Politics in Minutes (2016)

The Greeks and the city-state

It is something of a truism to say that political thought had its origins in Ancient Greece, and that classical Athenians ‘invented democracy’. But it would be more accurate to say that in the 6th century BCE, Athens had become the centre of a prosperous city-state, with an educated urban population. Philosophical debate flourished, including discussions of how the state should be governed, and in 510 BCE the ruling tyrant was deposed and political power was given to the people. Or, at least, some of the people.

Decisions about the running of the state were made by popular assembly, which all eligible male citizens were encouraged to attend. The fledgling democracy, the first of its kind, inspired ordinary citizens to consider what sort of society they would like to live in, and how it should be administered. At the same time, Athens fostered an atmosphere of intellectual enquiry, producing philosophers including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – from which evolved the beginnings of political philosophy.