Lecture 6: The Athenian Origins of Direct Democracy

Cleisthenes was the son of an Athenian, but the grandson and namesake of a foreign Greek tyrant, the ruler of Sicyon in the Peloponnese. For a time he was also the brother-in-law of the Athenian tyrant, Peisistratus, who seized power three times before finally establishing a stable and apparently benevolent dictatorship. It was against the increasingly harsh rule of Peisistratus's eldest son that Cleisthenes championed a radical political reform movement which in 508/7 ushered in the Athenian democratic constitution.

Without slaves there would not have been an Athenian democracy, or at least not as we know it.

The third key difference is eligibility. Only adult male citizens need apply for the privileges and duties of democratic government, and a birth criterion of double descent - from an Athenian mother as well as father - was strictly insisted upon. Women, even Athenian women, were totally excluded - this was a men's club. Foreigners, especially unfree slave foreigners, were excluded formally and rigorously. The citizen body was a closed political elite.


Athenian democracy - Ancient Greece for Kids and …

The Greeks were largely unreflective about slavery and freedom: the development of Athenian Free Democracy was built on a slave-owning culture.

In other words some who thought he was innocent still voted to have him executed, pointing out early problems of democracy that are still with us today, (that people are either stupid or not paying attention.) Plato became an opponent of the Athenian-style democracy, probably because any society that would condemn someone like Socrates to death had to be insane.


Describes evolution from the aristocrats and tyrants

Cleisthenes, an Alcmaeonid like Pericles, furthered democracy first by ousting the Pisistratid tyrant Hippias (with Sparta's help), and more so by a series of reforms.

Ancient Greek Democracy - Ancient History - …

The ancient Greek word demokratia was ambiguous. It meant literally 'people-power'. But who were the people to whom the power belonged? Was it all the people - the 'masses'? Or only some of the people - the duly qualified citizens? The Greek word demos could mean either. There's a theory that the word demokratia was coined by democracy's enemies, members of the rich and aristocratic elite who did not like being outvoted by the common herd, their social and economic inferiors. If this theory is right, democracy must originally have meant something like 'mob rule' or 'dictatorship of the proletariat'.

History of Greece: The Golden Age of Greece

The ancient Greeks famously invented democracy. But what was Greek democracy actually like - and how was it different from the 21st-century kind?

Slavery in ancient Greece - Wikipedia

By the time of Aristotle (fourth century BC) there were hundreds of Greek democracies. Greece in those times was not a single political entity but rather a collection of some 1,500 separate poleis or 'cities' scattered round the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores 'like frogs around a pond', as Plato once charmingly put it. Those cities that were not democracies were either oligarchies - where power was in the hands of the few richest citizens - or monarchies, called 'tyrannies' in cases where the sole ruler had usurped power by force rather than inheritance. Of the democracies, the oldest, the most stable, the most long-lived, but also the most radical, was Athens.