What Did the Government Do in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the government played a significant role in shaping the political, social, and economic aspects of society. The ancient Greeks believed in the concept of democracy, which means “rule by the people.”

However, it is important to note that their version of democracy was quite different from what we know today. Let’s explore what the government did in ancient Greece.

The City-States

Ancient Greece consisted of various city-states, each with its own government system. The most well-known city-state was Athens, where democracy flourished. Other city-states, such as Sparta, operated under different forms of government.

Athens: Birthplace of Democracy

In Athens, all citizens had the right to participate in decision-making through an assembly known as the Ecclesia. This assembly met regularly to discuss and vote on important matters concerning the city-state. In addition to this direct form of democracy, Athens also had a council called the Boule, which consisted of 500 members who were chosen by lottery.

The Boule was responsible for proposing laws and overseeing their implementation. It played a crucial role in managing day-to-day affairs and ensuring that decisions made by the Ecclesia were carried out effectively.

Sparta: An Oligarchic Society

In contrast to Athens, Sparta followed an oligarchic system where power was held by a small group of individuals. The government structure in Sparta was composed of two kings who ruled jointly but had limited powers.

The most influential body in Spartan politics was the Gerousia, also known as the Council of Elders. This council consisted of 28 men over 60 years old along with the two kings. They were responsible for proposing and making decisions on legislation that would be presented to the assembly.

Another significant aspect of Spartan government was the Ephors. These five individuals were elected annually and had the authority to oversee the actions of both kings and citizens. They acted as a check on the power of the kings and ensured that they did not violate Spartan laws.

Judicial System

In addition to their political roles, ancient Greek governments also had judicial responsibilities. They established courts where disputes were settled, and criminals were tried. The judicial system aimed to maintain order and ensure justice within society.

The Athenian judicial system was based on a jury composed of randomly selected citizens who would hear cases and decide guilt or innocence. This practice provided an opportunity for all citizens to participate in the administration of justice.

Sparta, on the other hand, had a less complex judicial system. Their highest court was known as the Ephorate, which consisted of five ephors elected by the assembly. The ephors’ primary responsibility was to enforce Spartan laws and maintain order.

Public Works and Infrastructure

Ancient Greek governments invested in public works projects to improve infrastructure for their cities. These projects aimed to benefit society as a whole by enhancing transportation, trade, and overall living conditions.

In Athens, one notable public works project was the construction of the Parthenon, which was a temple dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. The government funded this grand architectural masterpiece as a symbol of their power and devotion to their gods.

Sparta focused more on military infrastructure rather than grand buildings or monuments. They built defensive walls around their city-state and fortified strategic locations to protect against potential invasions.


The government in ancient Greece played a crucial role in shaping the society of each city-state. While Athens embraced democracy and citizen participation, Sparta operated under an oligarchic system. Both systems had their strengths and weaknesses, but they laid the groundwork for political systems that would influence future civilizations.

Moreover, ancient Greek governments were responsible for maintaining law and order through their judicial systems. They also invested in public works projects to improve infrastructure and enhance the overall well-being of their citizens.

By understanding the government structures and actions in ancient Greece, we can gain valuable insights into the development of democratic ideals and governance systems that continue to shape our world today.