Greek Government in the City-States

This one fits just right!

Essential Questions

  • What were the four types of governments that were found in ancient Greece?
  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of ancient Greek governments?
  • What makes an effective leader?

Why did Greece develop city-states?

One major reason why ancient Greece was dominated by small city-states and independent towns, rather than by one all-powerful king, is its geography. The country's mountainous terrain, many isolated valleys, and numerous offshore islands encouraged the formation of many local centers of power, rather than one all-powerful capital.

Monarchy

From about 2000 to 800 BC most Greek city-states were ruled by a monarch, or king. In a monarchy, the ruling power is in the hands of one person, usually a king. Greek settlements did not have queens.


At first, Greek kings were chosen by the people of a city-state. When the king died, another leader was selected to take his place. Eventually, kings demanded that their power go to their children after their death, usually their oldest son. In a monarchy, then, rulers inherit their power from their fathers.

Greece Government, Part One: Monarchy

Oligarchy

Oligarchy means the rule of the few, and those few are generally the people who are richer and more powerful than the others, what you might call the aristocrats or the nobles. These are not always men: just as monarchies have both kings and queens, women sometimes appear in councils of aristocrats, and even when they are not members, they are often there telling their husbands or their sons what to do. So oligarchies are generally bad for the poor, but they are pretty good for women, at least for rich women from powerful families.


Usually the way it works is that there is a group of people who are in charge, somehow. Sometimes they may be elected, and sometimes they are born into their position, and at other times you might have to have a certain amount of money or land in order to be in the council. Then this group of people meets every so often - every week or every month - to decide important questions, and to appoint somebody to deal with things. Like they might decide that it should be illegal to steal, and then they would appoint one of the nobles to be a judge, and decide if people were guilty of stealing, and decide what to do with them if they were.

Greece Government, Part Two: Oligarchy

Tyranny

In Greece and West Asia, mainly in what is now Turkey, there was a period of time around 650-400 BC when many city-states were ruled by tyrants. Tyrannies usually grew out of oligarchies. In an oligarchy, each of the rich men is always trying to get more power than the others. But the other rich men keep them from doing it.


But if one of the rich men thinks of asking for help from the poor people, he can get ahead that way, and may make himself tyrant. So a tyrant is like a king, but a king who does not have the law or religion behind him, and only rules because the poor people support him. Tyrants are something like Mafia bosses like the Godfather.


In order to stay in power, the tyrant has to promise the poor people that he will do good things for them, so they will support him.


You can see that tyrants are usually really good for the poor people, and only bad for the other rich men.

Greece Government, Part Three: Tyranny

Democracy

Democracy means the rule of the people (in Greek). That is where each individual person has a vote about what to do. Whatever the most people vote for wins. There is no king or tyrant, and anybody can propose a new law.


One problem that immediately comes up in a democracy is who is going to be able to vote. Should people vote who are just visiting from some other city-state? How about little kids, should they vote? Or should there be some limits?


Another problem for democracies was that it was difficult for men to always go to the meeting-place to vote. Most men had work to do, planting their grain, making shoes, fighting wars or whatever. They couldn't be always voting. So most democracies sooner or later ended up choosing a few men who would do most of the voting, and the rest only came when there was a really important vote. It was hard to decide how to choose these few men, and different cultures did it different ways. Athens did it by a lottery. If you got the winning ticket then you were on the Council of 500. Men served for a year.

Greek Government, Part Four: Democracy