Where is the Birthplace of Democracy?

By Geoffrey Migiro on October 25 2019 in World Facts

Athens, Greece.
Athens, Greece.

Democracy is a decision-making system within a nation, institution, or organization, which involves all the members having an equal share of the power. With democracy, all the citizens have a right to select the country’s governing legislature. The word democracy was derived from the Greek word ‘’demokratia’’ which was coined from the terms ‘’kratos’’ (strength) and ‘’demos’’ (people) during the mid-fifteenth century BCE to describe the political system that existed in various Greek cities including Athens. Democracy is usually juxtaposed with monarchic and oligarchic systems which are led by a sole monarch and the minority.

The Birthplace of Democracy

Athens is considered to be the birthplace of democracy, and it is still regarded as a crucial reference point for this type of political system. Athens emerged during the seventh century BCE and just like all the other city-states during that period, it was dominated by aristocracy. The domination resulted in the creation of significant social, political, and economic problems in the city. The issues exacerbated during the sixth century, and the people rose against their leaders. The revolutions disrupted the traditional aristocracies, particularly in Sparta during the second-half of the seventh century. Therefore, the Lycurgus introduced a hoplite state in Sparta, showing the people that the inherited types of governments can be changed. After a long period of unrest between the poor and the wealthy in Athens, the locals turned to Solon to help them reach a satisfactory solution and end the rivalry between the factions.

Foundations of Democracy

Solon was a noble descent Athenian who was initially a poet before becoming a lawmaker. Solon tried to please all sides by reducing the suffering of the less fortunate (majority) in the city without eliminating all the privileges the wealthy. He divided the city into four property classes with different duties and rights. Solon formalized the functions and composition of the governing bodies. All the Athenians gained the right to vote and to attend the Assembly, also known as the Ecclesia. The Assembly became the sovereign body in Athens, which could hear the appeals from the court’s most crucial decisions, elect officials, pass decrees and laws. The top posts, like the magistrates (archons), were reserved for the Athenians from the two highest income groups. Retired magistrates became members of the Areopagus, which was responsible for checking all improper actions of the Assembly. Solon established a mixed democratic and timocratic system of government.

By creating the reform of 594 BC, Solon managed to avert the moral, economic, and political decline in ancient Athens and gave them their first code of laws. The constitutional reforms banned enslavement of the impoverished Athenians by the wealthy ones. The improvements also assigned political powers based on wealth production.

Democracy Under Cleisthenes

Although Solon’s constitutional reform improved the economic position of the poor Athenians, it did not get rid of aristocratic contentions for controlling archonship. Peisistratus became the city state’s tyrant from 561 BCE to 527 BCE. Peisistratus was succeeded by his children Hipparchus and Hippias. After the period of tyranny ended, Cleisthenes proposed complete reform of the governing system. Cleisthenes reorganized the Athenians into 10 tribes, with his main objective being changing the basis of politics in Athens from family to political loyalties. He introduced the principle of equality among all men, thus expanding access to political power to more Athenians. The Athenians used the term democracy to define their government for the first time during this period.

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