Ancient Greek Aristocracy
History has seen the birth and perishes of many civilizations but only few have left their imprints till date. The Greek civilization is one of the immortal civilizations whose glimpses are still visible in some parts of the Europe and the Mediterranean belt.
It is hard to define the exact time line of the Greek civilization (Approx. 800 BC to 400 BC). Since its dawn it was influenced by the civilizations that preceded it like the Egyptian, Assyrian and Phoenician etc. Greek civilization could be categorized broadly into three parts: The archaic period (the artisan’s period that ended with the fall tyranny in Athens), the classical period (the period in which powers shifted to many groups), the Hellenistic period (which marked the expansion of Greek power) and the Christianization period (characterized by suppression of the aristocracy).
Features of Ancient Greek Aristocracy
- Ancient Greece was subdivided into what they called ‘Polis’ or the city-states. Every Polis had differences and also had their own set of rulers.
- The power rested in the hands of certain races that made their own decisions and dominated over the masses. The transfer of powers was heredity. Citizenship was not conferred to the poor, the women and the aliens. The citizens were so much linked with each other that they would elect magistrates among themselves and only involved each other in setting government laws, justice, military service, religious occasions, and discussion of state affairs.
- Sparta and Athens were the main city-states that gave Greece an identity as a whole. Both showed a behavioral diversity. Sparta followed a mixed governance of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. Though they conquered other city-states, the rights to citizenship were kept only with natives of Sparta. Athens on the other hand had a different belief of conferring citizenship to the ones who deserved and hence had no malice with the people of the city-states they conquered.
- Somewhere around 600 BC, Athens was under the autocracy of Solon, an ex-official who brought Athens out of the crisis of former reforms. Solon established reforms that divided Athens into four classes the after effects of which could not solve the agricultural crisis.
- In the mid of 500 BC, Solon was overpowered by the autocracy of Pisistratus. He promoted the peasants with land offerings, set up industries and trade and thereby made Athens wealthier. The turning point in Pisistratus’s autocratic rule was the improvement in overall standard of living and participation of average citizens in political matters.
- In 500 BC Athens was attacked by Sparta under the rule of Cleomenes. Isogorus, friend of Cleomenes took the control of Athens and intended to reestablish pre-Solonian aristocratic state. On contrary, their major rival Cleisthenes, promoted democracy among the people and received great amount of support from the masses. Cleisthenes further divided Athens into ten tribes and every tribe had the opportunity to represent the main governing council. The council gave great contribution in developing the operations and infrastructure of Athens which was never done before.
- Furthermore in 400 BC, Pericles introduced changes in the policies of the council and favored the peasant and foreigners to represent the council through their patrons. He set a jury system that provided equal opportunities to all individuals represent the government. It was decided that intellect and competence should be the major criteria and not just possessions to be a part of government council.
- The ultimate change in the political drama was the victory of aristocracy over democracy during the reign of Pericles. This change happened due to the comments made between the two historians, Thucydides and Herodotus, in 400 BC, favoring Aristocracy.
- Somewhere around 400 BC the war between Sparta and Athens not only ended the Athenian supremacy but also abolished democracy.