What Kind of Government Did Ancient Greece Have?

Ancient Greece is well-known for its rich history, culture, and contributions to the world. Among the many things that Greece is famous for, its unique form of government stands out as one of the most significant and influential.

The Origins of Ancient Greek Government

The Ancient Greek world was made up of many independent city-states, each with its own unique government. These city-states were often at war with one another but also engaged in trade and political alliances. The Greeks believed that government should be based on the idea of democracy, which meant “rule by the people.”

City-States and their Politicians

Each city-state had its own government system. Athens was known for being a democracy, where citizens would gather in an assembly to vote on important decisions. Sparta was known for being an oligarchy, where a small group of people held power.

In Athens, there were around 30,000 male citizens who had the right to vote in the assembly. Women, slaves, and foreigners were not allowed to participate in politics. The assembly would meet several times a month to discuss issues such as war and peace treaties.

Sparta’s government was run by two kings who shared power with a council of elders. This council was made up of 30 citizens who were over 60 years old.

The Rise of Tyranny

In some cases, a single person would rise to power through force or manipulation and become a tyrant. The word “tyrant” has a negative connotation today but back then it simply referred to someone who had seized power without being elected.

One famous example is Peisistratus who became tyrant of Athens in 546 BC after staging a coup. Despite seizing power illegally, Peisistratus implemented policies that benefited the ordinary people such as reducing debt and improving infrastructure.

The Legacy of Ancient Greek Government

The ancient Greeks’ ideas about democracy and government influenced Western civilization for centuries to come. The United States, for example, was founded on the principles of democracy and a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” – an idea first introduced in Ancient Greece.


In summary, Ancient Greece had a diverse range of government systems including democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. These systems were unique to each city-state and shaped the political and cultural landscape of Greece. The legacy of Ancient Greek government continues to influence modern society and serves as a reminder of the power of human innovation.