How important was Cleisthenes in the development of Athenian Democracy?

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How important was Cleisthenes in the development of Athenian democracy?
Prior to when Cleisthenes established Athens as a democracy in 508/507 B.C., Athens had been ruled by an
unelected leader (first it was Pisistratus and then it was Hippias), making her a dictatorship. After the assassination
of his brother, Hippias was evicted from Athens in 510 B.C. by Cleomenes (King of Sparta). For two years
Cleisthenes and Isagoras, two aristocratic power-seekers, argued over how to share power. Subsequent events are
unclear but it is likely that Cleisthenes either made reforms for personal interest and a bi-product was a flourishing
democracy, or mass demonstration of the Athenian populace resulted in Cleisthenes establishing a democracy
(which had been previously laid down by Solon).
Cleisthenes' reforms made major changes to Athenian society. The following will elaborate on the reasons why.
Firstly, he empowered the Assembly of Athens who had previously only had authority to give consent to election
proposals by aristocratic leaders. By doing so, he ensured that each common man could have an impact on his society
and make a change as he wished ­ as long as he held the majority. The Assembly usually consisted of poor peasant
farmers who typically enlisted to be a hoplite in the campaigning season for money. It was every man's right to join
the Assembly and have his say. Therefore, these people were given far more power as they were given higher
authority by Cleisthenes. In turn, this meant that the reform had empowered the people, being the idealism of
democracy. As such, Cleisthenes was very important in the development in Athenian democracy.
In addition, Cleisthenes gave the Assembly ­ and thereby the people ­ the practice of ostracism. This meant that they
were able to condemn troublesome aristocrats who threatened governmental unity to a banishment of ten years
from Athens. Therefore, they were able to control who stayed and who left, showing a dramatic change of authority
from just two years previously. This was a huge step towards equality. For this reason, Cleisthenes was essential in
the development of Athenian democracy.
Last but by no means least, Cleisthenes introduced a new concept whereby a village, small town or section of the
city-state was called a deme to which citizens owed their loyalty. His intent for doing so was to set the citizens into
bonds according to their location rather than family-related bonds for the purpose of stabilising both political unity
and military unity. This was essential in the development of democracy as wealthy, aristocratic families were more
powerful before, but now with demes everyone was united as a whole. This was essential in bringing everyone to an
equal level wherein they have equal rights and were on the same grounds fundamentally. For this reason, Cleisthenes
was vital in the development of Athenian democracy.
Overall, you can see that Cleisthenes took a huge step in the initial stages of democracy in Athens. He did this
primarily by empowering the people with further authority, thereby creating equality.
Hollis Butler


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