Athenian Democracy

By: Jermaine Sumner

Describe the structure of the government developed by this civilization.

  • There were three main pillars of democracy: The Assembly of the Demos, The council of 500, and the people's court
  • In 507 BC, the citizens of Athens began to develop a system of popular rule that would last 2 centuries
  • The Assembly met 40 times a year (all decisions were taken by vote)
  • The agenda of the Assembly was set by the Council of 500
  • The council of 500 was composed of representatives from each of the 139 small entities, known as demes
  • The ordinary citizens of Athens were expected to participate in the political life of the city
  • The people's court had unlimited power to control the assembly, the council, the magistrates, and political leaders

How did this system of government impact the development of the U.S. government?

  • Athenian democracy foreshadowed some later democratic practices
  • The council's use of representatives foreshadowed the election of representatives in later democratic systems
  • U.S. congress takes the role of the assembly and the council of 500
  • The basic idea of a fair & speedy trail by jury (in the 6th amendment in the Bill of Rights)
  • Athenian democracy set the basic aspects of democracy for future governments


Christopher W. Blackwell, “Athenian Democracy: a brief overview,” in Adriaan Lanni, ed., “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context” (Center for Hellenic Studies On-line Discussion Series). Republished in C.W. Blackwell, ed., Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy (A. Mahoney and R. Scaife, edd., The Stoa: a consortium for electronic publication in the humanities []) edition of February 28, 2003.