Ancient Athenian Assembly

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Ancient Athenian Assembly

Let's go visit an ancient Athenian Assembly!

The central events of the Athenian democracy were the meetings of the assembly.The assembly's members were not elected, but attended by right when they chose. Greek democracy created at Athens was direct, rather than representative: any adult male citizen over the age of 20 could take part, and it was a duty to do so. The officials of the democracy were in part elected by the Assembly and in large part chosen by lottery. The assembly had four main functions: it made executive pronouncements (decrees, such as deciding to go to war or granting citizenship to a foreigner); it elected some officials; it legislated; and it tried political crimes. As the system evolved, the last function was shifted to the law courts. The standard format was that of speakers making speeches for and against a position followed by a general vote (usually by show of hands) of yes or no.Voting was by simple majority.

A form of direct democracy in ancient Greece was practiced in ancient city-state of Athens for about 100 years. It was an experiment. The people really liked it. How it worked is that all adult citizens had to take an active part in government (rule by many) if called on to do so. At this time, citizens were free men. Women, children, and slaves were not citizens, and thus could not participate or vote.

ἐκκλησία, Ekklêsia"The Assembly"

Background on Athenian Democracy

How Did Athenian Citizens participate in an Assembly

The Limitations of Athenian Democracy

It is true that we (Athenians) are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not the few, with equal justice to all alike in their private disputes."--- Pericles

This form of government came to an end in ancient Athens after Athens lost a war with Sparta. This was the Peloponnesian War. For a while, Athens was ruled by a small group of Spartans.

As usual in ancient democracies, one had to physically attend a gathering in order to vote. Voting was usually by show of hands with officials judging the outcome by sight. This could cause problems when it became too dark to see properly. However, "any member of the Assembly could demand a recount". For a small category of votes a quorum of 6000 was required, principally grants of citizenship, and here small coloured stones were used, white for yes and black for no. At the end of the session, each voter tossed one of these into a large clay jar which was afterwards cracked open for the counting of the ballots.


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