What were the first forms of democracy

From Antiquity to the Middle Ages: The Birth of Democracy

Did the Greeks invent democracy?

Certainly not a democracy in the current sense - but a form of governance in which a nobleman was no longer born into a position of power, but a larger number of citizens were able to choose their rulers and also disempower them again.

However, in the Greek world of states, democracy was just another form of government alongside aristocracy (rule of a few nobles) and monarchy (rule of kings). Phases of democracy alternated with phases e.g. B. the royal rule.

By the way: The word "democracy" (literally popular rule) also comes from the Greek.

Who ruled in Athens before democracy emerged?

After the abolition of the monarchy, the ruling class was initially the aristocracy. The political actors came from many families who vied with one another to secure or increase their rank.

After the incorporation of the surrounding area and the port of Piraeus in the 9th century BC The city of Athens, located on the Aegean peninsula of Attica, rose to become one of the leading powers in Greece with its rich mineral resources.

At the head of the city-state, the polis, stood the archons. This office was originally awarded for life, later for ten years. In the 7th century BC Chr. One went over to the annual election. The respective year was named after the highest archon, the second archon led the army, the third was responsible for religious matters. Six others exercised supreme judicial authority. At the end of their term of office, the archons could move up to the Areopagus, which elected the new archons and was also the court.

Why did the crisis arise in Athens?

Triggers were in the 7th century BC. Changes in warfare: the aristocratic cavalry was replaced by heavily armed foot soldiers. Many small farmers could only meet their military obligations by borrowing from the aristocratic landowners.

Many lost their land or were sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the big landowners increased their wealth through exports. A wealthy class of artisans and merchants emerged in the city, who had no political rights due to a lack of real estate. They demanded participation.

How were the grievances remedied?

A first attempt to remedy the grievances was made by Drakon (around 624 BC) by putting common law into laws. Although these created legal certainty, they could not remedy the dissatisfaction with the existing order. The interest groups were irreconcilable, so that the Archon Solon 594 BC. Was given extensive powers to reform the Athenian state.

Was Solon the first Democrat?

No, rather he introduced "timocracy," the rule of the haves. He classified the citizens in four classes - from the big landowners and large merchants to the small farmers and wage laborers -, freed the farmers from serfdom and lifted their land debts.

Unlike in the aristocracy, political rights were now dependent on the changing size of wealth. Poor citizens also had a vote in the popular assembly set up by Solon. This decided on foreign policy issues such as wars or alliances and elected (from the first three classes) the Council of 400, which conducted government affairs and was the judicial body of appeal.

Who Introduced Democracy?

After the interlude of tyrant rule, the Athenians did not want to be ruled by aristocrats again and authorized the Archon Kleisthenes (around 570 – around 507 BC) to carry out constitutional reforms. These established democracy, the rule of the people.

Kleisthenes ensured that city, rural and coastal residents, i.e. all social groups, were represented in the people's assembly. The people's assembly elected the jury, the military leaders and the archons. The shard court was also new: once a year people asked which citizens could pose a threat to the state. Each of the 10,000 voters carved a name into a pottery shard. Anyone who was mentioned at least 6,000 times had to go into exile. So the politicians were forced to secure popular support.

Why did the Romans choose two consuls?

To prevent a relapse into the rule of an individual. The time of the Roman Republic (lat. Res publica ...) began 500 BC. By driving out the last king. From then on, each office was filled at least twice (principle of collegiality). A dictator could only be elected for six months in phases of extreme threat.

In addition, the election to almost all offices was only for one year. The election of government officials, headed by two consuls, was made by the Roman people's assembly. Only patricians, i.e. the male descendants of rich, old families, were elected to government offices (magistrates) and the council of elders (senate).

Why did the plebeians revolt?

Because the people were free, but without rights. The common people, called plebeians, were not allowed to enter into legal transactions or to defend themselves in court. They had to look for a "patron" among the heads of the patrician families to represent them in court and to whom they owed allegiance.

