Athenian Democracy

Athenian Democracy

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  • Up until the eighth century BCE, Athens was ruled by kings, with control changing hands with different forms of ‘Bigger Army Diplomacy’. Instead of always killing each other for the throne some Aristocrats decided to rule as kings together in a group of three, they called themselves Archons. While this was still a hereditary role, it was also somewhat based on wealth and over time evolved into a system of nine Archons ruling for one year, and then serving on a council of old Archons for life, that council was also the one responsible for choosing the Archon, keeping the power were they wanted it.
  • I hate that guy
  • Everyone loves me
  • In a later reform, one of our heroes Draco (not Malfoy, although his name ironically meant snake) was hired to make new fairer laws, he allowed people rich enough to buy bronze weapons legal rights. These laws were not very popular, however, as they only had one punishment: Death. This furthered many of the class fights, which lead to the more drastic changes implemented by our next hero: Solon!
  • What?!?!
  • No loitering, To death with you!
  • Solon, in a move that was no doubt very popular with the Council, made the process for electing a new Archon much more democratic. He allowed citizens to create a short list of people who would then be chosen at random to be Archons. He also allowed anyone (minus women and slaves) to appeal to a court of peers, taking even more power from the Archons. Solon was a busy guy, on top of all this he also created an assembly of 400 citizens to help govern (still under the Archon’s thumb), he did all this without getting killed.
  • Sorry guys, but maybe you can't have all the power
  • Solon could not fix all the problems, however, and because people are terrible, things were quite unstable for a while until a new tyrant final rose to power! Only to sit on his thumbs and watch the city until his death. Pisistratus was great evidence of the problem with Athenian politics, it was too tied to the whims of a few families who weren't always friends.
  • I'm King Now!
  • OK
  • What followed is an epic tale of the old vs the new. Isagoras was happy to let things stay the same, while our final hero, Cleisthenes, saw the democratic light at the end of the tunnel. Isagoras got himself chosen as Archon and that should have been it, but Cleisthenes was so popular with the masses that he was able to keep fighting. This drove Isagoras crazy, so he made a deal with the devil, and asked the king of Sparta to invade the city and kick Cleisthenes out.
  • Goodbye  Cleisthenes
  • Cleisthenes however, wasn’t takin’ no shit, so he lead a rebellion and lead the spartans out with their tails between their legs. After which he initiated his reforms, including dividing Athens into many districts so people would feel more attached to their district then their family. He created a new council of 500 which took 50 people from each of the 10 districts. This was a big step towards democracy, however to keep the system from falling apart Cleisthenes had one more trick up his sleeve, ostracism. In order to maintain order, the council could vote to ostracize any citizen of Athens for 10 years. This event could be held every year.
  • Even with all of this the Council of Areopagus still held a lot of power as the “Guardians of the Law”,  its role was as overseer of the constitution; it could punish citizens, fine them, and spend money. A man named Ephialtes saw to end that, and started a piece of legislation that passed through the government of Athens, striping the Areopagus of its powers.
  • It really is a beautiful thing that while it took the power of only a few men to force democratisation, in the end the last steps were taken as a whole by real democratic institutions.
  • The End
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