Was Ancient Greece an Anarchist?

Ancient Greece is often regarded as one of the most influential civilizations in human history. From philosophy to politics, the Greeks have left an indelible mark on the world.

Among the many questions that scholars and historians have asked about this ancient civilization is whether it was anarchist. In this article, we will explore this question by examining the political and social structures of Ancient Greece.

What is Anarchism?

Before we delve into whether Ancient Greece was an anarchist civilization, it is important to define what anarchism means. Anarchism is a political ideology that advocates for the abolition of all forms of government and hierarchical systems in favor of a decentralized society based on voluntary cooperation and mutual aid.

Ancient Greek Political Structures

The political structures of Ancient Greece were complex and varied across different city-states or polis. However, most city-states had some form of democratic structure where citizens had a say in decision-making processes. For example, Athens had a direct democracy where all male citizens over 18 years old could participate in the Assembly, which was responsible for making laws and policies.

However, it is important to note that not everyone in Ancient Greece was considered a citizen. Women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded from participating in the democratic process. This exclusionary nature of Greek democracy raises questions about whether it can be considered truly anarchist.

Ancient Greek Social Structures

The social structures of Ancient Greece were also hierarchical. At the top were wealthy landowners who held most of the power and influence in society.

Below them were free men who worked as farmers, artisans, or soldiers. Women and slaves occupied the bottom rungs of society.

This hierarchical system does not align with anarchism’s goal of creating a decentralized society where individuals have equal power and influence.

Did Ancient Greece Practice Anarchism?

Based on our examination of the political and social structures of Ancient Greece, it is difficult to say whether it was an anarchist civilization. While Athens had a direct democracy, its exclusionary nature and the hierarchical social structures undermine its claim to anarchism.

However, there were some elements of anarchism present in Ancient Greece. For example, some philosophers like Diogenes and Epicurus advocated for a simple life free from material possessions and societal norms. They believed that individuals should live in small communities and cooperate based on mutual aid.


In conclusion, while Ancient Greece had some elements of anarchism, it cannot be considered a truly anarchist civilization due to its exclusionary political structure and hierarchical social system. However, the influence of Greek philosophy on modern anarchist thought is undeniable. The ideas of mutual aid and decentralization can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and continue to inspire anarchists today.