Athenian Political System

-First purely direct democracy

-The word democracy comes from demos (people) and kratos (rule)

-All citizens participated in government and only men could be citizens

-About 85% of people living in Athens were not citizens, including women, slaves, and foreigners

-Both parents had to be from Athens for someone to be a citizen

-Athenian democracy lasted  500 B.C. to 322 B.C. when Macedonia conquered Greece

-In 683, the king of Athens is replaced with three administrators called archons

-The archons were elected each year by citizens

-One archon called the eponymos was in charge of politics

-Another archon called the basileus was in charge of religious matter

-The last archon, the polemarchos, was in charge of the military

-Six archons known as the thesmothetai were later added to oversee the courts

-An additional archon was added to serve as secretary to the thesmothetai

-After one year of service, archons were moved to a permanent council called the Areopagus, which kept increasing until it contained 300 members

-The Areopagus had both legislative and judicial functions and served as the aristocracy’s stronghold

-In the beginning of the sixth century, Solon,  divided the citizens into four class based on income

-The first two classes could hold major offices; the third class could hold minor offices, and the fourth class could only attend the assembly and vote in elections

-Solon also created a council of 400, the boule, made up of aristocrats that controlled finances, evaluated officials, and advised the generals

-Solon gave the popular assembly more legislative power as well

-In the late sixth century, Cleisthenes, another politician, reorganized the citizens into 139 units. The units were combined into 30 groups called trittyes. The trittyes were combined into 10 divisions called phylai

-Cleisthenes also increased the size of the boule from 400 to 500 with 50 members being from each division

-Cleisthenes’ and Solon’s changes allowed common men to participate more in politics

-in 501, the polemarchus was replaced by a group of ten generals, with one general elected annually

-In 487, Archons were now selected by lot instead of an election, which decreased the wealthy’s political dominance, and the influence of the archons began to decline

-In 462, power was transferred from the Areopagus to the council and the courts

-Pericles, a general, introduced payments to citizens serving on juries and in the council, which allowed poorer citizens to hold these positions.

-In the fourth century, a panel of 6,000 citizens chosen annually by lot was created to oversee legislative matters. They also served as jurors in trials.

-Juries varied in size from 201 jurors to 501 jurors


Sorrell, Sonia. 2011. “Politics in Athens”. In World History Encyclopedia, Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

“Boule”. 2014. In Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Areopagus”. 2015. In The Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University and Paul Lagasse. New York: Columbia University Press.

McGeough, Kevin M. 2011. “Greek Democracy”. In World History Encyclopedia, Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.