previous next

The Beginnings of Athenian Democracy

By the late seventh century B.C., Athens' male citizens rich, middle-class, and poor had established the first beginnings of a limited form of democratic government1. Determining why they moved toward democracy instead of, for example, toward a narrow oligarchy like that of Sparta remains a difficult problem. Two factors perhaps encouraging the emergence of the Athenian polis as an incipient democracy were rapid population growth and a rough sense of egalitarianism among male citizens that survived from the frontier-like conditions of the early Dark Age, when most people had shared the same meager existence. These same factors, however, do not necessarily differentiate Athens from other city-states that did not evolve into democracies because the same conditions pertained across the Greek world in the Archaic Age. Perhaps population growth was so rapid among Athenian peasants that they had greater power than at other places to demand a share in governing. Their power and political coherence was evident, for example, in about 632 B.C. when they rallied “from the fields in a body” to foil the attempted coup of an Athenian nobleman named Cylon2. A former champion in the Olympics and married to a daughter of Theagenes, tyrant of Megara, Cylon and some of his aristocratic friends had planned to install a tyranny. Athens also had some influential aristocrats like Solon and Cleisthenes who worked to strengthen Athenian democracy for differing reasons.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: