Cleisthenes: The Father Of Democracy In Ancient Greek

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27/04/17 History Reference this

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Cleisthenes of Athens, who came into power at 510 BC, was also known as father of Democracy who successfully implemented Democracy in the ancient Greek. During his life time, he had successfully managed to introduce democracy in Greek. Given most of the decisive power to citizen on deciding the important matter, creating council whose member were chosen by the citizens, as well as organize Assembly, which consisted of normal civilians to vote for major government issued. He has, in addition, destroyed the old territory loyalty and created national loyalty for replacement. His work was legendary, yet was not a smooth reform, as the Athenian Aristocrats were trying to block the reformation. If the Block was successful, then how would Athens, its citizens and most importantly, Democracy be? To answer all these questions, this report will first look at who Athenian Aristocrats were, follow up by what was the reform of Cleisthenes, what would happen if the block was successful, and finally, conclusion and recommendation will be provided.

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Athenian Aristocrats

During the 9th century BC, the Ancient Greek was ruled by monarchy system which was advice by the council which consisted of some of the wealthiest Athenians in Greek. Gradually, in 8th century BC, this group of Athenian took control over the whole system and wipe out the monarchy systems. They took out the king and carried out his duties of civilian, religious, and military control. This group of people was also known as the Athenian Aristocrats, and the new system was called Aristocracy, named after them. They created the councils of Archons, whose responsibility was to manage the Athens and made important decision, with the advice from Areopagus, the former Archons. However, the problem was that almost all the Archons were Aristocrats, the most powerful wealthiest group throughout the whole Athens. They held the military power, ruled the Athens freely, and the poor and normal civilian had nothing to say except following them.

Soon, in the 6th century B.C, the poor were very dissatisfied with the ruling power of the Aristocrats. There were some people, who were known as Tyrant, saw this opportunity and gather support by the poor against the Aristocrats. Gradually, they become very powerful with the support of the poor families, who outnumbered the Aristocrats. The Tyrant became so powerful that they even have the influence on the basis of military decision and the governance. This has made Aristocrats extremely hesitated. Then in the 5th century B.C, a Tyrant Called Cleisthenes, saw the opportunity, and started the reformation of the systems which was under the control of the Aristocrats and turn the power to the normal civilian, the first democracy to be implemented. The Aristocrats, at all means, was trying to block the reformation, since they were aware that if the reformation was to be succeeded, they would face the potential danger of losing all their ruling power. Once they were no longer able to rule Athens, and the loss of power would also put their property in grave danger. Therefore, in 506, the Aristocrats seek help from Sparta and invaded Greek, hoping to crush the democracy in Athens; yet, they faced failure and forced to retreat as the new democracy systems brought more uniformity between Athenians and made it a much stronger nation.

Reformation of Cleisthenes:

The reformation of Cleisthenes had been a major leap in the development of the democracy. After came into power in 510 B.C, Athens had been more unified than any period in the history. Cleisthenes underwent various type of reformations which lead to the truly transfer power toward the normal civilians.

First of all, Cleisthenes, instead of marking territory based on the influence of the wealthy Aristocrats in the Aristocracy, created new unit systems called Deme, Trittys, and Tribe. Tribe is the largest unit of territory; Cleisthenes divided the Attica into 10 main tribes combining the coastal region, city region, and inland region in order to increase the united between the three main regions. Tribe then divided into more than 30 smaller units called Trittys. Trittys then divided in Deme, which was quite similar to the village of present days. These Tribes then formed the military unit of Athens. Each Tribe, in addition, then elected 5 members in order to form the council, with the purpose of having a unified governing system. The main role of the council, in addition, was to prepare the legislation for the Assembly to decide.

Secondly, the next step of the reformation of Cleisthenes was to set up the assembly. The assembly was openly available for all men from all classes of the civilians. Once in a few months, the civilians would gather at Athens to decide the important matter. The first 6000 or 8000 men to arrive would vote on the matter related to governing, military purpose, and general right the citizen had. The assembly would also vote to approve the legislation prepared by the council.

