Background information 10

Forms of Government - Democracy, Oligarchy and Tyranny

Democracy: rule by the people

  • Where?
Developed in Athens by Kleisthenes and others.
  • What?
Based on principle that all citizens of the city-state of Athens had right
to attend and speak at assembly (women, slaves & metics were not
Most government officials chosen by lottery, did job for 1 year.
From 390 BC, citizens paid for attending assembly.
Most important political posts were the 10 generals: elected by the assembly each year.
Between 30,000 - 40,000 male citizens but possibly only about 5000 attended assembly.
Voting was by a show of hands.
Ostracism (banishment from Athens) involved writing a person's name on an ostraca; person with most votes over 6000 had to leave Athens for 10 years, which destroyed their career.
  • Other democracies

In fourth century BC, heyday of Greek democracy.

Cities like Chios and Thebes (previously oligarchies) adopted a version of democratic government.

Oligarchy: rule by the few

  • Where
Common throughout ancient Greece
Sparta championed oligarchies.
Athens had an oligarchy during and after the Peloponnesian War.
Existed in Corinth and Thebes.
  • What?
A minority of men from rich families controlled the state: most citizens
couldn't take part in government.

Tyranny: rule by one powerful dictator, a tyrant.
(Tyrant: a ruler who has seized power without legal right).

  • Where
Many states, particularly in the 6th century BC, were ruled by a tyrant.
  • What?
Took power by force.
Usually of noble birth but often had support of the poor.
Unlike a monarchy, power not inherited
Unlike modern meaning of tyranny, was not always a brutal and oppressive rule e.g. Pisistratus' rule in Athens.
  • Details
First appeared in Argos or Corinth, then Sicyon, Megara, Mytilene and
Sparta avoided tyranny, probably because of the need for unity amongst citizens against helots.
In Athens, Pisistratus became tyrant 3 times, starting c.560 BC.
In Corinth under the Kypselidai tyranny, the city became dominant in pottery production and export, art and trade.

Historical Developments