But since they did military service like the patricians, they threw their political weight on the scales, and from the 5th century BC onwards. In the popular assembly, votes were no longer made according to the old gender associations, but according to army formations (centuries). Another success was the introduction of the tribunes of the people, which were able to protect plebeians from attacks by the patricians and magistrates. In addition, with their veto (veto: "I forbid") they were able to prevent decisions by the Senate and official acts of the magistrates.

Were the people in Rome as powerful as in Athens?

No. In Rome, the participation of all in political power developed more slowly. On the other hand, democracy was more stable and lasted for centuries.

Little by little, plebeians were also allowed to hold higher offices up to the consulate. The final equality was brought about by the lex Hortensia (287 BC), a law that granted the decisions of the plebeian people's assembly the status of laws. But since all offices were honorary positions, they were reserved for the wealthy upper class, which now included wealthy plebeians as well as patricians on an equal footing.

How did urban life prepare democracy?

In the cities of the Middle Ages, the meeting of people from different regions and professions encouraged the development and exchange of ideas. When Europe experienced a heyday in the 11th century due to the increase in population and trade, the urban way of life also gained in importance north of the Alps. Cities emerged from the merging of a castle with a settlement, from market settlements as well as around monasteries and churches.

What was the increasing power of the bourgeoisie based on?

The rising urban bourgeoisie drew its self-confidence neither from offices nor from high birth, but from acquired wealth. In many cities, the citizens succeeded in enforcing a city law that limited the power of the city lords.

From the 12th century onwards, town charter favored the formation of guilds. These associations of people who practiced the same craft or trade had their own jurisdiction.

In many cities, a small group of merchant families made the political and economic decisions. They called themselves patricians after the nobles in Rome. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the guilds who wanted to participate in the city government revolted against their rule in numerous cities.

Did citizens also wage war against the nobility?

Yes, especially in northern Italy (Lombardy). Here the cities gained political independence early on. From time to time, however, a Roman-German ruler moved over the Alps and tried to enforce his sovereign rights in northern Italy. The cities fought for their independence at the side of the Pope against Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa. After two defeats, in the Peace of Constance (1183), the latter had to recognize the autonomy of the cities united in the Lombard League.

Were there "good" tyrants?

Not every tyrant was a ruler of terror. An example is the Athenian Peisistratos (around 600-527 BC).

When the new order around 560 BC Chr. Was endangered by power struggles between the most important families, he was able to bring the rural population behind him and gain sole power. Although he was a so-called tyrant, his power was not absolute, because he had to be favored by the people. Athens experienced an upswing under his rule and social conditions stabilized. Peisistratos granted the small farmers loans, had magnificent buildings built and promoted the arts - including the first tragedies.

What is a demagogue?

Literally a "people's leader". Most of the time, however, the term is used disparagingly and denotes a seducer and seducer.

The fragility of the young Athenian democracy was its undoing in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC): the whipped-up popular assembly was incapable of prudent politics and allowed itself to be carried away by demagogues into ever new military adventures. So was 410 BC In an already critical situation, a peace offer from the war opponent Sparta was rejected. The war finally ended with the total defeat of Athens.

What did the Roman Senate do?

Over time, the Senate became the central political institution of the Roman Republic. Although he could not convene himself and only had an advisory function, he enjoyed a high reputation. Without his consent, no official act of the magistrates and no resolution of the people's assembly was valid. Later, in the Roman Empire, the Senate lost its political influence.

Did all citizens of a city have the same amount to say?

Not at all! The increase in power of the cities even led to a reduction in the group of people who exerted political influence.

In 1297 Venice limited its Great Council to a few families. In Milan and Pisa the rule of an individual (signory) took the place of an autonomous community (commune). Important families with the power of princes like the Visconti in Milan (1278) and the Medici in Florence (since 1434) now dominated the politics of the city.