Democracy originated in Athens during the 5th century BC, when Greece moved from a tyrannical system of government to one where the people had more say in the running of the state. The move to democratic rule was slow, however, with only select individuals able to vote in the early inception.
Democracy literally means power of the people in Greek. Oligarchy (rule by a few) and monarchy (rule by one) are also derived from Greek.
Although Athens is credited with giving birth to what is now known as modern democracy, many small and remote tribes have exhibited a similar system of rule. Anthropologists have also noted that a more inclusive, democractic approach was standard in such smaller societies yet took longer to take hold in larger, more developed civilizations.
Democracy in Athens was very different from more modern forms. There were two main factors that were considered essential to the success of ancient democracy: the size of the community must not be too large, because this would not allow all members of to participate in debates and meetings, and citizens should have enough free time to actively engage in politics. In Athens, this meant that slaves were used to perform the majority of work.