How Was Ancient Greece a Democracy?

Ancient Greece is often regarded as the birthplace of democracy. The word “democracy” comes from the Greek words “demos” which means “people” and “kratos” which means “rule”. In Ancient Greece, this meant that the power to make decisions was in the hands of the people.

The Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece

The idea of democracy was first introduced in Athens, Greece in 508 BCE by Cleisthenes. Prior to this, Athens had been ruled by a tyrant named Hippias. Cleisthenes sought to create a government that would be more fair and representative of all citizens.

One of the key features of Athenian democracy was its system of direct democracy. This meant that all citizens were able to participate directly in decision-making through a process called “Assembly”. The Assembly was made up of all male citizens over the age of 18 who had completed military training.

The Assembly

The Assembly met on a regular basis to discuss important decisions such as laws, war, and alliances. It was also responsible for electing individuals to serve on various councils and courts. Members were expected to participate actively by speaking out and voting on issues.


There were two main councils in Athens: The Council of Five Hundred and The Council of Areopagus. The Council of Five Hundred was made up of 500 citizens who were chosen by lot each year. Their role was to prepare legislation for consideration by the Assembly.

The Council of Areopagus was responsible for overseeing matters related to religion, morality, and civic order. It consisted mainly of former archons (the highest officials in Athens) and had significant influence over public policy.

The Courts

The Athenian legal system consisted primarily of two courts: The Heliaea and The Areopagus. These courts heard cases related to criminal and civil matters. Judges were chosen by lot and were required to be over the age of 30.

The Limitations of Athenian Democracy

Despite the fact that Athens is often regarded as the birthplace of democracy, there were significant limitations to their system. For one, Athenian democracy was limited to male citizens only. Women, slaves, and foreigners were not allowed to participate in decision-making.

Additionally, the system of direct democracy was not without its flaws. It often led to chaotic debates and disagreements which could sometimes result in mob rule. There were also concerns about corruption and bribery among elected officials.

The Legacy of Ancient Greek Democracy

Despite its limitations, Athenian democracy had a lasting impact on the world. Its ideas influenced later democratic systems such as those found in Rome and the United States.

The concept of direct democracy also continues to inspire people around the world today. In countries like Switzerland, citizens are still able to participate directly in decision-making through a process known as “Initiative”.

In conclusion, Ancient Greece was a democracy that allowed all male citizens over 18 years old who had completed military training to participate directly in decision-making through Assembly meetings. Although it had limitations such as excluding women, slaves and foreigners from participation, it has inspired many modern democratic systems around the world today.