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by Archaeology Newsroom

The political evolution of ancient Athens

Athens was unique among all other city-states of ancient Greece in its search for achievement of the perfect social and democratic system of administration. The rural character of production in Attica led the classes that were in possession of the means of production into a perpetual struggle with the slaves . Therefore, for the sake of peace among the classes, the establishment of a central state organization became necessary. Kingship was succeeded in government by an oligarchy formed of aristocrats while legislative and judicial bodies were formed to reinforce stability. The increasing powers held by citizens in politics contributed to the progressive decrease of the power of aristocracy in government. In timocratic government, a version of oligarchy, political privileges were assigned to citizens who wished to exercise public power on the basis of their income. The introduction of certain radical measures by Solon, like the annulment of debts, the consolidation of land, the ban on mortgages and the development of commerce changed the relation of citizens to private property and increased general welfare. However, the social division brought about by Solon based on economic criteria resulted in the creation of rival factions distinguished by their places of settlement. Finally, Peisistratus, the leader of the “mountainous” faction installed tyranny, a form of administration that endorsed one man with absolute power, including, nevertheless, certain democratic elements. However, Cleisthenes contributed greatly to the establishment of democracy by introducing the institution of local self-administration, which stands until today as one of the foundations of democracy. Thus, the fifty deputies elected from each of the ten municipalities of Attica and constituting the body of the “Boule” as well as the democracy-defending mechanism of ostracism extinguished the power of aristocracy and guaranteed the smooth functioning of Democracy.