Historical and Philosophical studies on the Greek society provide that ancient Greece formed the foundation of law, government, and other sociological concepts. Ancient Greece transverse through different government systems in the quest for the best way of social administration. The Greeks questions the origins of sovereignty with philosophers having different views. Some argued that sovereignty lied within the constitution; others suggested the rule of laws, citizens, and officials. Since there was no single answer, ancient Greek exhibited a large form of governments across its different cities. Analysis of the old Greek governments provides resourceful insight on social constructions and administrations. As such, Greeks have contributed significantly to the development of modern civilization. There are several sources of knowledge on the history of political systems in Greece including, The Constitution of the Athenians by Aristotle, and the works of Herodotus.
Politics played an influential role in the organization of the Ancient Greek society. While most communities stuck to a single form of government, the Greeks enjoyed a variety of governments from tyranny, monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy. While many societies preferred to develop massive empires and dynasties the Greek city-states that formed polis favored autonomy and independence. Nonetheless, alliances among city-states were at times welcomed for collaboration to achieve common interests. In as much as Greek cities exhibited qualities that discouraged unions, they had common attributes that would also facilitate the development of empires. However, the reign of Alexander the Great encouraged the city-states to collaborate allowing them to form a single army to fight the Trojan War. A Comparison of the ancient Greek poleis reveals the reason behind the development of free societies and collaboration between city-states. Greek Governments and communities of the Greek City-States have played an influential role in the development of modern corporations and governments.
Comparison of the Government
The Greek government had four central systems including:
A monarchy is a system of government where leadership lies on a single individual, the head of the royal family a king or queen. Monarchy hails from the Greek word “mono” meaning one; thus monarchy is the rule of a single individual. Most Greek city-states from 2000 to 800 B.C.E. were under the monarchial rule since the Greek society upheld patriarchy leadership was for kings. Initially, the community would choose their kings, and after his death society selects another king. Afterward, the law was changed to facilitate hereditary kingship, and after the death of the king, power transferred to his eldest son.
Inherited kingship ideology is widespread and most monarchies of the modern centuries continue to operate under this rule. In the monarchial system, leadership was absolute. The king of ancient Greece had supreme authority, and he served as a lawmaker and implemented taxes. He was also the judge, jury, and executioner, commanders of the armed forces, and performed religious ceremonies. However, kings had a council of advisors to effect the law and assist in decision making. The advisors were elites and hailed from wealthy societies. After a while, the assembly of advisors desired more authority than the king. The council of advisors had numbers and greater influence as such they eventually overthrew the monarchial system to facilitate a rule of power among them. After 800 B.C most city-states had overturned the monarchial system.
Oligarchy is a system of government where leadership lies in a specific group of individuals. Here power is distributed equitably to a group of elites and wealthy men who would either serve as kings or as oligarchs. The system hails from a Greek term “Oligos” referring to few; oligarchy is leadership by the selected few. Oligarchy was substantially adopted in many city-states in Greece from 800 to 650 B.C. The oligarchs shared authority equitably among themselves. They exploited their power to allow hosting and take part in high society parties. Oligarchs spent the most day participating in affluent chariot races and sports hunting (Wallace, 200). Greek society greatly suffered during the oligarchy rule as the elites were selfish and corrupt.
Oligarchs used their authority to oppress the poor into working hard to make the rich richer; they exaggerated taxes and forced commoners to obey oppressive rule by misusing the army as law enforcers. Most Greek societies predominantly despised the Oligarchy rule as such they sort assistance from leaders who would protect their interests. Typically, the concerned leaders were army general who hated the unfair treatment of their people. Soldiers eventually overthrew the oligarchy rule at the end of 650 B.C only Sparta operated under the leadership of two kings who shared authority equitably.
