After 800 BCE, Greek government revolved around the city state unit. This entailed a distinctive regional government ruling over a city and its surrounding areas. These varied hugely in size, type of government and level of democracy.
Most of these poleis were ruled by landowning aristocrats¹. By the 6th century BCE, social protest began flourishing and the farmers were pitted against the elite. This led to the emergence of democracy in Athens and the rest of Greece from 6th to 5th century BCE.
Each city state had its own patron god or goddess and its own rituals for prayer, sacrifice and ceremony. That being said, ancient Greek religion was polytheistic and most Greeks recognized all of the major gods and goddesses. These included Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Demeter and Athena¹.
In 399 BCE, Socrates, one of the most well known ancient Greeks, was condemned by jury in Athens for corrupting his students and was forced to commit suicide. He was so attached to the city he chose death over exile¹. This is indicative of the strength of theology in ancient Greece.
Democracy flowered in 5th century BCE Athens. This direct form of democracy depended on the popular assembly as authority². The word democracy itself comes from the Greek word for people: demos. This is not the same democracy you would recognize in Western culture today. Despite the emphasis on political virtue and responsibility, women, slaves and foreigners had no rights of political participation².
There are parts of this democratic system we would all recognize today. Pericles once said of ancient Greek’s democracy, "if we look to the laws they afford equal justice to all and their private differences. If a man is able to serve the state he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition."² This kind of political rhetoric would not sound of of place today.
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