Forms of Government in Ancient Greek City States

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Forms of Government in Ancient Greek City States

  1. Monarchy

    1. Some city-states favored monarchy.

      1. The classic form of a monarchy is an absolute monarchy.

        1. the monarch has total authority over the government and his or her people.

        2. A cabinet of advisers may be assembled to assist the monarch,

          1. A strong king will not allow them to make major decisions

          2. A weak king will be dominated by his advisors

      2. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch shares power with another governing body.

        1. The monarch may make important government decisions and actively participate in the running of the nation, but he or she does not do so alone

  2. Oligarchy

    1. In these city-states, governance rested with an elite group of men,

      1. Oligarchy is a form of government where most political power effectively rests with a small segment of society

      2. (typically the most powerful, whether by wealth, military strength, ruthlessness, or political influence).

      3. that facilitated daily government.

    2. The term refers to rule by the “few” (oligoi).

      1. Their members considered themselves the “best men,”

        1. a term from which “aristocrat” is derived.

      2. Government functions were divided, in terms of individual responsibilities.

    3. Oligarchies are often controlled by a few powerful families

      1. whose children are raised and mentored to become inheritors of the power of the oligarchy,

      2. often at some sort of expense to those governed.

      3. In contrast to aristocracy ("government by the 'best'"),

        1. this power may not always be exercised openly, the oligarchs preferring to remain "the power behind the throne",

        2. exerting control through economic means. Unlike plutocracy oligarchy is not always a rule by wealth, as oligarchs can simply be a privileged cadre. It has also been suggested that most communist states fit the definition of oligarchy.

  3. Tyrranies

    1. In ancient Greece, tyrants were influential opportunists that came to power by securing the support of different factions of a deme.

      1. The word "tyrannos" then carried no ethical censure;

        1. it simply referred to anyone, good or bad, who obtained executive power in a polis by unconventional means.

      2. Support for the tyrants came from the growing middle class and from the peasants who had no land or were in debt to the wealthy land owners.

    2. It is true that they had no legal right to rule,

      1. but the people preferred them over kings or the aristocracy.

      2. The Greek tyrants stayed in power by using mercenary soldiers from outside of their respective city-state.

    3. The rise of tyrannies may have begun in Argos.

      1. The negative connotation associated with the tyrranos (tyrant) was not initially apparent.

        1. Pheidon of Argos transitioned from this position to that of tyrant in order to thwart attempts by the aristocrats in forming an oligarchy

        2. Athens, associated with democracy, attempted rule by tyranny in 632, the most notorious known as Draco.

  1. Democracy

    1. Democracy refers to the power (kratos) of the people (demos).

      1. In Athens, however, only 10% of the people were considered citizens

        1. and able to participate fully in the political structure.

        2. Participation was based on land ownership (property) which opened up the democratic form to charges of elitism.

      2. As a result of Solon’s reforms, the Ekklesia or Assembly was open to all adult male citizens.

    2. Athenian democracy, unlike today, was direct democracy.

  1. Complexity

    1. Although the general definitions appear simplistic, Greek government was exceedingly complex.

      1. because it varied and changed between the city-states,

    2. Athens, for example, went through various incarnations of government and only reached the height of direct democracy under Pericles.

    3. Sparta actually had two kings that acted as a check against each other

      1. (perhaps like the system of Consuls in the Roman Senate).

    4. Sparta also featured a people’s Assembly, the Appella or Demos, which met once a month.

      1. Participation was limited to male citizens thirty years of age and older.

      2. The Appella voiced, quite literally, the judgment of the people.

      3. In today’s court systems, the Appeals Courts, at least in name, may be traced to this term.

    5. Sparta seemed to have a combination of a Constitutional Monarchy and an Oligarchy

  2. The attempt to perfect government was best expressed by Aristotle, who compiled and analyzed many of the city-state constitutions in order to develop one most representative of political ideals dear to the citizens.

    1. Modern governmental structures and institutions may be the product of many influences over time.

      1. Yet the contributions of early Greek governmental systems stand out as the first expressions of participation in political systems by ordinary people, albeit male citizens. To this we owe a debt.

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