Ancient Greece and the Polis Essay

In ancient Greece the polis evolved greatly. This evolution included a break with theocratic politics and four stages that Greek city-states generally moved through. The evolution also included contributions made by Draco, Solon, Pisistratus, and Cleisthenes to Athenian Democracy. The city-states first political association during early stages of civilization was based on tribal allegiances. The polis was a self-governing community that expressed the will of free citizens, not the desires of gods, hereditary kings, or priests.

This differs from political activities dominated by religion and the ruler’s first responsibility to abide by the mandates of the gods or theocracy. The polis also started out as a religious institution but overtime the citizens began to emphasize human intelligence and not the magic powers of divine rulers. However, the Greeks did not abandon religion. They were careful to show respect for the gods because they believed that they could aid or harm the city. Paying homage to the god of the city remained a required act of patriotism.

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Greeks realized that community problems are caused by human beings, not gods, and require human solutions. The four stages that Greek city-states generally move through are monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny, and democracy. The first stage is monarchy or rule by a king. The king derived his powers from the gods and commanded the army and judged civil cases. The second stage is oligarchy or rule by land owning aristocrats. During the eighth century, aristocrats seized power from the hereditary kings of Athens.

The land owning nobles who dominated the government experienced a crisis when the newly rich and ambitious merchants wanted a share in governing Athens. Peasants who borrowed from the aristocracy by pledging their lands as security, lost their property and even became enslaved for not paying their debts. They argued that the law was unjust and Athens was moving toward a civil war. The third stage is tyranny or one man who seizes power. In 546 B. C. Pisistratus, an aristocrat, became the tyrant of Athens.

He exiled all those who opposed him. He was in favor of the poor against the aristocracy. The fourth stage was democracy or rule by the people. Pisistratus’ death led to a fraction headed by an aristocrat sympathetic to democracy named Cleisthenes. Once a year he had the citizens to name anyone who they felt endangered the state. If one person received 6000 votes the were forced to leave Athens. Draco, Solon, Pisistratus, and Cleisthenes contributed to Athenian democracy in many ways. Firstly, Draco developed a code of law.

This law reduced the possibilities of aristocratic judges behaving arbitrarily. Solon emphasized the cities problems as specific behavior of individual and not god’s role in the human affairs. He instilled a sense of working for the common good of the city in all classes. Wanted to improve the lot of the poor. He permitted all classes to sit in assembly which elected magistrates and accepted or rejected legislation proposed by a new council of four hundred. He also instituted economic reforms.

Pisistratus increased the water supply and granted loans to small farmers. He launched a policy that eventually led Athens to emerge as the cultural capital of the Greeks. Cleisthenes utilized the system of ostracism. Athenian democracy compares to our democracy today because we both got to vote on who we want in office. In conclusion, the Greek polis greatly evolved over the years in government, beliefs, and culture. Thanks to influential people such as Draco, Solon, Pisistratus, and Cleisthenes.

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