What Were Some of the Important Characteristics of Athenian Democracy?

The system of democratic government that began to develop in the first decade of the 5th century B.C. in the Ancient Greek city-state of Athens was a direct, rather than representative, democracy, and every adult male citizen could participate. An assembly of citizens and a council, or boule, met on an almost weekly basis and was responsible for deciding upon the civic and foreign policy affairs of the city-state. Not only were Athens' citizens encouraged to participate in the assembly meetings, those who did not participate were often ridiculed for their lack of involvement.

The democracy that developed in Ancient Athens is the first known system of democratic government in the world. In addition to the formation of a citizens' assembly, Athenian democracy put an end to debt slavery, gave citizens the right to appeal the verdicts of magistrates and enabled citizens to seek remedies to personal disputes in a manner somewhat similar to modern tort laws.

Property ownership was not a requirement to hold office in the Athenian government. Elections were held for offices that required a certain degree of professional expertise. Around 462 B.C., payment for participation in a civic service, such as jury duty, was implemented.

Because any citizen could speak before the gathered assembly and council members, the skill of rhetoric, or persuasive oratory, was a valued personal asset in Athenian politics. In the Athenian courts, neither lawyers nor judges were involved and litigants were also expected to speak for themselves.