Oligarchies are often controlled by a few powerful families
whose children are raised and mentored to become inheritors of the power of the oligarchy,
often at some sort of expense to those governed.
In contrast to aristocracy ("government by the 'best'"),
this power may not always be exercised openly, the oligarchs preferring to remain "the power behind the throne",
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.
In ancient Greece, tyrants were influential opportunists that came to power by securing the support of different factions of a deme.
The word "tyrannos" then carried no ethical censure;
it simply referred to anyone, good or bad, who obtained executive power in a polis by unconventional means.
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.
It is true that they had no legal right to rule,
but the people preferred them over kings or the aristocracy.
The Greek tyrants stayed in power by using mercenary soldiers from outside of their respective city-state.
(perhaps like the system of Consuls in the Roman Senate).
Sparta also featured a people’s Assembly, the Appella or Demos, which met once a month.
Participation was limited to male citizens thirty years of age and older.
The Appella voiced, quite literally, the judgment of the people.
In today’s court systems, the Appeals Courts, at least in name, may be traced to this term.
Sparta seemed to have a combination of a Constitutional Monarchy and an Oligarchy
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.
Modern governmental structures and institutions may be the product of many influences over time.
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.