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Greek Democracy

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Delphi watched the men of the Assembly argue for a while.  They didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.

Democracy was a terrible idea, Delphi thought.  It was just all the other ideas were worse.

She could see the flaws with it easily.  The problem, as she saw it, was that there were an awful lot of stupid men in the world.  The good thing about democracy was that it stopped just one stupid man making all the decisions, but the bad thing was that 500 stupid men weren’t much better.  Particularly as they would inevitably find 500 different ways to be stupid about things, and waste a lot of time trying to work out whose idea was the least stupid out of all the stupid ideas.  

The best solution would obviously be to have one not-stupid man in charge.  Delphi had heard about Pericles, and he sounded like he knew what he was doing.  He rebuilt the Parthenon and had led the city to wealth and prosperity.  So democracy worked as long as you had a good ruler, prepared to make the correct decisions, so you could ignore the democracy bit.
Or maybe they could do with something to balance out the sheer number of stupid men.

Like by including women, for example.

Pnyx: Fact box

  • Democracy, the idea that the people should rule the country rather than a supreme leader like a king, was invented in Ancient Greece.  It is seen as one of the most important ideas in the history of the world and most countries in the world still use it.


  • However, Ancient Greek democracy was very different to what we use today!  All Greek citizens could join in the meetings and help decide what the country should do, and all citizens could vote on new ideas.  There was a catch though – to be a Greek citizen you had to be an adult male, born in Athens, and reasonably wealthy.  Foreigners, children, slaves and women all couldn’t join in!


  • The Pnyx is simply a wide open space where the meetings were held, and had space for thousands of citizens.  It is halfway up the Hill of the Muses and the Hill of the Nymphs, looking over the Acropolis and the Agora.  Meetings continued to be held here until even this space wasn’t big enough and the meetings moved to the Theatre of Dionysus near the Acropolis.

Ancient Greek Democracy

  • It’s hard to think of an idea that has had more impact on the world than democracy.  It all started in Ancient Greece, but not all at once.  It began with a ruler named Solon who in 594BC cancelled all the debts of the poor citizens of Athens, stopping citizens from owning each other as slaves, and established an assembly of citizens and a court of appeal.  This meant that people had a say about their laws and government for the first time.


  • It was Kleisthenes, sometimes called the ‘Father of Democracy’ who took this one step further. In 507 BC he split in the city up into ten ‘tribes’ made up of different parts of the city, and each tribe was represented in the Assembly.  This meant that every part of the city got an equal say – not just the rich and powerful!


  • By around 450BC, Athens’ democracy was radical.  Now all the government decisions were in the power of all the citizens through its voting Assembly and juries.  Nowhere else in Greece had anything else like it.  This is even a far more radical version of democracy than is used today, where most countries hold elections to choose one person to represent an area in a national Assembly or Parliament.


Athens sophist
  • This system had its drawbacks.  The crowds could be persuaded to make all sorts of decisions, so persuasive speaking became a very important skill.  There were even professional speakers, who were skilled at twisting the truth to try and get their own way – these were called sophists. Philosophers like Socrates hated them because they could make anything sound true, even if it was false!

  • However, the idea of democracy gave the world the idea that people were free to disagree and express their opinion – an essential principle of democracy right up to today.

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