Tyranny is a system of government where an individual seizes authority through unconstitutional means. Here the power of decision making lies on the shoulders of a single individual described as a dictator as his rule is absolute. Tyranny hails from the Greek term “tyrannos” that implies absolute authority. Most tyrants assume power through corruption and crude means. After the collapse of the Oligarchy system, the Greek suffered under tyranny rule from 650 to 500 B.C. The men who saved the city-states from Oligarchy rule plunged the city in more misery despite their entry to power as saviors of the society. During the process of overthrowing the oligarchs, the soldier took over power forceful, and the same would translate to their leadership of the community. Although both monarchy and tyranny was a single man form of the command, tyranny employed more violence compared to the monarchial system.
Furthermore, tyrants are not selected by the people as the kings through the hereditary system (Mark Cartwright). There were two types of tyrants; most of them were terrible and used their authority to oppress the masses. Such tyrants assumed absolute power, were cruel as they would punish those who did not submit under their leadership. On the other hand, some good tyrants used their authority to serve the people. They helped society by lowering taxes, implementing fundamental rights and protecting the people using the army. Unfortunately, good tyrants were outmatched with the evil tyrants as such the people in most city-states revolted against the tyranny rule.
Consequently, the city-state of Athens introduced democracy in 500 B.C as the new form of government. It is a rule by the people. Democracy has become the most popular and influential system of government not only for Greece but worldwide. Examples of tyrants in Greece included the famous Hippias who threatened and killed those who did not submit to his rule.
Democracy is a system of government where the leadership is in the hands of people. It stipulates the power of decision making to the citizens. It hails from a Greek term “demos” that refers to “people” thus leadership is in the hands of the public. By 500 B.C most of the city-states had overthrown tyranny and adopted the democratic rule of law. Democracy continued to 400 B.C., and years beyond the current century (Wallace, 200). It has become a widespread system of leadership globally in the modern era. People assume the authority of leadership by selection of government representation through voting. In a democratic system, the majority rules. Athens adopted direct democracy, as such people led themselves. Citizens developed a new law, voted on the legislation and they would serve as part of the jury who would deliberate on offenses. The system was slightly different from the modern day democracy.
The contemporary democratic system allows the selection of government representatives, and the representatives have the authority of decision making on behalf of the citizens on the laws of the states. Democracy was not welcomed by all Greeks, as others criticized the system for allowing bribery and corruption of others to favor a vote against selected laws. There was the challenge of influential people swaying others to their side for selfish reasons. Some people believed that leadership was best on the hand of the rich, and elite as the poor were illiterate and with no idea of how to rule themselves. Of the four Government systems, Democracy is the best method of leadership as it provides equitable opportunities for socio-economic and political participation of individuals in society.
Comparison of Societies of the Greek City States.
Greece had a vast number of city-states that enjoyed autonomous and independent rule. However, in times of need, the city-states would merge to achieve a common goal.
Ancient Greece City State alliances.
There was a limited account of alliances between Ancient Greece city-states before the coalition during the Trojan War. Before the war, the city-states preferred to maintain autonomy. Recorded unions included Hellen and sons in Phthiotis who served as allies for other cities due to their strength and physical abilities. One other instance is the alliance of the Greek army in Troy. Agamemnon, the ruler of Argos, played an essential role in the Troy expedition. Later several unions followed including the Hellenic and Peloponnesian League that comprised of Athens and several other Greek cities. The Hellenic league served as an alliance against the invasion of the Persians. Boeotia, Thebes, Macedonia, Thessalia among others joined the Persian side to fight the battle of Plataea. After the Persian battle, Sparta joined the Peloponnesian league from the Hellenic League. Athens gain superiority from its active role in the Persian war, as such it established a dominance that led to the formation of Delian league an empire that included an alliance of different city-states.
