What Does Oligarchy Mean in Ancient Greece?

Oligarchy is a term that has been used to describe the ancient Greek political system. The word “oligarchy” comes from the Greek words “oligos,” meaning “few,” and “archein,” meaning “to rule.” In an oligarchic system, power is held by a small group of people, who often come from wealthy or influential families.

In Ancient Greece, oligarchy was one of the most common forms of government. The early city-states were often ruled by a small group of aristocrats who controlled the land and resources. These aristocrats were known as the “eupatridae” in Athens and the “dorians” in Sparta.

One of the most famous examples of an oligarchy in ancient Greece was the Spartan government. In Sparta, power was held by a council of elders known as the Gerousia. This council was made up of 28 men over the age of 60, who were elected for life.

Sparta was also unique in that it had two kings who shared power. These kings were members of two different families, and their role was mainly ceremonial. However, they did have some influence over military matters.

Another example of an oligarchy in ancient Greece was Athens during its early history. In Athens, power was held by a group of aristocrats known as the eupatridae. These aristocrats controlled all aspects of government and society, including the courts and religious institutions.

Over time, however, Athens evolved into a democracy. This evolution began with reforms carried out by Solon in 594 BCE, which limited the power of the eupatridae and gave more rights to ordinary citizens.

Despite this shift towards democracy in some city-states, oligarchies remained common throughout ancient Greece. The wealthy elite continued to hold power and influence over society for many centuries.

In conclusion, oligarchy played a significant role in ancient Greek politics. It was a system in which power was held by a small group of people, often from wealthy or influential families. While some city-states eventually evolved into democracies, oligarchies remained prevalent throughout Greek history.