How Was Ancient Greece Government?

In ancient Greece, the government system was quite unique and varied throughout its history. Let’s explore the different forms of government that existed in this fascinating civilization.

The Early Forms of Government

During the Archaic period (800-500 BCE), most city-states in ancient Greece were governed by monarchies. These early monarchies were usually hereditary, meaning that power was passed down within a ruling family. However, as time went on, some city-states transitioned to oligarchies or tyrannies.


An oligarchy is a form of government where power is held by a small group of individuals who are typically wealthy and influential. In ancient Greece, these individuals were often aristocrats or members of the upper class. They held power through various means such as controlling land, leading armies, or having significant economic influence.

  • Sparta: One notable example of an oligarchy was Sparta. The Spartan society was divided into several social classes, with only a few families holding political power.
  • Corinth: Corinth also had an oligarchic government where a council composed of wealthy citizens made important decisions.


A tyranny is a form of government where absolute power is held by an individual ruler who seized control by force. Although tyrants were not necessarily oppressive rulers in ancient Greece, their rise to power often involved overthrowing existing governments.

  • Athens: Athens experienced periods of tyranny before transitioning to democracy. Figures like Peisistratos and his sons ruled Athens during these times.
  • Sicyon: Another example is Sicyon, where the tyrant Cleisthenes is known for his ambitious building projects and reforms.

Athenian Democracy

Athens is famous for its democratic system of government, which emerged in the 5th century BCE. This form of government is considered one of the earliest examples of democracy in history.

The Assembly

In Athens, all citizens over the age of 18 had the right to participate in the Assembly. This was a gathering where decisions on important matters were made through voting. It was an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions and propose new laws.

The Council

Alongside the Assembly, Athens had a Council composed of 500 members who were chosen by lottery. The Council played a crucial role in preparing legislation and managing day-to-day affairs.

The Courts

Another important aspect of Athenian democracy was its legal system. The courts allowed citizens to bring cases against others and seek justice through a fair trial.


Ancient Greece had a diverse range of government systems throughout its history, including monarchies, oligarchies, tyrannies, and democratic Athens. Understanding these forms of government helps us appreciate the complexity and evolution of ancient Greek society.