Growing up, my dad would tell me and my sister all sorts of stories to keep us entertained on the way to our Greek Orthodox church 30 minutes away from where we used to live in Florida. Sometimes it was partially true but mostly untrue stories about some Greek friend he had named Panagiotis (Παναγιώτης). Other times he would incite fighting between us by making us play a word recognition game between Greek and English. And a lot of the time, he would tell about ancient Greek civilizations and gods; however, Cleisthenes (Κλεισθένης) never made the list. I feel like a bad Greek for not knowing about him.
Anyways, this dude was pretty cool. Being in AP government now, I’ve come to appreciate democracy for the most part. Other forms of government have never really worked out too well so we have Cleisthenes to thank as the father of democracy. It’s kind of crazy to me that everybody knows that the Greeks essentially created democracy but nobody knows whose idea it was and how they did it. Here’s your shout-out, Cleisthenes.
He was born somewhere around 570 BC and died around 508 BC, which is a pretty long life for that time period. In short, he was part of the Alcmaeonid family. His grandfather was a ruler of Athens but he did a pretty bad job and lead to a lot of unnecessary deaths. The family as thus exiled and they lost political power and influence. They were again exiled when Cleisthenes was 25 years old. He later returned and became chief archon between 524-525 BC. He instituted his democratic government, creating a participatory system. Instead of breaking people up into patriarchal clans, he separated people into demes which were essentially counties. He created the Boule, which was basically a congress composed of 50 people from each deme (500 in total). Each person had a say in passing bills and proposing new ones. Unfortunately, Cleisthenes also created a system of ostracism, but we’ll ignore that for now.