Athens was backed up by several cities offering her ship and money to participate in the barbarian danger as per the instructions from Athens. Later the Peloponnesian and the Delian league would fight against each other during the Peloponnesian war. The war led to the fall of Athens and the rise of Sparta in 404 B.C. Sparta expansion was stopped by Thebes at the battle of Leuctra. During the reign of King Philip in Macedonia an alliance was developed between Thebes, Athens, and Sparta with the aim of territorial expansion southwards. Unfortunately, the coalition was shuttered by the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C only Athens, and few city-states survived. Alexander the Great and Macedonian empire were among the few empires that managed to sustain alliances among Greek states mainly due to shared political ideology.
Implications of city alliances.
Alliances present both negative and positive consequence on the city-states. Positive effects include;
Most city-states in Greece preferred to maintain autonomy primary due to the difference in governance. States such as Athens adopted democracy, cities such as Sparta favored Oligarchy, while others supported tyrannical and monarchial rule respectively. Different city-states in Greece had a difference in social class stratification. Sparta adopted an Oligarchy form of leadership, and it exhibited special groups such as the Spartiates, Perioikoi and Helots who received different treatment from ordinary citizens. In Democratic cities such as Athens, citizens acquired equal rights. Education was another source of difference among city-states in Greece. Most great thinkers in history came from Athens, the city-state emphasized in training in philosophy, arts, history, and sociology (Rhodes). On the other hand, Spartans were the greatest fighters, and their education revolved around military training. Selected city-states regulated trading within their boundaries, while other states solely depended on trade as the primary source of economic growth.
Different city-states had different perceptions on gender and sex roles, although Greece was predominantly patriarchal each polis had its own rules on gender roles. Apart from the existing differences, the city-states preferred to remain autonomous as independence administrations to maintain their dominance as allying may mean losing power. Alliances present complicated situation especially within the distribution of power, and conflicts may arise on who takes which position of authority in the coalition (Rhodes). The citizens may also find it hard to choose between superior or inferior leaders. For instance, the alliances between the Agamemnon and Achilles resulted in a dispute for dominance. The personal interest of city-states also makes alliances tricky. During the Persian Wars, the Athenians and the Peloponnesians had a disagreement on the location of the battle. Athenians suggested Salamis due to its distance from Athens whereas the Peloponnesians insisted on Isthmus of Corinth.
Alliances would also be affected by corruption, and one member may decide to express dominance and imperialism over the other. It would mean the abuse of resources of a particular group by the other. Greek alliances in history were affected by colonialism during the reigns of Philip and Alexander the city-state allies were forced to contribute more money, and men compared to the rulers’ first city-states. The same occurred during the Delian League, Athens imposed its rule on allies forcing them to contribute more ships, and money. However, it favored Lesbos and Chios city-states. Each city-state desired its independence to preserve identity, history, and pride an alliance would put all these under jeopardy. Although Greeks were familiar with each other, some city-states such as Sparta had constitutions that did not allow interaction among members from different city-states (Hansen). Although Athens attempted to unite other city-states, it does not make constitutional provisions for men of other cities as it did not want to lose its identity. City-states were unwilling to share political power and resources during alliances.
The consequence of Independent City-states
Independent city-states resulted in several implications for the political organization of Greece.
Greek society was a diverse society composed of several subgroups operating under their social structures. The study of Greek Government systems and the communities of the Greek City States provide original information on modern government and societies on the different forms of government. Ideally, of all the methods of government democracy has been dramatically adopted by contemporary culture. The democratic system distributes power to the public and allows individual members of the society to actively participate in the socio-economic and political development of the community. The study of Greek city-states allows current governments to understand the need for government autonomy as well as the need for alliances to help foster better relations and to meet common interests. The modern society has adopted several elements of Greek Governments and the culture of the City-states.
Hansen, Mogens H. “Greek City-States.” Oxford Handbooks Online, 2013.
Mark Cartwright. “Ancient Greek Government.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 20 Mar. 2018, www.ancient.eu/Greek_Government/.
Rhodes, P. J. “The Greek City States.” 2007.
Wallace, Robert W. “Councils in Greek Oligarchies and Democracies.” A Companion to Ancient Greek Government, 2013, pp. 191-204.
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