How Did Ancient Greece Choose Leaders?

How Did Ancient Greece Choose Leaders?

Ancient Greece, often considered the cradle of democracy, had a unique system for choosing leaders. Unlike many other ancient civilizations, where leadership was often hereditary or based on military might, the Greeks developed a system that valued participation from its citizens.

Let’s explore how leaders were chosen in Ancient Greece.

Monarchy and Early Governance

In the early days of Ancient Greece, leadership was primarily in the hands of monarchs. These were kings or queens who ruled over a specific region or city-state.

The position of monarch was typically hereditary, passing from one generation to the next within a royal family.

However, as time went on, city-states started to experiment with alternative forms of governance that involved citizen participation.

Tyranny and Oligarchy

Following the period of monarchy, some city-states experienced periods of tyranny or oligarchy. In a tyranny, power rested in the hands of an individual leader who seized control forcefully.

Meanwhile, an oligarchy involved rule by a small group of wealthy and influential individuals.

These systems limited citizen involvement in decision-making and were often marked by corruption and abuse of power. As a result, they ultimately gave way to more inclusive forms of governance.

Athenian Democracy: A Radical Experiment

The most famous example of Greek democracy is found in Athens during the 5th century BCE. Athenian democracy was radical for its time because it allowed all eligible citizens to participate directly in decision-making through assemblies and voting.

To become an eligible citizen in Athens, one had to be male, born to Athenian parents, and over 18 years old. Women, enslaved individuals, and foreigners were excluded from participating in the political process.

The Assembly

The heart of Athenian democracy was the Assembly, where all eligible citizens had the right to speak and vote on important matters. Meetings were held regularly on a hill called the Pnyx.

The Assembly’s decisions were binding and affected all aspects of Athenian life.

Random Selection: Sortition

In addition to the Assembly, Athens also used a unique method called “sortition” to select public officials randomly. This ensured that positions of power were not monopolized by a few influential individuals or families.

Through sortition, individuals were chosen by lot for specific positions such as members of the council or juries. This practice aimed to prevent corruption and ensure a fair distribution of power.


Ancient Greece’s system for choosing leaders was a fascinating blend of monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy, and ultimately democracy. The Greeks recognized the importance of citizen participation in decision-making and sought to create systems that allowed for broader representation.

While not without its limitations and exclusions, Ancient Greek governance laid the groundwork for more inclusive forms of democracy that would shape future civilizations around the world.