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Government in Ancient Greece. The Polis – Colonization – Tyranny – Spartan and Athenian Comparative. What is a Polis?. Is this a workable system? What potential problems do you see? What are its advantages? Who were its citizens? Non-citizens? What role(s) do they play?

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Government in Ancient Greece

The Polis – Colonization – Tyranny –

Spartan and Athenian Comparative

What is a polis l.jpg
What is a Polis?

  • Is this a workable system?

  • What potential problems do you see?

  • What are its advantages?

  • Who were its citizens? Non-citizens?

    • What role(s) do they play?

    • Rights and Responsibilities

      • i.e. The military- aristocratic cavalry, hoplites

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Cause And Effect Of The Polis System

  • Colonization (700s)

    • Purpose?

    • How?

    • Result?

      • The new “rich” – Areopagus (council of nobles)

  • Cause and Effect = Political Change

    • Aristocratic control – Nobles owned land, were members of the cavalry.

      • Made money from their estates.

      • Farmers borrowed money from the nobles and couldn’t pay it back. (Birth of sharecropping.)

      • Need for larger military caused….

        • Hoplites- phalanx strategy

    • Simmering tensions between aristocrats and new wealthy  rise of tyrants

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The Rise of Tyrants(~600 BCE)

  • Need for reform – Who? What did they want? The result?

  • Role of tyrant was absolute but short lived.

  • Reforms introduced “new” forms of government.

  • Important leaders during this period (some tyrants, others “tyrants”):

    • Draco – Codification of Greek law (severe punishment)

    • Solon – Established a court of appeals; canceled indebted slavery. Maybe most importantly, set up a Two House Legislature:

      1. Aristocrats = Council of 400

      2. Commoners = Assembly=Citizens

    • Pisistratus – Considered first Athenian tyrant. Abolished land owning as a requirement for citizenship. Divided land that belonged to aristocrats among poor farmers. Supported international trade.

    • Cleisthenes – attempted to do away with class divisions based on wealth. Created Council of 500(foreign policy and finance), gave the Assembly (all male citizens) final voting power on legislation. Created demes (wards /small country towns), which fostered local loyalty. 175 demes in all merged into 10 distinct tribes.

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Result of the Period of Tyranny

Oligarchy and Democracy


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To summarize:

  • The types of government present in ancient Greece:

    • Aristocracy

    • Oligarchy

    • Tyranny

    • Democracy

  • Athens went through each phase

  • Spartans saw the practicality of oligarchy

Athens went through these phases in this order.

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  • Direct descendants of the Dorians – What might we infer about them?

  • Class System =

    • Spartans – upper ruling class – “citizens”

    • Helots – Slaves and Perioeci (conquered merchants and artisans)

    • Free People – Spartan born lower class merchants

  • Spartan class out-numbered by helots = trouble

  • Military oligarchy – Reforms by Lycurgus

    • What does this mean?

  • 7 year old boys sent to military training

  • Retirement at 60

  • Women important – why?

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Sparta (con’t)

  • Assembly of Citizens = Spartans 30 years or older. Dealt with matters of law making and war.

  • Kings officially governed, usually 2 of them at a time. Conducted religious and military affairs.

  • Ephors = Oversaw issue dealing with public affairs, presided at the assembly, guarded against Helot’s revolts. 5 were elected annually.

  • Council of Elders = Citizens 60 or older – advisory board + judicial duties

{Please note: not actualSpartans. }

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Athens @ Democracy

  • 5 Branches of Government:

    • The Assembly= voted on and debated issues

    • The Council of 500(Boule) = prepared issues

    • Board of Generals (10) = military issues

    • Board of Officials = issues of public affairs

    • Large Juries = special sessions on specific issues 

  • Athenian Democracy at work:

    • During Pericles’ rule, about 40,000 citizens. He passed a law in 451 B.C.E. stating that BOTH parents had to be Athenian for their child to be a citizen.

    • Every citizen belonged to the Assembly. Police “rounded up” working citizens who were neglecting their service.

    • Poor farmers were paid to participate. Why?

    • Voting by a show of hands. Why?

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Athens (con’t)

ASSEMBLY (Ecclesia)


(1 yr. of service)

(i.e. Pericles)

COUNCIL of 500 (by lot) (day to day business)

  • The Court System

    • Citizens had the right to present cases in front of a jury.

    • 6000 possible jurors (heliaea), by lot, chosen. 30 picked by lot to serve.

    • Each side had 6 minuets to present. Then jury IMMEDIATELY votes.

    • Ostracism System

50 Councilmen (by lot) (served 1/10 of a year)

Board of Archons (by lot)

(judicial and religious issues)

Board of 100 Officials (by lot or elected) (1 year of service) (Civic / civil duties)

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  • May have begun under Cleisthenes

  • Could happen once a year—presented in the assembly

  • All citizens could write down one name on ostraka

  • Person with most votes had to leave for 10 years

  • Why would this have been done?

  • Not really a punishment…no charge attached to the person if ostracized

  • Severe punishments if a person tried to come back early.

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True vs. Limited Democracy

Why do we start here…

…but end up here?