The Athenian Democracy

The Athenian Democracy in the Golden Age (5th BC) achived the effective administration of its wealth and the handling of the internal and external affairs with a unique participation of the citizens. The main instruments in order to acomblish that were enacted as follows:

The Parliament of the 500 (Vouli ton Pentakosion).
This body was preparing all the aspects of the Ecclesia of Demos and watched the execution of them. Ancient Athens had ten tribes. Each tribe elected 50 representatives. Right of election had all Athenian citizens who had reached the age of 30. In the Parliament of the 500 could be elected every citizen as long as he was an Athenian citizen (both parents originate from Athens),
had Greek culture and was not not a “kinaidos” .

For every member was recorded in detail all his personal and family assets so if during the term his service he voted a law or participated in a decision which caused injury to the state and the common good,  an inventory of the damage was made and his property was seized until the full compensation.
If the damage was greater than his wealth, he had (after having confiscated his and and his relatives properties , even the  sandals (shoes) !!!) to work unpaid for the municipality until his debt was payed.
The above was in case of economic loss to the State of Athens, but What was the penalty if the decision he had taken or participate, had caused a moral damage in Athens? Then, in summary, the verdict was death.

Ecclesia of Demos

In this the principal assembly took part all Athenian citizens from the twentieth year and above. In order to achieve the maximun participation of most citizens, during the time of the meeting all stores was legally closed . President was a member of the House of the five hundred, which supplied the “pre-decree”.
The body was very serious because it exercised the control of the administration, elected rulers, imposed penalties (confiscation of property, ostracism, exile and even death ). The Ecclesia of Demos decides on all important matters such as declaring war, the size of the army,  accepting alliances, economic issues, infrastructure, rewards and values, etc. .

Also in the first session of each presidency, and only if there was a quorum (six thousand people were necessary), it was taking the decision on the naturalization of an individual or a foreign resident of Athens, if he had offered important services to the city of Athens.

Any citizen could call to discuss issues concerning the state and public affairs, but he had to be very careful about what and how to say it, in order not to mislead the masses and not to influence the decisions with slander and lies. Also, any citizen was able to present “a prosecution” a complaint for high treason.

From the assembly of Demos were excluded those who were “dishonest” (those that have lost their political rights).
The Parliament of the 500 had no right to refuse to give a pre-decree if not agreed with the assembly and gave the municipality the right to decide.

It should be noted that matters very seriously, as was the war, taxes or ostracism, the prosecutor, naturalization, or the use treasures from the temples to serve public needs, required the presence of as many citizens as possible so that decisions truly represent the opinion of many.

It should be noted that in very seriously matters, as war, taxes or ostracism, the prosecution, naturalization, or the use of treasures from the temples in order to serve public needs, required the presence of as many citizens as possible, to ensure that decisions was truly represent the opinion of almost everyone.

The Rulers (Arhontes)

Most functions in ancient Athens, such as judges, curators, generals, managers of various sectors of the municipality, auditors etc. were exercised by many and they were all conscripts. Those who were drawn randomly for the various offices, had to pass a test before they take control and after their resignation. Nobody should be getting rich from the common and nobody could perform again in the same office.

The court of Heliaia

It was the supreme court and consisted of 6,000 members, elected by the citizen body again by lot at the beginning of each year. In this people’s court anybody could complain for any irregularity, even the decisions of rulers, if they considered unfair and detrimental to the city,  the issue then was always examined by a large number of independent auditors and the body took the decision of punishment or not guilty.

The Areopagus or Areios Pagos

It was was a board of life members, who had been lords. A kind of Senate because they had experience. Previously it had significant political power but by the time of Pericles was restricted to judicial functions.

The above article is the English translation from the article  “Lessons of Democracy” of  my friend Anny Lignou editor of

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