How Were Officials Chosen in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the process of choosing officials was quite different from what we see in modern democracies. Let’s dive into how officials were chosen and the significance of this process.

Selection Process

The selection of officials in ancient Greece was primarily based on a system known as sortition, or random selection. This method aimed to ensure fairness and prevent corruption by avoiding the influence of money or power.

Step 1: Eligibility

To be eligible for selection as an official, one had to be a male citizen who had reached a certain age. This requirement limited participation to a specific demographic within society.

Step 2: Nomination

After determining eligibility, potential candidates were nominated. However, unlike in modern democracies where individuals actively campaign for positions, in ancient Greece, being nominated was a passive process. The names of eligible individuals were simply added to the pool of potential candidates.

Step 3: Random Selection

The next step involved randomly selecting officials from the pool of nominees. This was typically done using a lottery-like system. The random nature of this process ensured impartiality and minimized bias.

Term Limits

Athenian Democracy:

  • Athens is often considered the birthplace of democracy in ancient Greece. Here, officials were chosen through sortition for various positions such as members of the Boule (Council) or jurors for legal cases.
  • Most offices had limited terms ranging from one month to one year.
  • This frequent turnover ensured that power did not accumulate in the hands of a few individuals and prevented corruption.

Spartan Gerousia:

  • In Sparta, the selection process was quite different. Officials were chosen through a combination of hereditary succession and election.
  • The Spartan Gerousia was the highest legislative body, consisting of 30 members who served for life.
  • Members of the Gerousia were initially elected by the Spartan citizen assembly. However, once elected, they served for life unless removed due to misconduct or incompetence.


The use of sortition in ancient Greece had several important implications:

  • Fairness and Equality: Random selection ensured that all eligible citizens had an equal chance to participate in the political process.
  • Citizen Involvement: By involving a large number of citizens as officials, ancient Greece promoted a sense of civic duty and participation in governance.
  • Preventing Corruption: The random selection process minimized the influence of money and power on the selection of officials, reducing the potential for corruption and favoritism.

In conclusion,

Ancient Greece employed a unique system for choosing officials through sortition. This process emphasized fairness, equality, and citizen involvement while minimizing corruption. Understanding how officials were chosen provides valuable insight into the democratic principles that underpinned ancient Greek society.