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Cleisthenes: "The Father of Democracy"

Page history last edited by Stephanie Abram 14 years, 4 months ago

Stephanie Abram



Was born in 570 BC and died in 507.  He was a noble Athenian from the Alcmaeonid family.  Cleisthenes was responsible for introducing the system of democracy in Athens, thus, earning him the name, “the father of Athenian democracy.”   This change in Athenian government proved to be a challenge for Cleisthenes.


The fight for Democracy

Athens was in an autochthonus condition and Cleisthenes sought to change it into a democracy. Cleisthenes’ first plan of action to make Athens a democracy was the overthrowing of Hippias, who was the son of a tyrant and was a bitter and cruel rul in 527 BC.  Since Cleisthenes believed that all citizens should have equal rights he made all the citizens of Athens his hetairoi (companion), in order for them to participate in governmental affairs.  Cleisthenes felt it was unfair that only a small group of aristocrats were allowed to participate in the government and since all of the citizens were now his companions, this broke the regional power of the aristocracy.  However, this move of making all the Athenians his companion did not sit well with everyone, particularly the archon Isagoras, who decided to start the process to have Cleisthenes exiled.  Isagoras’ plan to have Cleisthenes exiled worked for a while, as he was exiled, which was attributed to a “curse”, but many of the citizens who believed in what Cleisthenes was doing, rebelled against his being exiled and he was returned.

Upon Cleisthenes' return, he was even more determined to reform Athens and his next move was to eliminate the four traditional tribes and organize the citizens into ten tribes according to their deme (residence).  And at this time, legislative bodies were established that were to be run by citizens chosen by lottery instead of by kinship.  

A new Athens (The Golden Age)

Under the leadership of Cleisthenes, ostracism was introduced, which stated that if 6,000 citizens voted to exile someone, that person would be exiled for 10 years, although he was allowed to keep his property.  This reform was called isonomia (equality under the law).  Cleisthenes also reorganized the Boule (an assembly of citizens) from 400 members to 500 members, 50 from each tribe and the court system was changed to have 5,000 jurors selected each day, taking 500 from each tribe.  The Boule was responsible for proposing laws for the people to vote on.  During Cleisthenes’ reform actions, he abolished surnames in order to eliminate the old power bases and consolidate his reforms.


Although Cleisthenes made many reforms to the Athenian government, this did not bring about a total change in Athens.  However, Cleisthenes is credited for shaping modern day western politics.  After Cleisthenes’ somewhat reformed Athens, his life is a mystery and it is not known whether or not he was a victim of ostracism.















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