1 About 620 B.C., a man named Lycurgus, from the town of Sparta, was called upon by his fellow citizens to help resolve their problems in government. Lycurgus wrote a constitution which was unique because it divided the government's powers between all the people, and tried to be fair to everyone. Lycurgus wrote into his constitution that the Monarchy would not have absolute powers, but would conduct religious ceremonies, command the army in times of war and head the judicial system. Next Lycurgus gave power to the aristocrats. They would control the senate which would elect 28 members for life and they had to be over the age of 60. The senate wrote all legislation, formed public policy and acted as a supreme court in capital crimes. Next, Lycurgus formed an assembly as a concession to the common people. This assembly was open to all male citizens over the age of 30 and no law could be passed without the consent of the assembly.
2. In Athens around 594 B.C., a man named SOLON laid the groundwork for a more democratic society. Athens was experiencing many problems and turned to Solon to help them solve their crisis. Solon believed that the rich had most of the political power because they were rich and so Solon worked to help the poor have the equal amount of political power as the rich. Solon wrote a constitution which gave more freedom to the other classes. He first cancelled all debts and freed all people in jail from debt. If the poor were all in jail due to debt, then only the rich would run the government. He said from now on all people would get equal treatment before the law and that all people would be taxed according to their income. He divided the people up into four economic classes and each class would elect 100 members to what he called the COUNCIL OF FOUR HUNDRED. This Council would prepare all laws to be brought to the assembly for approval. The assembly was annually elected and he gave the lowest class of Athens the equal opportunity to sit as jurors. Solon legalized private property and began the practice of people writing their will. Citizenship in Athens was open to any person who had a trade or a skill. He passed a law that if a father died in battle defending Athens then his children would be raised by the state. He once said a good state is when "people obey the rulers and the rulers obey the law."
3. Just before the 5th century B.C., Athens came under a tyranny and the city turned to a man named CLEISTHENES to help them. Cleisthenes went further than any other person to break the power of the wealthy and give it to all the people. He created ten new districts in Athens and each new district was to have an equal number of political units. All men who owned land and all foreigners with a skill were given the right to vote and became citizens. This doubled the amount of people who could vote, creating more power for the people. Each district chose by lottery 50 councilors to make up a new council of 500. This provided for equal representation. Each person chosen by lottery served a one year term on the council and therefore every citizen in Athens participated in the government. This council prepared all laws and policies to be submitted to the assembly and the assembly was composed of every male citizen in Athens. In other words, all male citizens in Athens were allowed to vote directly on the laws written by the council. This is called a directdemocracy when citizens are allowed to vote on the laws themselves.
Cleisthenes took an unprecedented action by turning to the people for political support and won with it a program of great popular appeal. In 508 B.C., Cleisthenes instituted a new political organization whereby the citizens would take a more forceful and more direct role in running the city-state. He called this new political organization demokratia, or democracy – rule by the entire body of citizens. He created a Council of Five Hundred which planned the business of the public assemblies. All male citizens over the age of thirty could serve for a term of one year on the Council and no one could serve more than two terms in a lifetime. Such an organization was necessary, thought Cleisthenes, so that every citizen would learn from direct political experience. With such a personal interest in his democracy, Cleisthenes believed that there would be no citizens to conspire and attempt to abolish the system.
Cleisthenes also divided all Athenians into ten tribes (replacing the original four). The composition of each tribe guaranteed that no region would dominate any of them. Because the tribes had common religious activities and fought as regimental units, the new organization would also increase devotion to the polis and diminish regional division.
Each tribe would send fifty men to serve on the Council of Five Hundred (thus replacing Solon's Council of 400). Each set of fifty men would serve as a presiding committee for a period of thirty-five days. The Council convened the Assembly – an Assembly which, as of the year 450 B.C. – consisted of approximately 21,000 citizens. Of this number, perhaps 12-15000 were absent as they were serving in the army, navy or were simply away from Athens on business or otherwise. The Council scrutinized the qualifications of officials and the allocation of funds. They looked after the construction of docks and surveyed public buildings. They collected rent on public land and oversaw the redistribution of confiscated property. Members of the Council were also responsible for examining the horses of the cavalry, administering state pensions and receiving foreign delegations. In other words, the Council was responsible for the smooth running of the daily operations of the Athenian city-state.
Membership on the Council was for one year but it was possible to serve a second term. A minimum of 250 new members had to be chosen every year and it has been suggested that 35-45% of all Athenian citizens had experience on the Council. Serving on the Council of Five Hundred was a full time job and those who did serve were paid a fee.
Every year 500 Council members and 550 Guards were chosen by lot from the villages of the Athenian polis. These men were scrutinized by the Council before they were chosen so that alternates were always available. The rapid turnover in the Council ensured (1) that a large number of Athenians held some political position in their lifetime and that (2) the Assembly would contain a larger and more sophisticated membership. The Assembly contained all those citizens who were not serving on the Council of 500 or who were not serving as public officials. The Assembly had forty regular meetings per year – there were four meetings in each 35 day period into which the Council's year was divided. The first meeting discussed the corn supply, the qualifications of officials, questions of defense and ostracisms. The second meeting was open to any issue, while the third and fourth meetings were given over to debates on religion and foreign and secular affairs. Special meetings or emergency sessions could be called at any time.
Pericles on Athenian Democracy (excerpt from the funeral oration)
Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. . . . Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. . . .In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas; while I doubt if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian.