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The Institutions of Incipient Democracy

The scanty evidence seems to indicate that by the seventh century all free-born adult male citizens of Athens had the right to attend open meetings, in a body called the assembly1 (ekklesia ), which elected nine magistrates called archons (rulers) each year. The archons, still all aristocrats in this early period, headed the government2 and rendered verdicts in disputes and criminal accusations. As they had earlier, aristocrats at this time still dominated Athenian political life by using their influence to secure election as archons , perhaps by marshaling their traditional bands of followers as supporters and by making alliances with other aristocrats. The right of middle-class and poor men to serve as members of the assembly as yet had only limited value because little business besides the election of archons was conducted in its gatherings, which probably met rarely in this period and then only when the current archons decided the time was right.

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