Athenian Democracy

Essay by MJ33College, UndergraduateB, May 2008

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When describing Athenian democracy, it is vital to give an account of its origins. In addition, the institutions that were integral parts to this system of government must be discussed. From 508-406 B.C, developments in Athens, namely political ones, created the conditions for a multitude of objectives and problems to be addressed by Athenian citizens. War and politics were the main debating matters. Being an Athenian citizen allowed one to take part in creating consensuses. Elected politicians led the society. However, corruption and mismanagement among these individuals resulted in Ostracism being created, one of the less prided institutions in Ancient Athens. Explaining the origins of Athenian Democracy, who was involved, the concerns this system attempted to address and the failings within this structure, can ensure general understanding of this great political invention.

The reason for the ‘Constitution of Cleisthenes’ of 508 was the rise of tyranny that occurred following Solon’s reforms (Ste.

Croix 136). However, Solon was a very unusual figure to appear in the Archaic Age. This period is filled with violence that was the consequence of elites attempting to consolidate their own power at the expense of fellow aristocratic figures. Exiling of one another was a regular event and instability reigned. Putting the power in the hands of the people was conceived as being a better solution to having constant struggles for dominance. Cleisthenes, a political leader at the end of the 6th century B.C, is attributed to allowing the masses to intervene in the devastating intra-elite brutality that was especially terrible when Pisistratus’s son Hipparchus, died in 514 (Forksdyke 2). The need for a distribution of political power was evident during these 6 years of intense conflict. Although the weakening of the higher classes due to their constant fighting allowed for the masses to become stronger,