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May 06, 2013 · In ancient Greece around the 500 B.C.E. was established a completely new system of government which allowed public participation of …

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History of Greece: Athenian Democracy

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While some of the members of this oligarchy had indeed been followers of Socrates, Socrates remained an outspoken critic of the new government. When the Democrats regained power, however, Socrates' association with the oligarchy, particularly with Critias and Alcibiades, gave his enemies reason to bring him to trial. He was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens and with impiety. Despite his eloquent defense, Socrates wasfound guilty and sentenced to death. Plato records Socrates's last monthof life in jail in the , the , and the . Socrates remained staunchly true to his beliefs,refused to recant any of his statements, and also refused to accept exileover death. He took a cup of hemlock surrounded by his friends, and, comforting them, drank the poison that would end his life.

The original council of Athens was the Areopagus

Cleisthenes was the son of an Athenian, but the grandson and namesake of a foreign Greek tyrant, the ruler of Sicyon in the Peloponnese. For a time he was also the brother-in-law of the Athenian tyrant, Peisistratus, who seized power three times before finally establishing a stable and apparently benevolent dictatorship. It was against the increasingly harsh rule of Peisistratus's eldest son that Cleisthenes championed a radical political reform movement which in 508/7 ushered in the Athenian democratic constitution.


It consisted of ex-archons and was aristocratic in character

The democratic system was not, of course, without internal critics, and when Athens had been weakened by the catastrophic Peloponnesian War (431-404) these critics got their chance to translate word into deed. In 411 and again in 404 Athenian oligarchs led counter-revolutions that replaced democracy with extreme oligarchy. In 404 the oligarchs were supported by Athens's old enemy, Sparta - but even so the Athenian oligarchs found it impossible to maintain themselves in power, and after just a year democracy was restored. A general amnesty was declared (the first in recorded history) and - with some notorious 'blips' such as the trial of Socrates - the restored Athenian democracy flourished stably and effectively for another 80 years. Finally, in 322, the kingdom of Macedon which had risen under Philip and his son Alexander the Great to become the suzerain of all Aegean Greece terminated one of the most successful experiments ever in citizen self-government. Democracy continued elsewhere in the Greek world to a limited extent - until the Romans extinguished it for good.

The third key difference is eligibility. Only adult male citizens need apply for the privileges and duties of democratic government, and a birth criterion of double descent - from an Athenian mother as well as father - was strictly insisted upon. Women, even Athenian women, were totally excluded - this was a men's club. Foreigners, especially unfree slave foreigners, were excluded formally and rigorously. The citizen body was a closed political elite.