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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ancient Greece Cities and Athens

Athens was located in Attica (A»tih»kuh), the ancient name for part of the Greek peninsula northeast of the Peloponnesus. Life in Athens was very different from life in Sparta. Unlike Sparta, Athens required its young men to serve in its army only during times of war. The government of Athens also encouraged citizens to take part in decisions affecting the community. This civic participation grew into a system of democracy, or rule by the people. The Greek historian Thucydides (thoo»SIH»duh»deez) said about Athens, "Its administration favors the many instead of the few."

The Athenian leader Solon led the Athenian government toward democracy around 594 B.C. Under his leadership male Athenians were able to take a greater part in government. Then, in 508 B.C., a leader named Cleisthenes (KLYS»thuh»neez) changed the form of Athenian government to a full democracy. By 500 B.C., every free man over age 20 had full political rights.

All male citizens of Athens took part in the city-state's assembly, or Ecclesia (ih • KLEE* zee *uh). Every member of the assembly was allowed one vote. All decisions were made by majority rule.

In other words, the idea that received the most votes became law.

The reforms of Cleisthenes kept any one person from controlling Athens. To get rid of a troublesome person, citizens held a special meeting. Any citizen who received the most votes out of a total of 6,000 was forced to leave Athens for ten years. The candidates' names were written on broken pieces of pottery called ostraca (AHS»truh»kuh).

This ancient practice gave us the English word ostracize, which means "to shut out."
The changes made by Cleisthenes let more people take part in government. But Athenian democracy did not include everyone. Women could not take part in government even though they were considered citizens. Athens's enslaved people, who made up about one-third of the population, also had no voice in government. For the most part, Athens's slaves were people from neighboring areas who had been captured in war. The slaves did much of the work in Athens, giving citizens the time to take part in their democracy. Unlike the helots of Sparta, the enslaved people of Athens could be bought and sold by private citizens.

How were government decisions made in Athens?


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