Ancient Greece Government: How They Formed the Basis of our Systems

ancient greece governmentTo say that we owe Greece and the Greek civilization a lot is an understatement. In fact, this whole blog would not exist without the Greeks and Ancient Greek civilization. Words such as telephone, map, drama, mathematics, grams, and many more, all find their roots in Ancient Greece. Our philosophies, and indeed the concept of philosophy, has its roots in Ancient Greece. The Greeks gave us politics, policy, science, mathematics and the concept of economy. The alphabet, literacy and most of our language can be traced back to Greek origins.

And of course, some of the concepts held most sacred by the West: the concepts of freedom, government and democracy all have their origins in ancient Greek philosophy and culture. The Introduction to Philosophy – from Ancient Greece to Today course will introduce you to the fundamental concepts of philosophy. It includes lectures and videos on all of the famous Greek philosophers, and after the course you will feel confident when speaking about the different philosophers and their schools of thought, from Plato to Nietzsche.

Part of Greek philosophy included the questions of who should rule and how. Greek philosophers pondered, argued and discussed a number of issues that make up the basis of our political landscape today. They debated the importance of concepts like sovereignty, the rule of law, the constitution, the role of officials and the role of citizens within their communities. And a lot of them did not agree on the answers to these questions. As a result, various forms of government could be found in the different geographical areas of Ancient Greece. The main forms of government found in Ancient Greece included:

  • Democracy

  • Oligarchy

  • Monarchy

  • Tyranny

Democracy in Ancient Greece

Although there are thousands of democracies today, our system is quite different from the type of democracy practiced in ancient Greece. Democracy in Greece could be described as the rule of the people by the people. Today’s version of democracy is voting for representatives who rule us, but the Greeks had far more hands on participation in their version of democracy. In Greece, citizens did not elect their favorite people to represent them but rather personally participated in the process. They sat on court cases, they attended and spoke at assemblies themselves, and they personally voted on important issues. Voting was done by a show of hands.

All Greek citizens had a right to participate in the system but their definition of citizen was a little different from ours. Slaves, women, children and aliens to the territory were not considered citizens.

Government officials were appointed using a lottery system and most government officials served the government for one year. Athens was the center of the development of the democracy as a form of government and the philosopher Cleisthenes, was primarily responsible for the development of the concept and system.

The Lectures on Greek History and Culture course outlines the main Greek historical ages, including the dark ages and the Hellenistic age, and it covers the author Homer and the Greek philosophers including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Oligarchy as a Form of Government in Ancient Greece

In an oligarchy, a number of wealthy influential citizens determined how the area would be ruled and citizens in that area had no say in government or law. Oligarchies could consist of a few individuals or thousands of individuals who took over the government and law of the area.

Oligarchies were common throughout Ancient Greece but Sparta was the champion of the oligarchy system of government in Greece. Oligarchies also existed in Corinth and Thebes and often occurred where the democratic system went wrong. In 411 BCE, when the democratic system of the day failed, an oligarchy consisting of 400 citizens took power away from the Assembly and they took over the rule of the area. Later an oligarchy known as “The Thirty Tyrants” took over the governing of Athens and this regime was famed for its brutal rule and summary executions.

Religions, rituals, politics and sport were all an integral part of ancient Greek life and they were all interlinked, affecting each other accordingly. The Ancient Greek Religion course offers students an introduction to ancient Greek religion. It teaches students about the principal gods and heroes that were worshiped by the Greeks, as well as the ways in which Greeks could communicate with the gods. The course includes how Greeks were able to gain the good favor of their gods, and what the Greeks thought about the afterlife and Hades.

Monarchy as a Form of Government in Ancient Greece

Monarchies were quite a rare form of government in Ancient Greece and it is sometimes hard to differentiate between governments that were classified as tyrannies versus governments that were classified as monarchies. A monarchy was essentially a system of government based on power gained through hereditary means. The most famous examples of monarchies in Greece include the monarchy of Macedonia, which was ruled by Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.

Tyranny as a Form of Government in Ancient Greece

Our interpretation of the word “tyranny” and “tyrant” is a little different from the words in Ancient Greece. When we think of tyranny and tyrant, we visualize a brutal, oppressive ruler who is often out of control. In Greece, a tyrant was a person who seized power through the use of force, but tyrant did not necessarily refer to a person who ruled through fear and oppression.

Tyrants in Greece were often of noble birth although they were not entitled to rule by birth. Power in a tyranny was not inherited like power in a monarchy. Tyrants were often benevolent rulers who were popular among the citizens. Tyrants maintained power and authority over the citizens through the use of soldiers and mercenaries.

The Influence of Ancient Greece Today

As you can see, the roots of our governments and most of the political systems today are found in the systems developed in Ancient Greece. But government is not the only way in which Ancient Greece has touched our lives. The bible, the New Testament and religion also find their roots in Ancient Greece. The Learn New Testament Greek course offers over nine hours of content that provides principles of how to access and understand New Testament Greek. This course prepares students for further studies in NT Greek studies.