How democratic was old Athens

Ancient democracies:
Athens and Rome

The term democracy

The term democracy comes from the Greek Language and means "Rule of the (common) people". He's originally opposed to

monarchyHereditary rule of an individual, i.e. a king or emperor
aristocracyRule of nobles (offices hereditary)
oligarchyRule of a few
theocracy"Rule of God", actually: rule by religious leaders
dictatorshipRule of people who have seized power by force (often military dictatorship)

For the understanding of the democratic forms of government in classical antiquity (Athens and Rome), this demarcation is certainly still suitable as a starting point, even if it is hardly suitable for understanding today's modern democracies.

Approaches to Democracy in Ancient Athens

Different forms of society in ancient Greece

The ancient greece consisted of several City-stateswho ruled a, from today's perspective, modest surrounding area. They were not only separated from each other by mountain ranges, but also developed right different types of company. What they all had in common was that immigrants Indo-European Tribes had violently subjugated and enslaved the indigenous population.

In the city Sparta the women and toddlers of the conquerors lived in country houses, all the men, on the other hand, lived in the city, who actually only came from a military camp without any luxury (hence the term Spartan) duration. The other Greeks feared their military strength and scoffed at their lack of culture.

Different in Athens: The military leaders secured larger shares of the conquered country and became one Aristocratic class of Large landowners and wholesalers, all Seized power in the state (aristocracy). The majority of the immigrant people consisted of poor farmers, shepherds, fishermen, artisans and day laborersthat although personal freedom, but no political rights owned. The subject were practically without rights and completely dependent on their masters slaves. Lots Peasants and shepherds impoverished More and more, a few craftsmen came along by setting up large workshops Slaves and wage laborers or as a trader to wealth. The Judge were from the circle of the nobility corruptible and judged arbitrarily. The government was in the hands of nine nobles Archonswho moved to the "Council of Elders" after a year in office. Around 600 BC Tried the ArchonDracon the To ban arbitrariness in the state through written laws. But he continued that way severe ("draconian") punishments found that the need only increased and the bitterness increased. Riots broke out and a civil war loomed.

Democratic reforms in Athens under Solon

In this situation it was Solon to the Archon elected. He created a first Basic Law (Constitution), by doing Citizens' duties and rights were committed. There were four new classes of citizens: Large landowners, craftsmen and traders, farmers and day laborers. According to their ability, they served in the war on horseback (first two classes), as armored or lightly armed foot soldiers. The People's Assemblyin which all male citizen, no but Women and slavesRight to vote had decided Laws and chose the Officials. These received, however no paymentSo they had to live on their fortune. Only members of the richest class could become archons.

The discontent persisted - the Pass they believed lost too much Poor To have won too little. There tore Peisistratos with some adherents in power and ruled for many years as bully (dictator). At the expense of the state, he had a large fleet and beautiful buildings built, founded colonies and thus cared for economical boom and work. That is why he was allowed to go (very similar to Hitler in Germany 2500 years later). There were others too Tyrants in Greecethat above all enriched themselves.

The heyday of democracy in Athens under Kleisthenes

After the death of the Peisistratos arranged Kleisthenes 507 BC Chr. The Attic state new. The People's Assembly decided like in Solon's time War and peace, alliances, granting citizenship and chose officials. That too People's Court met again. The official business was carried out by a council of 500 citizens, 50 of whom each chaired the council for one day. Because again and again individual Nobles sought excessive influence led Athens a little later that Broken dish a: Every citizen could have names of persons who the Freedom of the people dangerous were on Pottery shards write. The People's Assembly could such people out of town for 10 years to ban. Only now did the nobility classify themselves. Pericles led Athens - confirmed in office by the people year after year - into one long peacetime (449-431 BC).

The End of democracy in Athens started with that Pericles the allies of Athens from the Persian Wars always more than Subjects instead of being treated as equal partners. His nephew Alcibiades was a skillful speaker and seduced the people into wars of conquest. Greek cities, with the help of Sparta, rose against the rule of Athens and ended it. This meant that democracy had failed for the time being.

Conclusion: Democracy in Athens can only be compared with a modern democracy to a very limited extent. Nevertheless, you have three essential points in common with this:

  • The Democracy in Athens originated as Reaction to excessive power and abuse of power by individuals
  • Most important task of the democracy are the Control of the government and the courts as well as the final Decision on issues of great importance
  • There is danger the democracy by Populists, i.e. through people who understand it, the people with (mostly short-sighted) To promise more to simple recipes than is realistic - while responsible politicians make themselves unpopular with the hard truth.

Approaches to Democracy in Ancient Rome

In the beginning there was the monarchy (rule of kings) in Rome

According to the Roman era, Rome was founded in 753 BC. Founded. The details are lost in the fog of legends and myths. From around 600 BC Etruscan kings ruled Rome. Your bodyguards, the so-called Lictors, entered on the shoulder Bundle of rods with a hatchet. This symbolized the king's judicial power over the life and death of the residents of Rome.

Interestingly, that turns up Bundle of Lictors as Symbol in the French Revolution and the Helvetic in Switzerland influenced by it in a changed meaning as revolutionary sign up again and has remained the symbol of the coat of arms of the canton of St. Gallen to this day, which emancipated itself from the rule of the monastery in the Helvetic Republic!

Aristocracy (aristocracy) with democratic elements in ancient Rome

The king was elected by the Roman nobility around 500 BC. BC overturned. In its place came two, each elected for a year Consuls and a houses of Parliament [legislative assembly] with 300 members, the senate. However, only aristocrats were eligible. The people was in Classes with graduated rights and duties assigned. The able-bodied men had to procure and maintain their weapons and armor themselves. In the Popular assemblies were the Patrician (noble knights) and the heavily armed rich bourgeoisie were interviewed first, the other classes only when the former could not agree. People without wealth, the so-called proletarian [Latin proles = descendants: had nothing but descendants], had to no military service afford, but also had hardly any rights. Every five years became two Censors elected who valued the fortunes of citizens and divided them into classes. The Censors also appointed the senators.

