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Athens Builds a Limited Democracy
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4/28/2016 9:44:57 AM
Posted: 11 months ago
The idea of representative government also began to take root in some city-states,
particularly Athens. Like other city-states, Athens went through power struggles
between rich and poor. However, Athenians avoided major political upheavals by
making timely reforms. Athenian reformers moved toward democracy, rule by the
people. In Athens, citizens participated directly in political decision making.
Building Democracy The first step toward democracy came when a nobleman
named Draco took power. In 621 B.C., Draco developed a legal code based on the
idea that all Athenians, rich and poor, were equal under the law. Draco"s code dealt
very harshly with criminals, making death the punishment for practically every
crime. It also upheld such practices as debt slavery, in which debtors worked as
slaves to repay their debts.
More far-reaching democratic reforms were introduced by Solon (SO"luhn),
who came to power in 594 B.C. Stating that no citizen should own another citizen,
Solon outlawed debt slavery. He organized all Athenian citizens into four social
classes according to wealth. Only members of the top three classes could hold
political office. However, all citizens, regardless of class, could participate in the
Athenian assembly. Solon also introduced the legal concept that any citizen could
bring charges against wrongdoers.
Around 500 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes (KLYS"thuh"NEEZ) introduced
further reforms. He broke up the power of the nobility by organizing citizens into ten
groups based on where they lived rather than on their wealth. He also increased the
power of the assembly by allowing all citizens to submit laws for debate and passage.
Cleisthenes then created the Council of Five Hundred. This body proposed laws and
counseled the assembly. Council members were chosen by lot, or at random.
The reforms of Cleisthenes allowed Athenian citizens to participate in a limited
democracy. However, citizenship was restricted to a relatively small number of
Athenians. Only free adult male property owners born in Athens were considered
citizens. Women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded from citizenship and had
Athenian Education For the most part, only the sons of wealthy families received
formal education. Schooling began around the age of seven and largely prepared
boys to be good citizens. They studied reading, grammar, poetry, history, mathematics,
and music. Because citizens were expected to debate issues in the assembly,
boys also received training in logic and public speaking. And since the Greeks
believed that it was important to train and develop the body, part of each day was spent in athletic activities. When they got older, boys went to military school to
help them prepare for another important duty of citizenship"defending Athens.
Athenian girls did not attend school. Rather, they were educated at home by
their mothers and other female members of the household. They learned about
child-rearing, weaving cloth, preparing meals, managing the household, and other
skills that helped them become good wives and mothers. Some women were able
to take their education farther and learned to read and write. A few even became
accomplished writers. Even so, most women had very little to do with Athenian life
outside the boundaries of family and home.