The Parthenon. Photo by Mountain
History >> Ancient Greece
The Ancient Greeks may be most famous for their ideas and philosophies on government and politics. It was in Greece, and particularly Athens, that democracy was first conceived and used as a primary form of government.
The Greek City-State
Ancient Greece was made up of city-states. A city-state was a major city and the surrounding areas. Each city-state had its own rule and government. Sometimes the city-states fought each other. Athens and Sparta were the two largest city-states and they had many wars and battles.
Types of Government
There were three main types of government:
- Democracy – A government ruled by the people, or assembly. Officials and leaders were elected and all citizens had a say.
- Monarchy – A single ruler like a king. In Athens this ruler was called a Tyrant.
- Oligarchy – When the government is ruled by a small group.
Over time some city-states, like Athens would change governments. Sometimes they were ruled by Tyrants and, at other times, they were a democracy.
Democracy in Ancient Greece was very direct. What this means is that all the citizens voted on all the laws. Rather than vote for representatives, like we do, each citizen was expected to vote for every law.
They did have officials to run the government, however. Most of these officials were chosen by a lottery. So every citizen had a chance, regardless of their popularity or wealth, to become an official. A few key positions were voted on, such as the treasurer and the 10 generals who ran the army (also called the strategoi).
Who could vote?
In order to vote, you had to be a citizen. However, not everyone who lived in Athens was a citizen. Only men who had completed their military training were counted as citizens.
Bodies of Government
There were three main bodies of the government: the Assembly, the Council of 500, and the Courts.
The Assembly included all citizens who showed up to vote. Everyone who was a citizen could participate as part of the assembly. The assembly would decide on new laws and important decisions, like whether or not to go to war.
The Council oversaw much of the day-to-day running of the government. The Council was determined by lottery. If your name was chosen, then you would be on the council for one year.
The Courts handled lawsuits and trials. The courts had large juries to help make decisions. For private lawsuits the jury was at least 201 people, for public lawsuits the jury was at least 501 people.
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History >> Ancient Greece