Development Of Democracy In Athens Development of Democracy in Athens Democracy comes from two Greek words: a noun demos which means, “people” and a verb, kratein, which means “to rule” (Ober 120). Democracy first appeared in Athens towards the beginning of the fifth century B.C. The biggest difference between Athenian democracy and almost all other democracies is that the Athenian version was a direct democracy rather than being representative. Democracy came about in Athens as a result of the growing navel power and the reforms made by leaders such as Cleisthenes and Pericles. The city-state of Athens, 5th century Athens to be precise, is the inventor and first practitioner of democracy. So for 4,000 years men and women lived under forms of government other than democratic.
For some 2,500 years now democracy has existed, with varying degrees of consistency of theory and practice. But it all began in the 5th century before Christ in Athens. The development of democracy can be attributed to the development of Athens as naval power. With the growing navel so grew the political voice of the lowest property classes who provided the crews for the ships (Demand 222). To some extent the Athenian reliance on sea power helped the course of democracy. The biggest difference between Athenian democracy and all other democracies is that the Athenian version was a direct democracy rather than representative.
It would seem the kind of direct democracy that Athens had might lead to anarchy at the worst and arbitrary decisions or unstable policies at the least. Both ancient and modern democratic experiments have shown that the will of the people sometimes is undeceive, changing to and fro with every rhetorical wind that blows. Yet, as surprising as it may seem, Athenian democracy worked fairly well. The main reason for its success was the quality of the citizens. From the days of Solon the Athenians like the rest of the Greeks had a deep respect for what they called “the golden mean”, which meant that they avoided extremes in politics (Ober 97). The laws for Athens began with Solon, but perhaps the most influential leader for democracy in Athens was Cleisthenes.
In 510 Cleisthenes had managed to get the sons of Peisistratus kicked out of Athens with Spartan help (Demand 157). But now the old internal divisions, which had plagued Athens since Solon’s time, reasserted themselves. Herodotus says in his history of Greece that Cleisthenes decided to turn to the people (Herodotus 302). Perhaps he did so solely out of practical political reasons: he needed a powerful force on his side now that the Spartans had turned against him. Although, his major motivation may have been to produce a government that would unify Athenians by all, rich and poor alike. Unity, perhaps, rather democracy, was his immediate goal. But it was democracy that he would prove to be the means to the unification of the people of Athens. Cleisthenes began his reforms with the reorganization of the tribes.
Athens, like most Greek cities, had been divided into tribes based on descent. This gave aristocratic families a natural way of securing influence, because relatives tended to stick together. The people of Attica had also often clumped in regional groupings, as in the day of Peisistratus, and this had lead to dangerous internal disorder. Cleisthenes completely reorganized the Athenian State into a new, artificial, and rather complicated system. In his system the basic unit was the deme, the village in which one lived. These demes were then put together into thirty somewhat larger units called trittyes. Cleisthenes then formed his ten new tribes by combining one trittyes from different parts of Attica, one from the coastal region, one from the city, and one from the inland (Demand 159).
These tribes would form the units in the Athenian army, and the Athenian Council. According to the Athenians, the source of constitutional power rested in the hands of all the citizens. Ideas were expressed directly through the Assembly, which consisted of all male citizens over eighteen years of age and who were willing to attend the sessions. The most important body in Athens was the popular Assembly. The Assembly would meet a number of times each month and the first 6,000 Athenians to arrive participated in the proceedings.
Cleisthenes increased the power of the Assembly largely by making use of it to push through his reforms. By this precedent he ensured that all-important laws had to be passed by a vote of the people as a whole. There were also a variety of constitutional safeguards built into the system. Any law passed by the Assembly had to be proposed by some one, whose name appeared at the beginning of the statue. If the citizens later thought they had made a mistake they could attack the law in court on a “writ of unconstitutionality”, that is the law was contrary to Athenian principles (Ober 34). If the law was challenged within a year after its passage and found unconstitutional, its proposer was fined a sum that would have bankrupt almost any citizen.
This arrangement had a tendency to discourage frivolous ideas and glory seekers. It encouraged serious thinking and political responsibility. Another safeguard to the Assembly was the institution of the Council of 500 by Cleisthenes. It would consist of 50 members chosen by lot from each of the 10 tribes (Demand 159). The Council would thus be a geographically balanced body, one of whose functions was to tie Athenians together regardless of where they lived or who they were related to. The Council’s main task was to prepare legislation for Athenian Assembly.
Each tribe’s group of fifty would be on duty for one tenth of the year to oversea any business that needed immediate attention. The fifty candidates serving on the Council were chosen by lot (Ober 36). The final choice by lot was one of the most democratic devices imaginable and reduced the danger of political corruption. There was little danger that the Council could turn into a private preserve for the wealthy or influential because members served only one year: no man could a member two years in a row; and no one could serve more than twice in his lifetime (Ober 38). The Council of 500 prepared the agenda for each session of the Assembly. According to regular rules the Assembly would take up no issue not already investigated by the Council.
Normally the Council made a recommendation to the Assembly as to the best solution of each problem. The two political bodies of Athens, the Assembly and the Council had rather different roles: the Council made proposals, which the Assembly could vote upon and amend. They also may have had somewhat different memberships. To get to the Assembly meeting one would have to come to Athens. Many Athenia …