Cleisthenes, the Athenian leader, was known as “The Father of Democracy”. In 507 B.C, he introduced the system to reform the political system. Democracy, at the time, was known as demokratia or “rule by people”. Demos means ‘the people’ and kratos means ‘power’. The name signifies that Cleisthenes wanted to give the power to choose their representatives back to the people. This was the first known democracy.
The demokratia system that Cleisthenes created comprised 3 separate institutions – the ekklesia, the boule, and the dikasteria.
The ekklesia (Assembly) is where the sovereign governing body wrote laws and ruled over foreign policy. Any 40,000 adult male citizens are allowed to attend the ekklesia meetings which were held 40 times every year at the Pnyx. They made decisions regarding important matters such as war and foreign policy as well as wrote and revised laws. They also had the power to approve or criticise the conduct of public officials. The problem is during that time, many men were serving in the army or navy to provide for their families. Hence, only 5000 men attended the Assembly. Most of the decisions that were made in the Assembly are by simple majority votes.
Meanwhile, the boule is a council of representatives comprised of the ten Athenian tribes. The council consist of 500 men. 50 of the men are from 10 Athenian tribes who would serve in the council of representatives for a year. The council is extremely different compared to the ekklesia because they meet every day and do most of the physical work of governance. The council is mostly in charge of government workers, navy ships, and army horses. What would be discussed in the ekklesia comes from the boule. In addition, the positions in the boule were decided by lot, not by an election. Theoretically, a random lottery is deemed more democratic than an election. Something that happens based on chance cannot be bought using money or popularity – decisions can be biased. Historians argue about this matter, however, because people with influence and wealth served in the council more frequently than we believe.
Then, the dikasteria is the famous court where citizens discuss or argue cases in front of a group of 500 lottery-selected jurors. The jurors were chosen by male citizens who are under 30. Among the institutions, the dikasteria is the only institution that is deemed powerful, according to Aristotle, because the jury holds great power. This is just like a modern-day court, only with more jurors. In Athens at the time, there were no policemen. Hence the people brought court cases, demanded prosecutions and defence, and delivered the final verdict and sentence based on majority votes. The jurors of dikasteria are paid so anyone can be a juror, not just the wealthy. There was one thing though – ancient Athens don’t pay taxes. They don’t have high-paying jobs like airport car service. So the cash that they would receive are payments from customs duties and contributions.
The demokratia created by Cleisthenes survived for only 2 centuries. However, the system was influential. It was one of the long-lasting inventions from ancient Greece to the modern world. The direct democracy that was created at the time has now become what we know as representative democracy around the world.
Who was allowed to vote at the time?
The concept of aristocrats and the wealthy holding the most power is what The Father of Democracy was trying to get rid of. According to Herodotus, “there is, first, that most splendid of virtues, equality before the law”. The sentence means that above all else, equality is the priority in a democratic system. Athenian aristocrats were the ones who monopolized political power; this includes the decision-making, army members, and navy members.
What’s common when something is first created is flaws. In the equality that Cleisthenes created, the equality only applied to a small population of Athenians. Only male citizens who are above 18 years old can participate in the demos, hence the rest are not included.
How The Athenian Democracy Ended
Under the rule of Pericles (elected public officials) in 460 B.C, Athenian democracy began to change. It evolved into an aristocracy. Even though it did not survive for long, democracy is influential enough to be carried into the modern day. Compared to the direct representative of the past, we now have representative democracy such as in Canada, The United States and South Africa.
How This Influenced The United State’s Democracy
Today, The United States laws are equally enforced and independently judged, and everyone should abide by the international human rights ethics. This is important because this implementation not only holds everyone accountable for their own wrongdoings but also prevents leaders to misuse their power.
Another concept that the USA adopted was the government formation based on the written constitution. The written constitution, states common standards on what kind of behaviour people should adopt and what rules they must follow. In addition, it included how people who are harmed will receive justice while people who harm would be judged. Now, the U.S. Consitution is the most powerful law acts in the country. It also states individual citizens’ rights such as free speech or a trial.
Similarities can also be found in the voting system. While women, slaves, and conquered people are not allowed to vote in Athens. Everyone above 18 years old is allowed to vote in the U.S.
Many other countries adopted the Greek democratic system to let their people have their own voices. Democracy provides citizens with the right to choose their representatives according to their preferences. This also allows them to vote for someone else when the past representative does not represent their needs.