What Was the Government in Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece is known for its contributions to the development of democracy. The Greek government in ancient times was a complex and evolving system that varied from city-state to city-state. However, there were some common elements that can be identified as the foundations of the Greek government.

The City-State

The city-state, or polis, was the basic unit of government in ancient Greece. Each city-state had its own government, laws, and customs. The most famous city-states were Athens and Sparta.

The Assembly

The assembly was the gathering of all male citizens in a city-state. This was where decisions were made about public policy and lawmaking. In Athens, the assembly met on a hill called the Pnyx.


During assembly meetings, citizens could make speeches to persuade others to vote a certain way. This led to a culture of public speaking in ancient Greece which has influenced political discourse ever since.

The Council

The council was a group of citizens who were elected by the assembly to carry out specific tasks such as taxation or running the military. In Athens, there were 500 members of the council.

The Courts

Courts were used to settle disputes between citizens and enforce laws. There were both civil and criminal courts in ancient Greece.


Judges were selected by lot from among eligible citizens. They were not legal experts but rather ordinary citizens who had been chosen by chance for their jury duty.

  • Fun Fact: The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words: “demos” meaning people and “kratos” meaning rule.
  • Another Fun Fact: Women, slaves, and foreigners were not allowed to participate in government in ancient Greece.

The Rise of Democracy

Athens is often cited as the birthplace of democracy. In the 5th century BCE, Athens was one of the most powerful city-states in Greece.

The reforms of Cleisthenes in 508 BCE laid the groundwork for Athenian democracy. These reforms included allowing all male citizens to participate in government and creating new administrative regions to make government more representative.

The Golden Age

The period from 461 to 429 BCE is known as the “golden age” of Athenian democracy. During this time, Pericles was a prominent statesman who oversaw many important reforms and public works projects.


The ancient Greek government was a complex system that evolved over time. It varied from city-state to city-state but had some common elements such as the assembly, council, and courts. The rise of democracy in Athens laid the groundwork for modern democratic systems around the world.