Ancient Greece and the Polis

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In ancient Greece the polis evolved greatly. This evolution included a break with theocratic politics and four stages that Greek city-states generally moved through. The evolution also included contributions made by Draco, Solon, Pisistratus, and Cleisthenes to Athenian Democracy.

The city-states first political association during early stages of civilization was based on tribal allegiances. The polis was a self-governing community that expressed the will of free citizens, not the desires of gods, hereditary kings, or priests. This differs from political activities dominated by religion and the ruler’s first responsibility to abide by the mandates of the gods or theocracy. The polis also started out as a religious institution but overtime the citizens began to emphasize human intelligence and not the magic powers of divine rulers. However, the Greeks did not abandon religion. They were careful to show respect for the gods because they believed that they could aid or harm the city. Paying homage to the god of the city remained a required act of patriotism. Greeks realized that community problems are caused by human beings, not gods, and require human solutions.

The four stages that Greek city-states generally move through are monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny, and democracy. The first stage is monarchy or rule by a king. The king derived his powers from the gods and commanded the army and judged civil cases. The second stage is oligarchy or rule by land owning aristocrats. During the eighth century, aristocrats seized power from the hereditary kings of Athens. The land owning nobles who dominated the government experienced a crisis when the newly rich and ambitious merchants wanted a share in governing Athens. Peasants who borrowed from the aristocracy by pledging their lands as security, lost their property and even became enslaved for not paying their debts. They argued that the law was unjust and Athens was moving toward a civil war. The third stage is tyranny...
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