Early Greek democracies outside Athens

Eric Wild Robinson, University of Pennsylvania


Democracy first took shape in Archaic Greece. Its form there is readily recognizable as essentially the same type of government exercised in many parts of the modern world: the differences result from the implementation of similar goals in disparate cultural and historic circumstances. Aristotle and earlier Greek authors agree about many of the basic features of demokratiai, including the fundamental principle that the people must be in charge of conducting public affairs (that the demos be kurios). In addition, the classical authors reveal there to have been various kinds of demokratia, and discuss the constitution as if it were a widespread phenomenon with no particular connection to Athens in terms of origin or radical development. Detailed analysis of literary, epigraphic, archaeological, and numismatic sources for the history of eighteen archaic states substantiates this view. For each of these places a reasonable case can be made for the existence of demokratia at one time or another before 480 B.C.--usually before 509 (and therefore the reforms of Cleisthenes at Athens). The states include Achaea, Acragas, Ambracia, Argos, Chalcis, Chios, Cos, Cnidus, Croton, Cyrene, Elis, Heraclea Pontica, Mantinea, Megara, Metapontum, Naxos, Samos and Syracuse. The results suggest that early Greek democracies arose in independent movements in particular states, usually through an extraordinary political crisis of some kind. The unusual depth of information afforded for classical Athenian history does not provide an adequate basis to deny democracy's true origin elsewhere in Greece.

Subject Area

Ancient civilizations|Ancient languages|European history

Recommended Citation

Robinson, Eric Wild, "Early Greek democracies outside Athens" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9427607.