How Did Citizens Vote in Ancient Greece?

How Did Citizens Vote in Ancient Greece?

Voting is a fundamental aspect of any democratic society. It allows citizens to participate in the decision-making process and have a say in the governance of their community.

But how did citizens vote in ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy? Let’s explore the fascinating voting methods used by the ancient Greeks.

The Assembly: The Heart of Democracy

In ancient Greece, the primary institution through which citizens exercised their right to vote was the Assembly. The Assembly served as the heart of democracy, where all eligible citizens had an equal voice in shaping laws and policies.

To participate in the Assembly, citizens had to be male, at least 18 years old, and born to Athenian parents. Slaves, foreigners, and women were excluded from this democratic process.

Casting Votes: Show of Hands

One common method used for voting in the Assembly was a simple show of hands. Citizens would gather at designated meeting places and raise their hands to indicate their support or opposition to a proposed measure.

This method allowed for quick decision-making but also resulted in potential biases, as those with louder voices or greater influence could sway opinions more easily.

Voting with Pebbles: Secret Ballots

Another method utilized for more sensitive matters involved casting secret ballots using pebbles. Each citizen would receive two differently colored pebbles – one for approval and one for rejection.

The citizens would then deposit their chosen pebble into separate urns or containers. This method ensured anonymity and reduced external influences on individual voting decisions.

The Council: A Select Group Making Important Decisions

While the Assembly allowed all citizens to have a voice, not all decisions were made collectively. The Council, a smaller body of elected officials, played a crucial role in the decision-making process.

The Council consisted of 500 members, known as the Boule, who were chosen by lot from among eligible citizens. They served for one year and were responsible for proposing and preparing legislation for the Assembly’s consideration.

Voting by Lot: Random Selection

The selection of council members was done by lot, or random selection, to ensure fairness and prevent corruption. This approach aimed to provide equal opportunities for all citizens to participate in the governance process.

However, being selected for the Council was considered a civic duty rather than an honor or privilege. The chosen members had to commit their time and expertise to serve the best interests of their community.


The voting methods used in ancient Greece exemplify both the strengths and limitations of early democratic practices. While citizens had the right to vote and participate directly in decision-making through the Assembly, certain exclusions based on gender, status, and nationality limited its inclusivity.

Nevertheless, ancient Greece laid the foundation for democratic principles that continue to shape modern societies. By understanding how citizens voted in ancient Greece, we gain insights into our own democratic systems and can appreciate the ongoing evolution towards more inclusive and equitable voting practices.