Ancient Greece Essays

Essay Introduction

Natural barriers, such as the mountainous ranges and cost lines, limited travel and communication throughout ancient Greece. (G, 2018) Due to this and the country’s lack of a stable government, cities took the matter of establishing order into their own hands. This resulted in the ancient city-states, or poleis, of Greece becoming home to many forms of government. As of now, five governing systems are known to have existed during this time: aristocracy, democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, and tyranny. Although each shared similarities with one another, differences were apparent to see, and city-states were affected differently by the political systems that ruled over them.

Thesis Statement for Ancient Greece

Each influenced the political power of the wealthy and the common people and would impact the poleis who enforced them.

Research Paper on Ancient Greece

Throughout the poleis, one common feature throughout all government forms was the political power of the financially wealthy or noble families. Oligarchy, aristocracy, and even Greek democracy exhibited this through their hierarchy. In Sparta, an oligarchy style of government, the council of elders, or Gerousia, held the majority of power. (Brand, n.d.) Only male aristocrats over the age of 60 could be eligible to become members, except for the two “kings,” who were more public figures than actual hereditary monarchs. (Brand, n.d.) Pre-democratic Athens, governed by a more aristocratic system, found the older, more prosperous families to be pulling strings. (Brouwers, 2015)

The elite class holding political authority even found its way into the political hierarchy Athens took on when it became a democracy, as a citizen’s wealth would determine what public offices were eligible to them. (Brand, n.d.) However, these positions were no longer kept exclusively to aristocratic families and could only be held by an individual one year at a time. (Brand, n.d.) The monarchy in Macedonia, one of few in Greece due to citizens’ distaste for it, found itself under the rule of a single person and their successors. (Government of Macedonia, 2018)

Some remaining texts from this era, however, do suggest the presence of noble advisors and royal pages who potentially had influential power. (Government of Macedonia, 2018) Much like a monarchy, city-states overtaken by tyranny commonly have a single ruler in control. (Muscato, n.d.) The difference between the two is an aristocrat has seized authority over the current government and established their own rather than inherit the throne. (Muscato, n.d.) When this happens, wealthy supporters are elevated into influential positions, and the opposing are usually exiled or executed. (Muscato, n.d.)

Argumentative Essay Examples on Ancient Greece

With most of the power seemingly divided among the elite social classes and wealthy, where did this leave the everyday citizens? All of Greece excluded citizenship for women and non-natives or slaves, but what about the free native males? Most governments held assemblies, allowing even the lower-class men to take part in issues around the polis. Some were vastly more limited than others. Such was the case with the Spartan assembly. Those who attended may have been able to make decisions on matters brought before the body; unfortunately, these matters needed approval from the Gerousia first. (Brand, n.d.)

Any decision made could also be vetoed by the Gerousia, restraining the actual power of the assembly itself. (Brand, n.d.) Citizens did have the ability to vote individuals into these positions, like the Ephors; the sole office not reserved for the higher class. (Brand, n.d.) This one-sided power of the Spartan government was entirely different when compared to Athens’s democracy since this assembly did not require the approval of a higher authority before casting their votes on public matters. (Brand, n.d.) The voices within the Athenian assembly carried considerably more weight, as all government positions were up for re-assignment each year. (Brand, n.d.)

This influence was a far cry from Athens’s political state previously, where the wealthy aristocrats commonly rigged the majority vote. (Brand, n.d.) Surprisingly, these political systems were not the only ones to hold citizen meetings to discuss public issues. Evidence shows that the monarchies held an assembly for their citizens, although, like Sparta, any power given to them was limited. (Cartwright, 2018)

In a polis seized by a tyrant, the people usually did not have much power unless the ruler decided to keep a few features from the previous government in an attempt to appease the people and maintain their support. (Ancient Corinth, 2019) In the end, most political systems of the time gave limited power to landless citizens, if any at all. These fair or unjust distributions of power would impact the development of the Greek poleis, some in unexpected ways. One example of this was the positive impacts due to tyranny. When Cypselus expelled the former king of Corinth in 658 BC to take his place, not only did he erect temples to Apollo and Poseidon, but he also helped promote trade between Egypt and Greece by funding the colony of Naukratis. (Ancient Corinth, 2019) Surprisingly, although he took his position by force, the people of Corinth approved of his leadership. (Ancient Corinth, 2019).

Influence of Wealth and Nobility in Greek Governments

Even before his reign, the city prospered under the aristocracy-turned monarchy by the Bacchiadae family. (Ancient Corinth, 2019) Under their rule, the polis became unified as an advanced Greek city while constructing large monuments and public buildings. (Ancient Corinth, 2019) Macedonia also greatly benefited from a monarchy system. Under the rule of Alexander the Great, the Polis of Macedonia not only prospered but became an empire as it conquered Greece and became a genuine adversary against the Persians. (Ancient Corinth, 2019) While a monarchy drove Macedonia to greatness, it was the oligarchy system in Sparta that drove its people to become such fierce warriors.


Although the Gerousia’s unopposed will and single focus would control every aspect of its citizens’ lives, even down to the life and death of children, there is no doubt that this single goal is what turned Spartans into the most revered warriors throughout ancient Greece. (Brand, n.d.) Moreover, just like the Spartans, Athens’s pursuit of democracy, with the help of active and charismatic leaders, would lead them into what would be its golden age. (Brand, n.d.) Athens would become an empire renowned for their skills in naval warfare. (Brand, n.d.)

Aristocracy and democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, and tyranny these systems of government certainly had their share of similarities as well as differences. When Greece lacked a unified government, the poleis rose to the task and formed their own. While each tended to favor the rich and prestige, political structures did provide some rights to the common citizen, though to varying degrees. As one eventually fell, another would spring up in an attempt to do what the previous could not. In the end, each system, from Athenian democracy to even Greek tyranny, had its role to play in the development of the poleis throughout ancient Greece.

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