Archaeology论文模板 – Contribution of Archaeological evidence to our understanding of Political processes in Classical Athens


The political organization of the city of Athens between 508 – 322 BC was one of the most developed.  It is because of the political arrangement that the ancient Athens became a highly regarded urban center in Attica, Greece. The democracy in Athens at the time was established under Cleisthenes after the tyrannical Isagoras. There was a remarkable stability of the system until 322 BC (Carey, 2000) though Oligarchic revolutions caused it some slight agitations. During the period, Athens led as the arts and learning center and soon became the home of the most prominent writers, philosophers, and political leaders. As Ober (2009) states, the success of Athens earned the city a reference as the cradle of western civilization and the spring of first democracy that spread across the southern France, Italy, Spain, and the North African region. It is for the above reasons that archeologist have strived to create an understanding of the Greek city-state (polis) of Athens.


During the fall of Mycenaean civilization throughout Greece, there existed several poleis. With close to 1000 of the city-states, Sparta, Corinth, Thebe, Syracuse, Argos, Rhodes, Aegina, and Athens were the most important ones. However, Athens presented itself with an outstanding form of political leadership compared to the rest. Other city-states in Greece also had their own democratic systems and sometimes, oligarchic systems represented political equality to the highest level. However, the other systems could not beat the Athenian democracy during the classical times. It was certainly the most developed political structure. Therefore, the other cities tried to set their systems to the standards of Athens.

Pericles was the longest serving Democratic leader. Solon, Cleisthenes, and Ephialtes contributed to the democratic mileage of the Greek polis, Athens. Aristocratic archons or chief magistrates ruled Athens before the first democratic leadership. They expressed power over everyone else, and the conformity of leadership propagated the enslavement of a majority of Athenians to the wealthy. A premier archon, Solon, was called to intervene and help stop the aristocracy and enslavement. Solon’s mediation was successful, and the citizenship of the polis was redefined for every free resident of the region. A Boule, a competing council of 400, was established, and the position of Archon became open to all. Solon set up the Ecclesia (Assembly) where all the male residents could participate.

The thriving democracy was vanquished by the tyrant Peisistratos. However, it was reestablished after the son of Peisistratos was expelled in 510. Appeal by contender Cleisthenes ended the aristocratic takeover. Cleisthenes’s reforms undermined the dominant aristocratic families and bridged the Athenians to the city’s leadership. He fixed the borderlines of the polis as a political head rather than a geographical entity. (Parton, 2004).

Pictures of Boundary markers of the Agora set by Cleisthenes found on the east of the Tholos, about 500 B.C. From: Wiley Online Library (Bintliff, 2012)

Ephialtes instigated the other set of reforms in 462/1 (Sacks, Murray, Bunson, & Brody, 2009). He convinced the Assembly (Ekklesia) to cut the powers of the Areopagus. Later, the membership of the Areopagus was lowered to the level of the cities’ citizenship i.e. the thetes. 


Ancient Athens adopted a direct democratic system. The system involved direct voting by the participating citizens on legislative and executive matters. Not everyone was allowed to participate in the voting. It was an exclusive affair for the non-slave male adults who owned land. The number of these eligible voters varied between 30 – 50 thousand out of the approximately 300 thousand residents of Athens at the time (Gagarin & Fantham, 2010 p.347). Every citizen qualified to hold office and sit in the juries without consideration of wealth or social class.

Democracy (dēmokratia) originates from dēmos, which means the entire citizen body, and Kratos, which means to rule. Any male citizen was allowed to take part in any Athenian democratic body, the ekklēsia. The number of the male citizens in the Athenian population during the classical period ranged between thirty thousand and sixty thousand depending on the time span. The assembly held meetings at least once every month in the dedicated space in the Agora which could accommodate approximately 6000 ordinary Athenians. Every citizen could get a chance to speak and vote on decisions about the issues at hand. The opportunity was given to those citizens who raised their hands during the discussions. When reached a voting time, the majority carried the day and their decision was final. Issues that were discussed in the assembly included political trials, the signing of treaties, food security, financial situations, and military activities. The ekklesia also had the power to vote and ostracize any citizen that had been deemed too powerful and a threat to the Greek polis. In such cases of excluding a citizen, a secret ballot became the option. The name of the person to be shunned was written on a piece of crumble pottery (ostrakon) (Forsdyke, 2005).


