Chantelle Laliberte

Following the rule of Athens by many tyrants, an Athenian aristocrat named Cleisthenes created and introduced a new form of government to the city-state of Athens. This new government ran on the principles of ‘majority rule’, and that every citizen has a say in how their government is run. This new government introduced to the Athenians in 500 в.с. is known as Democracy. However, the Athenian version of democracy was so filled with mistakes, omissions & errors that it was a sick political system, to the point that it was really non-democratic both in nature and in practice. The Athenians left out several classes of people, which defeated the purpose of every citizen having full participation in their government. While it was insisted that the government was run by many individuals, or all of society, it was really controlled by a few of the most popular people. Procedures put in place to promote equality and preserve the democratic manner of the society failed to work, as the founders of these ceremonies did not give forethought or allowance for human nature. Many peoples of Athens were left entirely out of the political goings-on. No women, Metics, or slaves could take part in politics. Metics were those citizens who were immigrants from other city-states, who abided by the same laws and paid taxes, and yet they could not vote. Women and wives were considered property, as before Solon cleared debts and changed debtor’s laws women were being given as payment for debts owed by men. As well, only men over 30 could be in the boulê, “the committee that prepared legislation for the monthly meeting of the assembly” (Truman 113). This means that “less than one-seventh of the total Athenian population was eligible to attend the assembly” (Truman 113). This is not right, as the very definition of democracy is that it is a

2 “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives… [based on] the principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community” (American Heritage Dictionaries). The omission of several main portions of the Athenian population defies the purpose of social equality. The government was not controlled by all of those eligible to participate in the assembly however, as this too became corrupt. Within the assembly, Demagogues—people who spoke well and could shape a crowd to their cause because of this ability—became like newer versions of the former aristocrats. These public speakers could win over the less-intelligent members of the assembly and essentially bend them to their will, for whatever they were campaigning for. Between all of these Demagogues making their speeches, state decisions became a matter of a popularity contest, based on which speaker the crowd loved more. Thucydides said that the Athenian government was a democracy because “it [was] in the hands not of the few, but of the many”, but in truth the government was in the hands of the whims of these popular demagogues (Zimmern 152). It is evident that there were not equal chances for citizens to run the government, if these manipulative Demagogues have everything under their control. And, ultimately, these Demagogues were only interested in their own self-worth, rather than the future of their city-state, so the assembly lost its’ original purpose as a tool for caring for state affairs and began to cater to the vain personalities of the speakers. Other systems set up in the name of democracy in Athens became misused tools as well. Cleisthenes set up the system called Ostracism in order to preserve the foundation of Democracy. Each year, each of the citizens of the assembly wrote a name of someone

3 they thought was in danger of becoming too powerful, and the person whose name came up the most often was then banished from the city-state for 10 years. This process supposedly eliminated the prospect of one person becoming powerful enough to establish a tyranny over the city-state again. For a time, ostracism worked, and men who became too powerful were ostracized, and it kept the democracy running. Gradually, the practice of the system became perverse. “Citizens would scratch on to their pottery shard—or have scratched for them—the name of the person they wanted ostracized”, so citizens who could not read and write had the name they wanted written for them (PBS). The people that could read and write easily scratched the name of the person they wanted exiled on to many of these shards, monopolizing the voting system and turning it to their advantage, ensuring that the person they wanted exiled was banished. The very nature of ostracism was also corrupt. Eventually the system of ostracism began to deny Athens of its smartest and greatest citizens, and it gave their enemies and advantage in conquering the Athenians. The assembly eventually ostracized Themistocles, the man who had won Athens one of their greatest military victories at the battle of Salamis. Then, after “His ostracism by the Athenians in 471 BC…Themistocles went to Argos, Corfu and eventually to Xerxes's son Artaxerxes I in Persia. Artaxerxes was so happy with Themistocles arrival…He then made the Greek general governor over a few small cities in Asia Minor” (Sandels). Thus, the Athenians lost their greatest people to the enemy forces because they were paranoid about their own city-state being ‘ruined’ by themselves. Instead, Athens became ruined from the outside, by exiled Athenians. Designed as a safeguard in protecting the Athenian democracy, ostracism merely contributed to perverting it. Cleisthenes did not

4 think ahead about where those who were ostracized would likely go. Without this forethought, the nature of the system is corrupt, before it is even put into practice. The assembly commonly had 40 sessions a year in which they voted on major laws and took care of pressing government business. The prytany’s chose a different member to preside over the assembly and all of the Government each different day, so that every man would have a chance at running the government and “…probably every male Athenian citizen had some public service to his credit” (Truman 113). But since the assembly only met 40 times a year, it “…was under a different president each day it met” (Truman 113). This meant that the “amateurs [who] ruled the politics of Athens” could change the government drastically every time the, according to that specific president’s mindset. The point of this presidential rotation was to give everyone an equal chance to dabble in ruling the government, following along with the democratic definition of equality again, but in nature it really was a stupid idea to leave the government up to such chance and risk. Athens and some allied city-states formed the Delian League, which was an order “intended as a free alliance under the leadership of Athens” (McKay-Hill 81). Gradually the Athenians turned the Delian League into an empire over which they ruled. The Delian League originally kept their treasury on the island of Delos, where the League took its’ name from. Delos was a politically neutral island, as it was religiously sacred to all members of the League. Eventually, characteristically of powerful governments, Athens became greedy and “because of the real or pretended danger of Persian attack, the treasury was transported from Delos to the Athenian Acropolis. The league had in effect become an Athenian empire” (Columbia Encyclopedia). The league was originally

5 composed of Athens and some Ionian city-states, and gradually the Athenians forced other states into joining, and contributing “funds, troops, and ships to the league” (Columbia Encyclopedia). Thucydides described the Peloponnesian war and its effects by stating, “For never had so many cities been captured and destroyed”, which is exactly what the Athenian-run Delian League did to all its allies (McKay-Hill 82-83). Powerhungry Athens “forced Naxos to retain allegiance. Soon [the city-state of] Thasos attempted [to dissolve its ties] and was likewise subdued” (Columbia Encyclopedia). Capturing and forcing the people of your country to abide by your laws without giving them any say in politics is not democratic at all. Ironically, The Delian League became a tyranny over all of Greece that was allied with it. The Athenian democracy was a perverse system of government. Many of their laws left out the majority of the people of Athens, specifically 3 contingents: Women, Metics, and Slaves. The government that promoted equality among all citizens gradually became aristocratic in that a small group of well-educated people influenced all proceedings. As with most great empires, The systems that the government of Athens established in order to keep themselves orderly and running persistently failed to do so out of human error and corruption. Greed eventually subjugated all thoughts of a proper democratic society within Athens, and led to the displeasure of the many city-states ‘watching’ Athens, which led to the downfall of the Athenian empire. The Athenians had a form of democracy implemented into their government, but it was a far shot from a perfect democratic society.