Who Held Political Power in Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of democracy, but that doesn’t mean that everyone had a say in the political decision-making process. In fact, only a select few held political power in Ancient Greece.


At the beginning of Ancient Greek history, there were monarchies in place. These were ruled by kings, who held all the power.

They were often seen as divine figures with a direct connection to the gods. However, as time went on, many city-states began to shift away from monarchy and towards other forms of government.


One form of government that emerged was oligarchy. This was when a small group of wealthy individuals held political power. They would often pass down their positions to their children or other members of their social class, ensuring that they maintained control over the government for generations.


Sparta is perhaps the most well-known example of an oligarchy in Ancient Greece. The city-state was ruled by two kings who shared power with a council of elders known as the Gerousia.

This council consisted of 28 men over the age of 60 who were elected for life. In addition to this, there was also an assembly made up of all male citizens over the age of 30 who could vote on certain issues.


Another form of government that emerged in Ancient Greece was tyranny. This was when one person seized control and ruled with absolute power. Unlike monarchs, tyrants did not have any divine right to rule and often came to power through force or manipulation.


Athens is an example of a city-state that experienced tyranny before transitioning to democracy. One such tyrant was Pisistratus, who ruled for over 30 years in the 6th century BCE. He was known for his infrastructure projects and support of the arts, but also for his harsh treatment of political opponents.


Finally, we come to democracy. This is the form of government that Ancient Greece is most famous for.

In a democracy, all citizens have a say in political decision-making. However, it’s important to note that not everyone was considered a citizen in Ancient Greece. Women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded from the political process.

Athens is perhaps the most well-known example of an Ancient Greek democracy. In Athens, all male citizens over the age of 18 had the right to participate in the assembly. They would meet regularly to vote on laws and other important decisions.

The Boule

In addition to the assembly, Athens also had a council known as the Boule. This council was made up of 500 citizens who were chosen by lot each year. They were responsible for preparing legislation that would be voted on by the assembly.

The Courts

Finally, Athens also had courts where citizens could bring legal cases against one another. These courts were made up of juries chosen by lot and were an important part of ensuring that justice was served in Ancient Greece.


In conclusion, political power in Ancient Greece was held by a select few individuals depending on which form of government was in place. From monarchs and oligarchs to tyrants and democrats, Ancient Greece saw a variety of different forms of government throughout its history. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone had equal access to political power and many groups such as women and slaves were excluded from the process altogether.