An illustration of ancient Athens showing Acropolis at the center, Agora, and the boundaries Source: University of Alabama Library (2004)


At the 5th century BC, Athens experienced a unique form of government that was viewed as the Greek’s revolutionary governance. Dynneson (2008) recorded that a new judicial system and military organization were introduced.  Athens was determined to earn itself an outstanding power compared to other city-states like Sparta and Corinth.


The Classical Agora

Even today, the modern Athens has preserved the layout of the classical city since the two ancient sites are known for their mystery and political power despite the archaic architecture. Excavations have been done in the Agora by the Greek Archaeological Society (GAS) and the American School of Classical Studies (ASCS) based in Athens with the efforts to demonstrate the ancient popular democracy in the olden Athens. It is from the Agora that the ancient Greek democracy was born. The site has provided a fantastic opportunity to study the political, economic and social welfare of the ancient Greek city-state.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Agora as an open place in the classical Athens that purposefully served as a meeting site as well as hosting various civic activities. It was rebuilt just after the 490-449 BC Persian Wars in response to a long era of peace and wealth in the polis. Colonnades, areas that made up the government buildings, and the sacred section were the three main parts of the agora. In a combination, the three zones accommodated the affairs of the public, private, and religious prospects (Lang & Camp, 2004).

As Madanipour (2003) states, the public role of the Agora was to be a meeting place. Apart from the general assembly, Agora was also the marketplace for the sale of goods and an area for specified public activities (p.194). Archeologists have found that the area contained aesthetic elements such as the trees and spectacular fountains setting the completion of a public park (Powell, 2002).

A round-shaped building known as the Tholos, (jokingly called the ‘Skias’ by the ancient Athenians) was the office for the Prytaneis, a council of 50 members who engaged in the business of the public. The structure built around 470 BC is located on the southwest edge of the ancient Agora. The Bouleuterion provided housing for the executive committee of the Boule (the Athenian senate). It was a council of 500 members, and their roles were to prepare the Assembly’s business. There were ten months in the Athenian year. Each month, 50 representatives from a particular tribe took charge and acted as the council for the month. The council was allowed to run the government for one month and let in the next council from another tribe the following month. These councils received reports from the Prytaneis.

A man who could not enter the Agora would not fully take part in the activities of the citizens. Any man who avoided the military service or was identified as a coward was not allowed into the Perirranteria of the Agora by the lawmakers nor accepted into the public shrines. Hall (2014) highlights the argument of modern archeologists that the central location of these buildings in the public area gave the citizens of Athens the best chance to take part in the democratic process of the polis. The architecture is believed to portray the emphasis on how much the Athenians valued democracy at the time. All the government buildings and undertakings were transformed into public institutions and affairs respectively. 

The Classical Acropolis

The Acropolis was one of the most significant areas of the ancient Athens. The area is said to have been the political engine and the symbol of religious practices. Located in a raised rocky outcrop, the Acropolis has been the source of several remains to support the power and democracy of the ancient Athens. The coordination of the construction of the area was successful under the rule of Pericles between 495 – 429 BC (Hurwit, 1999).

The area was used as a fort for the early prominent kings (Rhodes, 1995). In 480 BC, the highly destructive Persian war led to the damage of the Acropolis when it was hit by a cannonball. The sculptor Phidias was thereafter in 447 BC given the responsibility of ensuring the restoration of the Acropolis. The Athenians wanted him to bring back the glory of the Acropolis.

The Acropolis had three major sections. The first area was the Parthenon. The Parthenon symbolized the perfection to the modernization. From the Parthenon was the Erechtheon. It represented the firm order in the Athenian evolution of architectural design. It also housed the tomb of the very first King of the Greek powerful polis. The third part of the Acropolis is known as the Propylaea, designed to be the gateway to the Acropolis. Its construction began in 437 BC but was never completed due to the outbreak of war (Rhodes, 1995). From the way it was designed, archeologists state that it was meant to signify the power and superiority of the ancient Athens and its leaders.

Site plan of the Acropolis at Athens showing the major archeological remains

Source: (Mark, 2009)


1. Solon

He mainly introduced a council of 400 members and the Thesean council of elders called the Areopagus. The council met at the Acropolis. The council was then replaced by the Cleithenes’s 500-member council towards the end of the 6th century. Aside from the council, Solon ratified appeal to the popular law court (heliaia). Later, the call was classified particularly as being democratic (Owens, 2010). Solon’s third significant contribution to the democracy of the early Athens was of lower class Athenians (the thetes) to the ekklesia. The act mentioned above was later realized to be a means of fixing the economic statuses and was politically significant.