Finally, and most probably the most distinctive feature of the Cleisthenes’ reformation was the introduced of Ostracism. Once in a year, assembly would gather in order to decide whether to send a man into Ostracism. The man who was received the vote for more than 6000 would have to be exiled from Athens for 10 years although he did not commit any crime. His property and his nationality of Athens would not be removed and he was free to return to Athens after 10 years. This procedure was created in order to eliminate someone who was too powerful in the society. It was also said that this was also done to avoid conflict between two most influential leaders by sending one into exile.

Above stating were some of the major reformation of Cleisthenes’ reformation toward the development of the democracy. Around this reformation, there are various arguments for the advantages and criticisms.


Generally speaking, the reformation of the Cleisthenes had brought along with noticeably significant advantages.

To begin with, the introduction of dividing the territory into Demes, Trittys, and Tribes had made the Greek more unified than ever. Instead of being very strong blood related and loyal to the each territory influential ruling family, the new system integrated all the people from various family bloods link and create a diversified territory unit. People started identify themselves as from a particular Tribe rather than from a specific family background. They were closer than ever, and work together as a unified unit, the citizen of Athens. This mindset, in return, had made Athens an even much stronger nation which cause took out Sparta, the invader and forced them to retreat.

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Lastly, the creation of the council and assembly has been said to be the major leap toward the democracy. For the first time in the history, normal civilians and poor families were allowed to have their voice in the government. They even had the power to decide on what the government shall be doing, what right they should be having, and who would be the governors and officer. Their fate rested in their hand. The democracy has shown its form, with the power given to the civilians.


Even though with form of democracy started to show up, the democracy at this time was far more from being completed. There were several criticisms rising on the completion of the reformation.

First of all, the right, particularly the right to be chosen as council members and the right to vote were typically given only to men, women’s status was still remain low and unimportant. There was a strong criticism in the inequality between men and women, in which women were treated badly in the society. The same situation happened to slaves, who were basically not given any right.

Secondly, the government are mostly selected by a group of immature or citizen who did not have the specific knowledge about the political field. Anyone who wished to become officer had some possibility of being selected. Therefore, there was a very weak governing power and lack of ability of the officer at all level since most of the officers were selected by chance.

Last but not least, the assembly was held only in Athens. Thus, there was an advantage for Athenians who wish to participate since they did not have to travel a long way to reach the assembly location. Therefore, this still gave the wealthy family, which live mostly in Athens, with more privilege to have control over the situation.

“What if” the reformation was blocked

From the above stating and description, it can be seen clearly that the reformation of Cleisthenes was a major breakthrough for advance of democracy and the lifestyle improvement of the civilians. If the reformation was to be blocked, it was very likely that the history would be written in a completely different way. If Cleisthenes failed, to begin with, then Athens would be still fall under the control of the Archons and mainly the wealthiest families of Aristocrats, with corruption everywhere, sooner or later it would be taken easily by the invader such as Sparta, since the Athenians was not unified, and only loyal to their bloods related ruling families. Athenians, moreover, would be maintaining their regular inequality lifestyle before the reformation, with more and more poor people became the slave of the wealthy family because of the high interest charged to the poor. They would, then, very likely to become more and more dissatisfied with how they were ruled, and civil war between the rich and the poor could be anticipated to exploit any time unless there was a new leader emerge with same goal as Cleisthenes. The democracy itself, was also anticipated to face an even greater challenge, it would take a longer period of time to evolve. However, due the existing the inequality between the rich and the poor, one day, a new Tyrant with the same goal as Cleisthenes would emerge and lead the reformation. Though it would take longer time, but the reformation toward democracy would take place, and evolve slowly toward the present day of democracy.


In conclusion, the reformation of Cleisthenes of Athens had been a very important step in the evolution of the democracy. He was a legendary who would be able to stand against the powerful Athenian Aristocrats to start the reformation and fully implement his plan to make Athens a unified state with the power given to the civilians to make important decisions. Despite the fact that there is a lot criticism about his democracy and his rule, when taking into consideration that it was taken place 6 century B.C and he would be able to come up with such a revolutionary idea, we can say that he was truly high potential leader, without whom the history of the ancient Athens would be written differently.

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