What Was the Government Structure in Ancient Greece?

The government structure in ancient Greece was a fascinating blend of various systems, depending on the city-state or polis. Let’s delve into the intricate details of how governance worked in this ancient civilization.

The Basics

In ancient Greece, the city-states were the primary units of political organization. Each city-state had its own unique form of government, but they shared some common elements. The two most well-known city-states were Athens and Sparta, each with its distinctive governmental structure.

Athenian Democracy

Athens is often regarded as the birthplace of democracy. In the 5th century BCE, Athens introduced a system where every eligible citizen had a say in decision-making. However, it’s important to note that not everyone was considered a citizen in Athens; only free adult males who were born to Athenian parents qualified for full citizenship.

The Assembly: The heart of Athenian democracy was the Assembly or Ekklesia. This was an open forum where citizens gathered to propose and debate laws and policies. It was here that major decisions regarding war, alliances, and legislation were made.

The Council: To ensure efficient governance, Athens had a Council known as the Boule. Comprising 500 members (50 from each tribe), this body prepared and drafted legislation for consideration by the Assembly. Members served for one year and were selected by lot.

The Courts: The courts played a significant role in Athenian democracy. Ordinary citizens served as jurors who heard cases and decided on guilt or innocence. These juries could consist of hundreds or even thousands of jurors, ensuring that decisions were not influenced by a select few.

Spartan Oligarchy

Unlike Athens’ democratic system, Sparta embraced an oligarchic form of government known as a diarchy.

The Dual Kingship: Sparta had two kings who served as the executive leaders. These kings were believed to be descendants of the ancient hero Heracles. However, their powers were limited, and they were required to consult with other governmental bodies for major decisions.

Gerousia: The Gerousia was a council of elders that acted as an advisory body to the kings. It consisted of 28 members over the age of 60, plus the two kings. Members were elected for life and played a crucial role in shaping Spartan policies.

The Assembly: While Spartan citizens could participate in the Assembly, its powers were limited compared to Athens. The Assembly mainly voted on issues presented by the kings or Gerousia and had less influence on decision-making.


The government structures in ancient Greece varied greatly between city-states, but they all aimed to establish order and governance. Athens’ democratic system gave more power to its citizens, while Sparta’s oligarchy placed greater emphasis on a strong military and a rigid social structure.

Understanding these ancient governmental systems helps us appreciate the different approaches to governance and offers insights into how democratic principles evolved over time.

  • Athenian Democracy:
    • The Assembly
    • The Council
    • The Courts
  • Spartan Oligarchy:
    • The Dual Kingship
    • Gerousia
    • The Assembly