2. Cleisthenes

From the Alcmaeonid family, he is credited for massive reforms in the ancient Athenian Constitution and affirmed the democratic footing in 508/7 BC. Modern day historians refer to him as “the father of Athenian democracy.” He made the Athenians develop a sense of belonging to a deme. He gave much power to citizens’ assembly while at the same time trimmed the authoritative power over the people of Athens (Parton, 2004). The shift of power to the citizens required large space for the quite large public assemblies. That was when they began using the Pnyx, a small hill in central Athens for popular assemblies. The Hill earned a reputation as being one of the earliest sites that marked the practice of democracy. It is situated at about half a kilometer west of the Acropolis. All the Athenian political struggles were fought here. Pericles, Alcibiades, and Aristides gave their speeches here, near the Parthenon. There are arguments that the Pnyx was frequently for political activities unlike the social and commercialized Agora.

The archeological Pnyx used during Cleisthenes’s era

Source:, 2012

When he sent a list of 100 names of the city’s heroes to the Apollo’s oracle, Kleisthenes put all the Athenians into the ten new tribal groups picked by the Apollo because the military arrangement was a tribal conditioning. An individual served in the Boule after being a member of a tribe. The tribal system set the ground from which the Athenian democracy was built. A monument that bore the statue of the ten heroes representing the ten tribes was erected at the ancient Agora near the old Bouleuterion. It was at the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes that proposed legislation, public announcements, and decrees were made.

Monument of the Eponymous Heroes. Photo retrieved from (Pinterest, 2013)

Ostracism is also believed to have been introduced during the Cleisthenes’s era. He, according to Blackwell (2003) is also stated to have expanded the Solon’s 400-memer council to 500 members. He called his transformations insomomia instead of demokratia.

3. Pericles

He took power after Ephialtes was assassinated. While discussing the Periclean legacy, Blackwell (2005) argues that archeological evidence beginning with ostraka and portrait busts to numerous inscriptions offer some insights into Pericles’s life between 495 – 429 BC.

 The Pericles’ drinking cup that was discovered. His name is inscribed on the cup

Source:, Athens (Mary Adamopoulou, 2014)

He was conceivably the prominent and influential of all Greek leaders during the Golden-age between the Persian and the Peloponnesian wars. His influence was so profound that Thucydides, a modern historian, branded him “the first citizen of Athens”. He set of the ambitious construction of some of the long lasting structures such as the Parthenon located in the Acropolis of the classical Athens. 

Remains of Parthenon, a project done under the free reign of Pericles after the Persian wars

Source:, 2009

Athens wanted to strengthen its influence in the Delian League. Following the battle of Plataea, the other Greek cities decided to leave their sanctuaries in ruins just to remind them of the war and destruction of the Persians. When Pericles came to power, he never sat back. He focused on a large-scale transformation. In fact, his critics called him a populist because of how he fostered democracy apart from making Athens the leader in education, culture, and arts. The cultural revolution inspired a new cult in Athens after the Persian war. An unusual and different religious structure in the form of a stoa temple was built instead of the regular. The Stoa of Zeus and the Temple of Hephaestus are among the fine works inspired during the era after Athens began to fund the rebuilding of its destroyed sanctuaries.

A photograph of The Stoa of Zeus Elutherios, 2008. Source: (, 2010

Other leaders under the early Athenian democratic reforms

Themistocles was a prominent non-aristocratic politician and a navy general elected into the archon in 493 BC. He led Athens to win the battle of Marathon and was recognized for much political success. However, when he was perceived to be arrogant after arousing the hostility of Sparta, he was alienated from the classical Athenians and was ostracized about 472-471 BC. (Wilson, 2013). His exit into exile in Argos paved the way for Kimon, who ascended to power about 479 BC. Believed to have lived between 510 – 451 BC, Kimon is well known for the beatification and reshaping of the Agora and Acropolis of the ancient Athens. He was also the mastermind of the polis’s major aqueducts apart from the Herms he added into the Agora.

