What Was the Political System in Ancient Greece?

The political system in Ancient Greece was a complex and ever-evolving one. It was based on a series of city-states, or “polis”, each with its own government and laws.

The system of government in Ancient Greece is often called “democracy,” which literally means “rule by the people.” However, this term can be misleading, as democracy in Ancient Greece was very different from the democratic systems we have today.

The Rise of City-States

The Ancient Greeks lived in small communities called tribes. As these tribes grew into larger settlements, they began to form city-states. Each city-state had its own form of government, ranging from monarchies to oligarchies to democracies.


In a monarchy, power is held by a single ruler, usually a king or queen. Monarchies were common in early Greek history and were often hereditary. However, the power of the monarch was limited by a council of advisors.


In an oligarchy, power is held by a small group of people. These people are usually wealthy and influential members of society. Oligarchies were common in Ancient Greece and were often led by aristocrats who controlled the military and the economy.


Democracies were also common in Ancient Greece but were very different from the democratic systems we have today. In Athens, for example, only male citizens over 18 years old could vote or hold office. Women, slaves and foreigners were excluded from political participation.

The Athenian Democracy

Athens is perhaps the most famous example of democracy in Ancient Greece. The Athenian democracy was established around 508 BCE and lasted for about 200 years. The system was based on direct democracy where citizens would gather together to vote on important issues.

The Assembly

The Assembly was the main body of government in Athens. It was made up of all male citizens over the age of 18. The Assembly met about 40 times a year and voted on important issues such as declaring war or making peace with other city-states.

The Council

The Council was made up of 500 citizens who were chosen by lot each year. They were responsible for preparing and presenting laws to the Assembly for approval.

The Courts

The courts were responsible for judging legal cases. There were two types of courts in Athens: the popular courts, which were made up of all male citizens over the age of 30, and the jury courts, which were made up of a smaller group of citizens who were selected by lot.

The Spartan System

Sparta was another important city-state in Ancient Greece. The Spartan system was very different from Athenian democracy. Sparta was ruled by two kings who shared power with a council of elders.

The Council of Elders

The council was made up of 28 men over the age of 60 who were elected by the people. They had significant power and could veto any decision made by the kings or the Assembly.

The Ephors

The Ephors were five elected officials who had significant power in Spartan society. They had authority over education and could even declare war on behalf of Sparta.


In conclusion, the political system in Ancient Greece was diverse and complex, with each city-state having its own unique form of government. Democracy, although limited, played an important role in Athenian society while Sparta remained an oligarchy with strict social hierarchy. Understanding these ancient political systems helps us appreciate how democracy evolved to be what it is today and how different cultures shape their political structures.