The aristocrat Cleisthenes introduced democracy in Athens in the year 508 B.C. (“Ancient Greece”). Two years of Civil War prefaced this democracy (“Ancient Greece”). It is ironic that Cleisthenes introduced democracy as he was born into a wealthy and aristocratic family (“Cleisthenes”). When Cleisthenes was born, a sharp division existed between commoners and the rich nobles who ruled the commoners (“Cleisthenes”). Cleisthenes was a noble by birth (“Cleisthenes”).
Before Cleisthenes, there was Solon. Solon was an aristocratic reformer who paved the way for Cleisthenes (“Cleisthenes”). Solon worked to limit the nobility’s power (“Cleisthenes”). Solon encouraged Greek citizens to take responsibility for the city of Athens (“Cleisthenes”). Solon even created a council to represent the Athenians (“Cleisthenes”).
Ironically, during Solon’s work, Cleisthenes’s brother-in-law, Pisistratus, announced himself to be the unquestionable leader of Athens (“Cleisthenes”). After Pisistratus died, Pisistratus’s son, Hippias, took over the leadership of Athens (“Cleisthenes”). Hippias was a cruel, ruthless leader (“Cleisthenes”). It was during the rule of Hippias that Cleisthenes, with the aid of the Spartans, ousted Hippias (“Cleisthenes”).
Unfortunately, Cleisthenes’s victory did not last long. Isagoris, an aristocrat, obtained power over the city of Athens (“Cleisthenes”). Isagoris worked to oust followers of Cleisthenes and to destroy Solon’s council (Cleisthenes”). The Spartans that had helped Cleisthenes now helped Isagoris (“Cleisthenes”).
In a surprise attack on Isagoris, the Athenians took back control of their city (“Cleisthenes”). The Athenians asked Cleisthenes to build what became the first democratic form of government (“Cleisthenes”). Cleisthenes established a system where each free man received one vote (“Cleisthenes”). This is how democracies work today except that women as well as men are allowed to vote. An assembly met to debate and vote on issues affecting their city (“Cleisthenes”). This assembly sounds a lot like the House and the Senate in the United States.
Based on the work of Cleisthenes, Athenians realized their true potential and prospered (“Cleisthenes”). In a strange twist of destiny, no one knows what happened to Cleisthenes after he brought democracy to Athens (“Cleisthenes”). Fortunately, his life’s work lives on in today’s democracies around the world.
University Press. Ancient Greece. 2008. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.
PBS. Cleisthenes. n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2011.