Democratic reforms in Rome: tribunes and plebiscites

Small farmers, artisans and traders got into trouble when they had to stop their work because of military service. Anyone who was unable to pay their debts and their families were considered to be slave sold and lost everyone right. Conversely there was Plebeians [non-aristocratic, "common people"], who in the course of time gained great fortune, but did not receive the same rights as them noblesPatrician. Because of these problems, a group of Plebeians Rome and threatened to found a new city. The Patrician confessed the Plebeians thereupon 471 BC Own officials who Tribunes to: the tribunes were only from the Plebeians elected and owned one Right of veto [Latin veto = I forbid, i.e. they could revoke decisions of the Senate and orders of the officials by objection]. Today politicians are sometimes referred to as Tribuneswho, in simple, pithy language, stammer against the government and against the so-called "classe politique" and pretend to represent the interests of the common people in particular.

Around 450 BC Were on pressure of the Plebeians the applicable Laws on 12 bronze plates written down and with it the The judges' arbitrariness restricted. From 367 B.C. Chr. Could Plebeians as consuls, from 300 BC Also be elected to all other offices. From 287 B.C. Were valid resolutions of the People's assembly of plebeians, so-called Plebiscites as binding laws for all citizens of Rome.

Buying votes, bread and games

In many wars against them Etruscans, Carthaginians and Greeks fought for himself Rome dominated the Mediterranean and controlled the trade. Taxes were collected in the subject areas. The wealthy classes in particular benefited from the new wealth, while small farmers and artisans became impoverished because of the frequent military service. These destitute proletarians lived in a confined space in apartment blocks and made their living by giving their vote at the popular assembly to those nobles who supported them panem et circenses [Bread (and clothes) and circus games] promised. Around a third of the population were each Proletarians and slaves, a quarter belonged to the Middle class and less than 10% determined the fate of the people.

Impoverishment of the masses and extension of civil rights:
the attempts at reform of the Gracchi

With the Impoverishment of the masses The military strength of Rome also declined - while at the same time new challenges arose north of the Alps, but also in North Africa and the Middle East. While the noble landowners wanted to hold on to the old order (and thus to the large estates), they looked for Gracchen new ways: the tribune of the people Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and his brother Gaius Sempronius Gracchus the big landowners wanted to expropriate part of the land and take over the land proletarian distribute to strengthen the military service middle class. In addition, everyone should Italians the Roman citizenship receive. However, their methods violated the current constitution, both Grachen were murdered. Against the Germanic invading from the north Cimbri and Teutons won the Consul Gaius Marius 102/101 BC Only thanks to a paid one Professional army of proletarians. The Italians [Generic term for different peoples who lived in Italy in Roman times] formed their own state and fought for it full Roman citizenship in a bloody battle in 90/89 BC Chr.

Rival battles among generals, military dictatorship and triumvirate

Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla fought over the supreme command in the campaign against the Persian king Mithradates. When Sulla was determined by lot according to the constitution, Marius had the office transferred to him by resolution of the popular assembly. Sulla occupied Rome with his troops, Marius had to flee to North Africa. While Sulla fought successfully against the Persians in the east, Marius occupied Rome with his army, had Sulla's followers murdered and ruled until his death in 86 BC. Chr. Sulla returned and built one in his turn Military dictatorship. The military leaders formed in the footsteps of Marius and Sulla Gnaeus Pompey and Gaius Julius Caesar with the financier Crassus around 60 BC A triumvirate [Secret society of three men] and gave each other high offices. That was the Democracy effectively died in Rome.

Assassination of Caesar, Emperor Augustus

The Assassination of Caesar by 23 followers of the old constitution (44 BC) the transition to the formal Empire no longer prevent, just delay. Octavianus Augustus, Grandson of Caesar's sister Julia, let himself be 27 BC. Chr. To Emperor To appoint [Commander in Chief] for life, gradually all actual power and demoted the Senate and the People's Assembly to extras. Augustus introduced huge professional armies and also established the religious veneration of the emperor, the Imperial cult.

Conclusion and outlook

The Democracy is probably the most demanding and most endangered form of government. The ancient democracies in Athens and Rome represent forerunners of today's democracies, which lack essential elements of modern democracies (universal suffrage, equal rights for all citizens). Athens and Rome were class societies with slaves without rights and rights graded according to wealth for the free citizens. With the military success and the rise to a great power, the influence of the generals, the administration and the big merchants increased. As a result, as well as by buying votes, democracy was undermined and finally replaced by military dictatorships.

In Europe the idea of democracy not really recorded for about one and a half thousand years. Also the Old Confederation In Switzerland - contrary to popular opinion - it cannot be called a real democracy, because of its 13 sub-states (now known as cantons) only a few valley communities in Central Switzerland knew the Landsgemeinde [annual or semi-annual people's assembly] elementary democratic forms, while the city republics exploited the population of their surrounding areas economically and barely granted them rights. Around half of today's 26 cantons and half-cantons were Subject areas.

The modern democracy was from the Enlightenment philosophers considered and fought for by the people step by step in long battles. Three essential points are modern democracy and its preliminary stage in the Antiquity together:

  1. democracy originated as reaction on oversized Abundance of power and abuse of power by individuals.
  2. Most important task of the democracy are the Government control, the Prevention of arbitrary court judgments and the broad-based final Decision on issues of great importance.
  3. There is danger the democracy by populism, i.e. through simple recipes that promise the people more than is realistic - while responsible politicians make themselves unpopular with the hard truth.