By: Noah Muirhead
Athens became a democracy around 500 B.C.E. But, only freemen were citizens. All men over 18 and born in Athens are Athenian citizens. Every citizen could take part in the city's government. A group called the Council of 500 met every day. Proposed laws had to be approved by a much larger group of men, the Assembly. The Assembly met on top of a hill every ten days. At least 6,000 citizens had to be at the meetings for it to start. If not enough citizens arrived, slaves would round up more citizens with ropes dipped in red paint. Men were embarrassed to show up at these meeting with red markings on their clothes.
The most important part of any community is its economy. An economy is the way a community or region organizes the exchange of money, food, products, and services. The Athenian economy is mostly based on trade. The land in Athens did not provide enough food for the city's people so trading was a way to get around that struggle. They acquired wood from Italy and grain from Egypt. In exchange for these resources Athens traded honey, olive oil, silver, and beautifully painted pottery. Athenians brought and obtained resources from a huge marketplace called the agora. There, merchants and other citizens and shop workers sold their goods from small stands.
The democracy of Athens depended on having good citizens. Athenians believed that producing good citizens was the main purpose of education. Boys and girls were educated differently in many different ways. Athenians believed that a good citizen was someone who had a sharp mind and healthy body. Athenians teached physical training as well as book reading. Until age 6 or 7, boys were taught at home by their mothers or male slaves. From age 6 to 14, boys went to school and learned there. Teachers at these schools taught reading, writing, arithmetic (math), and literature. In Athens, books were rare and very expensive, so subjects were read outload and boys had to memorize everything.
Women and Slaves in Athens
As we have already learned, only men were considered citizens in Athens. Women and slaves were not. As of this, they had far fewer rights than men did. Athenian women couldn't inherit or own much property. They could not vote or enter the Assembly. Most women couldn't even pick their own husbands. A few women (but not many) had jobs. Some sold goods in the market. A few important women were priestesses. But many Athenian women had their greatest influence in the home. They spent their days cleaning up the household and taking care of their children. Athenian wives had their own rooms and never left the house alone. She would spin, weave and supervise the slaves. She educated her sons until they were 6 or 7 and ready to go to school. She taught her daughters until they were 15 and ready to get married. There were many slaves in Athens. Most people who weren't poor owned at least one slave.