How Long Did Democracy Last in Ancient Greece?

Democracy, as a form of government, has its roots in ancient Greece. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words: “demos,” meaning “people,” and “kratos,” meaning “power.”

In ancient Greece, democracy was not a universal concept. It was practiced only in certain Greek city-states, the most famous of which was Athens.

The Birth of Athenian Democracy

Athenian democracy was born in the 5th century BCE. At that time, Athens was ruled by aristocrats who were appointed to power by birthright. This system of government was known as an oligarchy.

However, in 508 BCE, a man named Cleisthenes introduced a new system of government that gave power to the people. Under this system, every male citizen over the age of 18 had the right to vote and participate in the political process.

The Golden Age of Athenian Democracy

Athenian democracy reached its peak during the Golden Age of Athens (480-404 BCE). During this time, Athens experienced unprecedented growth in art, philosophy, and literature. The city-state also became a dominant military power in Greece.

The democratic system allowed for citizens to participate directly in politics. They could attend meetings and vote on issues that affected their lives. This level of citizen participation was unheard of at the time and served as an inspiration for future democracies.

The Fall of Athenian Democracy

Despite its many successes, Athenian democracy did not last forever. In 338 BCE, Athens was conquered by Philip II of Macedon. Under Macedonian rule, democracy was abolished and replaced with an oligarchy.

Even after Athens regained its independence from Macedonia, democracy never fully returned. The city-state went through periods of democratic rule interspersed with periods of oligarchic rule.

The Legacy of Athenian Democracy

Although Athenian democracy did not last forever, its legacy lives on. The idea of giving power to the people served as an inspiration for future democracies. Today, many countries around the world practice some form of democracy.

The ancient Greeks also developed many of the ideas and institutions that we associate with democracy today. For example, they developed the concept of a jury trial and the idea of holding public officials accountable for their actions.


In conclusion, Athenian democracy lasted for several centuries before eventually falling to outside forces. Despite its demise, it left a lasting impact on the world. The idea that power should come from the people has inspired countless democracies throughout history and continues to inspire us today.