An excavated Themistocles’s Ostrakon Source: (, 2012)

Cimon’s trouble with the democratic reformers began when Plutarch praised him for opposing Themistocles and Ephialtes’s democratic ideas. After winning the Persian war in Thrace, he failed to attack Macedonia even though he had the power. He was accused of accepting bribes to avoid unleashing the battle against Macedonia and so, he was prosecuted. Pericles was among the prosecutors at the trial. The confrontation between him and the Democratic revolutionist led to him being ostracized and had to depart Athens for at least ten years (Sacks, Murray & Brody, 2009).

General Cimon’s bust retrieved by archeologists. Source: (Cadoux & Encyclopedia Britannic, n.d)


Exclusive areas marked by the Horois for the political leaders to indicate prosperity and luck as well as the available ostrakon have by great means helped archeologists obtain crucial information about the democracy of the classical Greek city-state Athens. The ancient Athenian Democratic reforms have been illustrated from the eras of aristocrats to the rule of freedom. Some of the democratic practices such as polling have been shown by the existing areas set correctly for the activities. Indeed, legislation and the rule of law was part of the ancient polis of Athens, and the citizens earned the economic fruits and other forms of social success through the practice.


Adamopoulou, M. (2014, July 30). Βρέθηκε το κρασοπότηρο απ’ όπου έπιναν ο Περικλής και η παρέα του! – Πολιτισμός – Επικαιρότητα – Τα Νέα Οnline. Retrieved from (2010, June 5). Agora Monument Stoa of Zeus – Retrieved from

Barringer, J. M., Hurwit, J. M., & Pollitt, J. J. (2005). Periklean Athens and its legacy: Problems and perspectives. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bintliff, J. L. (2012). The Complete Archaeology of Greece: From Hunter-Gatherers to the 20th Century A.D. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Blackwell, C. W. (2003). The Development of Athenian Democracy., (44), 2-7. Retrieved from

Cadoux, T. J., & ENCYCLOPEDIA Britannica. (n.d.). Cimon | Greek statesman and general | Retrieved from

Carey, C. (2000). Democracy in classical Athens. London: Bristol Classical Press.

De, S. C., Harvey, D., Parker, R., & Thonemann, P. (2004). Athenian democratic origins: And other essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dynneson, T. L. (2008). City-state civism in ancient Athens: Its real and ideal expressions. New York: Peter Lang.

Forsdyke, S. (2005). Exile, ostracism, and democracy: The politics of expulsion in ancient Greece. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gagarin, M., & Fantham, E. (2010). The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Greece and Rome. New York: Oxford University Press. (2012, March 5). Pnyx Hill in Athens – Retrieved from

Hall, J. M. (2014). Artifact & artifice: Classical archaeology and the ancient historian. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press.

Hurwit, J. M. (1999). The Athenian Acropolis: History, mythology, and archaeology from the Neolithic era to the present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lang, M. L., & Camp, J. M. (2004). The Athenian citizen: Democracy in the Athenian Agora. Athens: American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Madanipour, A. (2003). Public and private spaces of the city. London: Routledge.

Mark, J. J. (2009, September 2). Acropolis – Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Ober, J. (2009). Mass and elite in democratic Athens: Rhetoric, ideology, and the power of the people (4th ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ober, J., & Hedrick, C. W. (2001). Dēmokratia: A conversation on democracies, ancient and modern (4th ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Owens, R. (2010). Solon of Athens: Poet, philosopher, soldier, statesman. Brighton, England: Sussex Academic Press.

Parton, S. (2004). Cleisthenes: Founder of Athenian democracy. New York: Rosen Pub. Group.

Pinterest. (2013, January 20). The monument of the Eponymous Heroes | Pinteres…. Retrieved from

Powell, A. (2002). The Greek world. London: Routledge.

Rhodes, R. F. (1995). Architecture and meaning on the Athenian Acropolis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sacks, D., Murray, O., & Brody, L. R. (2009). Encyclopedia of the ancient Greek world. New York: Facts on File.

Sacks, D., Murray, O., Bunson, M., & Brody, L. R. (2009). Encyclopedia of the ancient Greek world. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Studyblue. (2012, April 7). CL101 IMAGE FLASHCARDS at Wilfrid Laurier University – StudyBlue. Retrieved from

Tracy, S. (2009). Pericles: A Sourcebook and Reader. California University Press, 4(14). Retrieved from DOI: 10.1525/califo­­­rnia/9780520256033.001.0001

University of Alabama. (2004, September 10). THE ANCIENT CITY OF ATHENS. Retrieved from

Wilson, N. G. (2013). Encyclopedia of ancient Greece. New York: Routledge.

Scroll to Top