. Every male citizen was eligible to sit on this council. It was composed of fifty men chosen by lot from each of the ten tribes.
The Assembly, which included all male citizens (but not women, foreigners or slaves), was allowed to veto any of the council's proposals and was the only branch of government that could declare war. His reforms gave every citizen a chance to serve in the government. Cleisthens successfully prevented tyranny but also undermined the aristocrats.
Under Pericles’ leadership and improved democracy, Athens became a great center of literature and art. Pericles restored the temples destroyed by the Persians during the Second Persian War and built many new structures, including the Parthenon on the Acropolis. He helped provide the poorer citizens with work and made Athens one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world.
Athens became the most successful democracy of ancient Greece during the 400's BC. Athenian democracy granted all male citizens the rights to vote on government policies, hold political office, and serve on a jury. However, it was restricted to male Athenian citizens. Non-Athenians living in Athens, women, and slaves had no political rights. The law gave equal protection and rights to all citizens, with no restriction in terms of wealth or ownership of land. Every male Athenian citizen had the right to serve in an assembly, which passed laws and determined government policies. The assembly also elected Athenian generals, each year; the citizens drew lots to select a council of five hundred men.
Members of the council of five hundred had
to be at least thirty years old and could serve no more than two terms on
the council in a lifetime. The average age of councilors was about
forty. This council ran the day to day business of government and
prepared the bills that the assembly debated and voted on. All citizens
could attend the mass meetings of the assembly.
In 487 BC, the Athenian added the final aspect of Athenian democracy proper: OSTRACISM. The assembly could vote to expel citizens from the state for a period of ten years. This ostracism would guarantee that individuals who were contemplating seizing power would be removed from the country before they got too powerful.