Athenian Democracy Essay

1331 words - 6 pages

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 ...view middle of the document...

Cleisthenes took on this role, however, with his own intentions of not allowing Isagoras, an aristocrat contending for power, to himself rule. Using the masses to counter his adversary was the strategy Cleisthenes used (Forksdyke 135). The reforms that made up the constitution he is accredited to of creating, favoured the citizens of Athens. Athenian citizenship is a major aspect of the constitution and also a defining point in the democratic system.In order to broaden political power, citizenship was redefined so as to prop up all citizens and lower the political influence of leading families that were complicit in the previous tyranny. Equality among Athenian citizens was the cornerstone to democracy in the classical age. An Athenian citizen belonged to the polis. Cleisthenes passed legislation that gave Athenian membership, to those eligible, through out Attica. A system of Demes was made so as to organize the entire region. Power was centralized to Athens (Manville 188). Registering to be a member occurred through out the city-state. To be eligible, one would have to be a free man that resided in one of the 10 ‘tribes.’ These tribes were a creation of Cleisthenes that organized the population into separate geographic locations (Manville 189). Out of this, 50 members of each tribe would make up the Council of 500, a political body that operated in Athens. The arrangement of the military was based on this tribal structure. Being a citizen gave one privileges like becoming a member of the 500 yet also made for duties, military service. The new power and prestige that citizenship endowed created unity through out Attica. Demes elected their own local government to administer the area. This allowed citizens to take part in public life even if they could not always go to Athens to take part in the Assembly of Citizens. More stringent laws on citizenship came into place in 451/0 as Pericles made it only possible to hold citizenship if an individual’s parents were both Athenian (De Ste. Croix 239). There is evidence that hints that this law was not enacted severely as the law of Niomenes in the late 5th century exempts all those “born before 403/2” (Ste. Croix 238-239).War and peace were the major matters that the citizen assembly voted on. Prior to Cleisthenes, Athens had a mercenary based army (Manville 203). Some suggest that his reforms had the goal of upgrading the civic force thus having a capable citizen army that would not expect compensation for fighting. Moreover this force would be highly motivated to protect their freedom and civic pride that democracy created (Manville 204). Whatever the case, this army made Athens the major power of the city-states. The status of being an empire was a result of the defeat of the Persian forces at Marathon in 490 and the joint repulsion of yet another Persian invas...


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