Beginnings of Democracy

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Beginnings of Democracy

As time went by and sedentary conditions began to stabilize, the relations between the king, council and assembly changed as well. The council proved to be more resilient than the king and disputes on succession and opposition to a weak king did not help to improve the status of monarchy. It was imminent that the council whose members were supported by their dependents in the population would gain more power than the king. Although the position of king remained in most cities, its authority ultimately decreased, and the position itself became an elective post which was limited to a year.

New positions were also required as the states began to increase its territories. On the other hand, powerful families would rely on their dependents for support, without which they could gain no favor from the council. Thus, in the Greek classical period, final decisions were made by a majority vote on the public assembly. The assembly became the sovereign and we see the birth of democracy. The public assembly’s sovereignty, however, was not won through a class struggle.

Conflicts between powerful head of families were resolved through an appeal to their followers who attended the assembly. Perhaps because the leaders would prefer to keep the stability of the states, or perhaps it is preferable to settle disputes between citizens, most especially between powerful families, through diplomatic solutions, or more likely the fear of a threat of an appeal to a violent mob, that decisions were reached favoring whoever can amass a larger supporter. Hence, a family with more dependents would become politically dominant than one with lesser dependents.

The rise of tyrants did not further improve the status of the king and council as sovereign of the states. Contrary to its modernized meaning, tyrants were not necessarily bad, as oppressors or unpopular rulers. These were challengers to the current power. Generally, this is the term applied to rulers who had no hereditary or legal claim to rule. They have gained such positions through the benefits they brought to the city or by having risen as champions of popular movements. The rule of tyrants, however, would soon be perceived negatively.

Sealey explained that “the public life in the classical Greek city was highly competitive, and when one competitor far outdistanced his rivals, they felt that they no longer had a fair chance; they used the term ‘tyrant’ to express their disapproval of his excessive preeminence” (39). Peter John Rhodes held that the name and substance of politics was invented by the Greeks (3). He explained that the Greeks have “the first society in which states were governed not at the whim of an all-powerful ruler but by citizens who ‘took it in turn to rule and be ruled’…

, in accordance with agreed constitutional procedures where policy was decided not by intrigue in the court or bedchamber but by debate in the council and assembly” (Rhodes 3). Aside from citizens, there were non-citizens and slaves who were owned by a citizen or the state. These allowed the citizens to devote time in politics. The reintroduction of the use of alphabet would also contribute to the rise of the public assembly as the sovereign of Greek states. Greek states, independently of each other, adopted an alphabet that seems of a Semitic origin.

This alphabet would later prove to be characteristic of the Greeks as a nation. It made available the development of literature, of which was traditionally recited orally. The increase of literacy among the citizens would also allow them to demand that state laws be put in writing. Hence, we see a steady rise in power of the citizenry. Trade, Warfare, and Alliances As population began to increase, the acquisition of new territories was a natural solution. Though some began to colonize other regions, it proved to be insufficient to provide homeland and to feed the growing population.

Powerful states would look into invading a weaker neighboring state. These inter-state warfare brought upon improvement in warfare. Warfare before 800 BC were very different from the wars the Greeks waged against each other, and later, in defense from Persian invasion, during the classical period, or which the armies were organized in a formation known as the phalanx. As evidenced by the Homeric poems, Greek warfare in antiquity was carried out by relatively few leading warriors.

These warriors would typically have a shield, a spear and a sword but had very little defensive armor. The warriors were also not organized in phalanx as each fought largely on his own. As a result, the battles tended to be a series of duels from warriors on each side. On the other hand, as people perfected how to fashion iron, the Greeks were able to supply their army with armor. Moreover, the Greeks discovered that fighting in close formation was more efficient. The classical Greek army would comprise of units called hoplites, which were heavily armed with spears and swords.

The defensive armor comprised of a plate corslet, greaves, a closed helmet, and a large round shield, called hoplon and from which the unit’s name was derived. The phalanx was characterized by having the hoplites fight in close formation, in a series of rows, where the front row would be able to push the enemy off the field, with those behind able to thrust their spears and added their weight into pushing the enemy. Such was the effectivity of the phanlanx that once a city had adopted it, others had to do likewise in order to survive.

The city-states found it convenient to establish various kinds of diplomatic relationship with others. Sparta, as an example, found itself unable to expand its territories further. It directed its attention to forming alliances with other city-states, some of which have other alliances in which Sparta was not included. At the end of the sixth century, Sparta was able to form what we now know as the Peloponnesian league. On the other hand, Athens had founded the Delian league to liberate Greece from the Persians.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 8 January 2017

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