What did democracy really mean in Athens?

“Democracy is government
Of the people,
For the people,
By the people”

These wise words were said by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Democracy is a form of government in which people have the power to elect their government.


History of Democracy

The word democracy originates from the Greek language, demos kratia. “Demos” means the people and “Kratia” means power, basically, a government in which power resides in the hands of people. The Athenian democracy of Greece is the first known democracy in the world. But it was different from how it is today.

Elections: Modern-day vs Athens

Elections make a democracy. A fair method in which citizens of a country vote for their representative who shall make laws on their behalf. But that wasn’t the case in Athens. Elections were only conducted while electing for positions that required expertise. These were the aristocrats, ruled by the best. But democracy was ruled by many.

Lottery System

The Athenians who found the word “democracy” had an entirely different perspective about democracy.
Athens in the 5th century BC was a direct democracy that encouraged wide participation. Anyone who wishes could become part of the government. From this pool of candidates, random citizens were picked as the political officials without screening. This process of randomly selecting any citizen was known as Sortition.

Who could represent?

Only men who had full citizenship and were above 25 with experience in the military could represent. Women, slaves, children, and foreigners were denied full citizenship and were excluded from representing. Only 10-20% of the population could participate in the government.

How it came into existence?

This type of democracy was formed as there was political and social conflict among the noble leaders and elites. Soon it was expanded to ordinary citizens who didn’t treat it as a privilege but as their duty. But this so-called democracy was not effective and efficient at all. Democracy being ruled by “many” was ruled by 6000 representatives and each had the right to address the citizens and propose laws in Ecclesia, a general assembly meeting.

The Athenian democracy has been abolished but still, the inclusion of the public to decide policy initiatives continue to exist, like in a jury or citizen’s assembly. So you don’t need a lottery ticket to gain a position in the government!

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