How Did Democracy Start?

Democracy was first introduced as a system of political reform in 507 B.C. by Cleisthenes, who was the leader of Athens in that period. He referred to the system as demokratia, which denoted rule by the people. Three distinct institutions, the ekklesia, the boule and the dikasteria, comprised the system.

Once the system was introduced, it abolished the political inequality between the members of the aristocracy, who had been in charge of the decision-making process, and the lower classes that comprised the ancient Greek army and navy. Despite the establishment of equality, it only encompassed a small part of the Athenian population at the time. About 40,000 males older than 18 were the only ones who were allowed to participate in the democratic process.

Among the three institutions comprising the system, the ekklesia was at the top of the hierarchy and served as the governing body of Athens. The ekklesia held meetings 40 times a year and used the vote of the majority to determine foreign policy, laws and decisions regarding the war. The boule, also known as the Council of Five Hundred, consisted of 500 members, 50 from each of the Athenian tribes, who were in charge of the day-to-day governance. The dikasteria served as the judicial arm of the system in which 500 jurors chosen from the male population over 30 handled matters of prosecution, defense, passing verdicts and sentencing.