In the Archaic
period Greece was made up of many individual states called a Polis. The
Polis was made up of the city and it's surrounding country side. The largest
Polis was Athens, 1,000 square miles of territory, but most Polisís
were much smaller, about 100 square miles. A few thousand people would
live in a common Polis. In the classical period there were 250,000 people
living in Athens and it's countryside! It even had it's own port on the
coast about 4 miles away. In Mycenian time there was a small city on top
of the Acropolis surrounded by stone walls for protection. In the Dark
Ages the Acropolis was only used as temples and shrines. In 480 BC the
Persians destroyed the Acropolis and it's temples. Pericles the politician
was in charge of the huge rebuilding program. These rebuilt temples still
In Greek society there were 2 types of people: free men and slaves. Slaves belonged to free men and were workers. They had no legal rights- they worked as laborers and servants. Some slaves were prisoners of war.
Athens was a large city on the peninsula of Attica. It was a large, thriving city. Athens was located on top of a rocky hill called the Acropolis, which meant high city in Greek. People settled there because there was a spring of water and it was easy to defend. Thus, Athens was a good place to settle.
In Athens there were 2 types of free men: citizens, who were the most powerful and privileged. They were the only ones who could serve in the government, had to fight in the army, and were supposed to volunteer for Jury service. All citizens were born to Athenian parents. A Metic was a foreigner who had come to live in Athens. The had to pay tax and must serve the army. They couldn't own houses or land either. Once you were born into a social group you could very rarely move to another one. This was enforced by an Athens law.
Sometimes owners put slaves into business. In return the owners got some of the profit. If the slaves could raise enough money they could buy themselves free. They still couldn't become a Metic or Citizen. Woman could not have a rank of their own. They got It from their husbands or male relations. They were not permitted to take part in government life.
Curing the Archaic period Greek states were governed by Aristocrats which were groups of rich land owners. This system of government is known as an Oligarchy, which means ruled by the few. Merchants, Craftsmen, and bankers were styles of strong businesses. Their business began to grow and they wanted a say in government, but they still couldn't take part. Because of the Aristocrats power, many rich citizens were angry and often broke out in riots. This is when a tyrant form of leadership began. The tyrant, which meant ruler, was allowed to rule the group of people. Most Tyrants only stayed in power for a short time.
During the Archaic period, c.750-620 BC, Athens was ruled by a council or Areopagus. Their policies were carried out by 3 magistrates called Archons. They were all Aristocrats. During the next 100 years many changes took place and Athens laws became very severe until an Aristocrat named Solon was made Archon. He made new laws which were very popular. For example, he prevented merchants to send grain to other cities so there was more food for the poor in Athens. He also made it so Middle Class people could have administrative positions. Even poor people had some say through the cities affairs through an assembly. There were several tyrants who came and left and after 2 years of civil war an Aristocrat named Cleisthenes introduced Democracy.
Democracy comes from the Greek words demos which means people and kratos which means rule. In this system all the citizens had a say in their city-state. Today democracy means everybody has a vote, but in ancient Greece only citizens could vote. Woman, foreign residents, and slaves were excluded from voting.
Cleisthenes split the people of Attica into different groups. Attica is the name of Athens and the area around it. Attica was divided into many small communities called Demes. Demes were grouped into 30 larger groups called trittyes. 10 trittyes made up the city of Athens, 10 made up the countryside, and 10 made up the coastal areas. Trittyes were grouped into 10 phylai (tribes). Each phyle was made up of 3 tritties. 1 was from the city, one was from the countryside, and one was from the countryside, and 1 was from the coastal areas. This ancient Democracy is a lot like ours today. We have our country, which is divided into separate states, each with a leader or governor, the states are divided into counties, and counties are divided into towns and cities, each with itís own mayor. Sometimes towns are even divided into villages!
Each citizen had the right to attend to an Assembly. The Assembly met at a hill called the Pnyx, once every 10 days. At least 6,000 people had to be there for a meeting to take place. The assembly made decisions on issues that were given to it by the council. The assembly could approve, change, or reject the council's ideas. This is similar to our Congress who listen to suggestions made by our legislators. Then the Congress makes the end condition. The ancient Greek councils were similar to our legislators. Just like our legislators, the council would come up with new laws and policies which were then given to the assembly to vote on. (Congress and Legislators are from today). The council was made up of 500 citizens. There were 50 from the 10 Athenian tribes. Each group took turns leading the council and running the day to day duties of the state.