After the Bronze Age, Mycenaean people populated Greece and had an advanced, elaborate, and complex culture ruled by kings from 3000 BC to 1000 BC. This age was referred to as the age of the famous Trojan War that erupted after the capture of Helen of Troy prompting fight by Achilles, Ulysses and other warriors that were God-like (Mitchell & Caspari, 2001). As a result of the war, Mycenaean culture collapsed inviting another war from the North by the primitive Dorian people.
Following the consequent wars, Greece went through a dark age lasting for three hundred years. This reduced all the cultural advances into nothing. Culture and commerce declined forcing survivors into small valleys in an effort to achieve self–sufficiency in the sheltered environment. Around 800BC, Greece language reemerged, and religion was revived with Zeus as the main God. During the era of Renaissance, a system of independent city-states and countries were established. At first, kings ruled these city-states, but as culture and prosperity became more advanced, a group of rich and influential individuals supplanted monarchies in most of the city-states except for Sparta. Athens was one of the city-states that welcomed free exchange of ideas and changes in the culture.
Democracy in Athens was born when its leaders started to listen to complaints by the poor, peasant class and other victims of abundant injustice. It was considered that the cornerstone to any philosophy of democracy was being able to appreciate that every citizen, regardless of class. By doing this, Athens became one of the early societies to promote goodness of individualism and equality. Each person’s religion and culture deserved to be respected. Individuals were considered free to shape their own destinies and lives implying that they had the right to contribute to the government. Kings and dictators who ruled at the time did not recognize such individual needs and ideas.
Around 600BC, Athens faced a political crisis when farmers supplying food to the city-states faced acute demands from the rapidly growing population in the large towns and cities. Farmers became bankrupt after trading their pieces of land for food. This problem was partially solved when Solon (640-559BC) took control over Athens. He was a former high official, and he was an archon. Solon was responsible for cancelation of all agricultural debts and the announcement of freedom to all slaves. Also, Solon passed constitutional reforms that were used to divide Athenian subjects according to their annual agricultural production as opposed to their birth. Any member from the three highest orders had an opportunity to hold a public office.
The Solon’s system did not include members of the society who did not own any productive land like children, women, artisans, merchants, slaves and resident aliens. Such constitutional reforms played a significant role in leading to political changes because less established families were able to work and improve their economical situation, thus being able to achieve political leadership. Solon remodeled Draco’s laws which were widely considered as being harsh and extreme. This enabled citizens to contribute to the making of laws and choosing their leaders. It is during Solon’s rule that the word democracy was used to illustrate a form of government. From Greek roots, democratic government is described as the government of the people by the people.
Athenian Political Changes
In Athens, effective democracy took a long time to be realized because the wealthy landowners demonstrated against it. Around 560BC, a former military leader and a member of the landed class took sides with the poor and the landless class that catapulted him into power as a tyrant. His was a dictator called Pisistratus (600BC- 527BC). Despite his dictatorial rule, he is applauded for drawing up new laws that promoted land redistribution. He seized Acropolis and confiscated land from the wealthy and dispossessed it to the peasants. During his reign, Pisistratus encouraged industry, trade and engaged in a lot of public work programs. By the middle of the sixth century, Athenian citizens had amassed more wealth enabling them to lead high standards of living (Rhodes, 2004). They were engaged in leisure activities and were more informed than their ancestors. As the wealth of the state was increasing, the number of citizens included in government operations also increased.
After Isagoras failure to restore pre-Solonian aristocratic state through purification of citizen lists, Cleisthenes popularized himself by seeking political support from the people. Cleisthenes instituted a new political organization advocating for a citizens’ direct and forceful running of the city-state. His political organization was called demoktratia, aGreek word for democracy meaning a rule conducted by the entire body of citizens (Balot, 2009). It was during his time that a Council of Five Hundred was created to help in planning businesses of the public assemblies. Every man aged thirty years and above was expected to serve in the council for not more than two terms in his lifetime. Cleisthenes’ idea of democracy was aimed at giving citizens an opportunity to learn from a direct political experience (Raaflaub &Wallace, 2007). The members of the Council of Five Hundred were derived from the ten newly subdivided tribes ensuring that no region dominated the other. The newly formed organization played a significant role in diminishing regional division and increased devotion to the polis. The council helped in smooth running of the city-states’ daily operations.
Around 460BC, Greece came under Pericles (490BC-429BC) who ensured that democracy reached its peak in Athens during his reign. In the law courts and the assembly, he used the power of the people to break the Council of Five Hundred. Athenian democracy was defined by equality of opportunity and equality of justice. Equality of opportunity meant that citizenship was chosen on the basis of efficiency and merit rather than on wealth. Equality of justice meant that justice was only secured through the services of a jury (Anderson, 2001). Cleisthenes opened doors of the public office to all the citizens and made appropriate adjustment ensuring that democracy was more efficient in Athens. On the other hand, Xenophon, the writer of the constitution of Athenians, had contradictory views regarding democracy advocated by Pericles. This writer detests the democracy of poorer classes by arguing that Periclean institutions are designed to serve deplorable purposes.
The Peloponnesian War represented a struggle between aristocratic and democratic societies because Pericles’ policy was opposed by extremist from the democratic left and the aristocratic right (Curtius & Ward, 2011). Greece was either led by the Sparta Empire which was authoritarian, militaristic and agricultural in nature or by the Athenian empire which was democratic, commercial and industrial. Conclusively, the war signified a struggle between the authoritarianism of Sparta and the Athenian democracy. The war ended when the democratic Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404 BC. This resulted in a revolution within Athens staged by aristocrats leading to the Rule of the Thirty which is described as a vicious reign of terror.