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Democracy

The democracy specifies a system where representatives elected by the people, or more specifically, adult male citizens of a polis. Modernity tends to favour such a system because of our own usage. It should, however, be made clear that it was by no means regarded as an ethically superior system to other available government forms. In fact, most historiographers from Thukydides to Ammianus Marcellinus regarded it as dangerous, with many opportunities for demagogues to control a state for their own good, and force politicians to sacrifice the national interest in favour of the support of that most dangerous and violent creature --- the mob.

However, it is effective in preventing one person holding too much power, and acts as a safeguard against incompetence and corruption among its officials. On the contrary, it has been argued that an established ruling dynasty would be more familiar in gubernatorial rule with those being ruled and that officials and generals who change positions often reduces their ability to preserve long-term policy, a fault too often highlighted in contemporary politics. A democracy relies on the wisdom of its people, which is seldom guaranteed. Thukydides’ history reveals how internal discord caused by politicians such as Kleon and Alkibiades can weaken a great state. In addition, everybody can have somebody else to blame for rash policies, and this often gives campaigning generals great pressure to at least win token victories and not withdraw, as demonstrated by the Sicilian campaign. The Athenian General Phrynikus argued that democracy at least keeps the wealthy in check, but it could be argued that those in a position of wealth would be better suited to positions of power for their ability to reach such positions or to influence alien states with bribery from their own coffers or family prestige than paupers of no resource or background. It should be noted however, that democracy promotes talent among politicians and gave rise to great statesmen such as Perikles and Themistokles.

Generally, 3 men, Solon, Kleisthenes and Ephialtes, are considered responsible for setting the foundation of the Athenian constitution and system of jurisprudence. The voting public, as expected, excludes women, metics, slaves, freedmen, citizens who have not completed military training and citizens whose rights are suspended due to crimes or debts. While the archon’s power gradually increased and the popular assemblies, i.e. the council of 500 and the Ecclesia, gradually lost power, Athens maintained a delicate balance between government by the elite, and government by the voting public. This finally culminated in the oligarchic coup of 410, when Alkibiades and Pisander installed an oligarchy.

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