Democracy in Athens

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Democracy in Ancient Athens was very different from modern democracy.

Qualification for citizenship in Athens[change | change source]

To be classed as a citizen in fifth-century Athens you had to be male, born from two Athenian parents and over eighteen years old. Women, slaves, metics and children were not allowed to become citizens.

Citizens could be involved in the running of Athens and could be elected for important positions.

Democracy in action[change | change source]

Athens had a direct democracy. This meant that each citizen had an equal say and opportunity in the governing of Athens. All of the citizens of Athens would meet on a hillside (the Phnyx) 50 times a year to discuss how to run the city better.

All democratic countries now have an indirect democracy. This means we elect members of parliament to make decisions concerning government. There are now too many people in different countries for them to meet on a hillside, and many people are too busy to be able to go 50 times a year.

The Ecclesia (Assembly of Men)[change | change source]

All citizens could attend fifty meetings a year. Meetings were held on a hillside called the Phnyx. People would stand on a raised platform called the bema to speak. Speakers wore a garland whilst speaking. Any citizen could speak.

All decisions concerning the running of Athens were decided here – taxes, war, policy, etc. Any decisions were made by a show of hands.

A black pig would be sacrificed to the gods at the start of the meeting to make sure the meeting went well.

The Boule (Council of 500)[change | change source]

Cleisthenes, a democratic reformer, divided Attica into ten tribes in 510 BC. The Boule was made up of 50 male Athenian citizens from each of the ten tribes (all over 30 years old). This meant that 500 men were elected, but only 50 served at any one time.