Ancient Greek History

How the Ancient Athenians Went from Oppression to Democracy

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View of Acropolis from Pnyx hillWhen people think of Ancient Greece as being the birthplace of democracy, they may form an idea in their mind that the journey towards that system was an enlightened one. While it is true that the society in Ancient Greece eventually understood that a democratic system could help quell feelings of oppression borne of other political systems, the journey to democracy wasn’t as gentle as may be perceived. The Ancient Athenians were tired of the oppressive system that they were faced with from previous rulers, so they took to the streets to protest. Democracy was created out of necessity as the people expressed their discontent over the system that came before. Here’s more information about what led the Athenians in Ancient Greece to create the democratic system:

What Came Before the Democratic System

Before democracy was developed in the heart of Athens, which at the time was considered to be a small city located on the Greek mainland, the political system was almost the complete opposite of a democracy. Back then, Athens was ruled by a series of individuals called archons or chief magistrates and also an Areopagus, which was made up of ex-archons. The members of these positions were aristocrats who used their position of power to benefit themselves and their families. In other words, the system was corrupt and the people had finally had enough.

The People Protest a Corrupt System

In 508 B.C., the people took to the streets to protest the system in the hopes of revolutionizing politics in Athens. At the time of the protests, ordinary systems had been feeling as if they were “enslaved” by the rich. Tired of the system that had held them back, they took to the streets. The people turned against their rulers and demanded their freedom. However, instead of their desires going unheard, their opinions were taken into account. Some time after the protests, the new system was born.

Cleisthenes Creates the New Democratic System

As a nobleman and aristocrat by birth, Cleisthenes should have looked at these protests with contempt. He was taught from childhood that the aristocrats should rule and that the common people should simply just sit back and let themselves be told what to do. However, as he looked on at the protests, he understood that the ordinary people should have freedoms, as well. In other words, the people’s protests didn’t fall on deaf ears. Cleisthenes, a nobleman who grew up in a palace and had an elite background, understood how important freedom was, and his actions propelled the Athenians on the path to democracy.

Most people understand that democracy was created in Ancient Greece. However, few truly understand why it was born. At the time of its creation, democracy was the people’s response to years of oppressive rule that came before the new system was put into place. Since then, the Ancient Greek democracy is still considered to be the gold standard of democratic thinking since it was considered to be a true democracy, where not only the politicians were elected by the people, but also the laws themselves.

Sources:

History.com – Ancient Greek Democracy

Wikipedia – Athenian Democracy

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This post was written by GreekBoston.com

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