Exploring Democracy through the Ages: A Birthplace in Athens

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This may come as a shock to many Americans, but democracy existed long before our country was founded. In fact, democracy has existed in some form or another for several thousand years. Early societies which practiced democratic ideas but lacked standardized governmental control have been called primitive, or tribal democracies. Modern, democracy, as it recognized today was born in Athens during the 5th century B.C.

Early Athenian Democracy

Following an extended period of unrest lasting nearly 200 year during which it was said, “the many were enslaved by the few,” Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a new system of government he dubbed ‘demokratia,’ or “rule by the people.” Cleisthenes’ system was the first of its kind. It was designed to distributed governmental power across three major governing bodies. One body was composed to represent the people, another wrote laws, while the last upheld rulings of the court. Sound familiar? It should!

The Values of Athenian Democracy

The primary goal of Cleisthene’s demokratia philosophy was to abolish the distinction between the Athenian aristocrats and the working-class citizens. The new Athenian democracy was described as being “splendid of virtues and full of equality before the law.” For male citizens over the age of 18, this was probably true. Unfortunately, for the 10,000 ‘resident foreigners’ and 150,000 slaves, conditions did improve as they were unable to participate in the democratic process.

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