Monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy as forms of government in Ancient Greek city-states

in #history3 years ago

Now a day’s democracy is the most common and popular governmental form. However in its history, it was given birth to in an era that witnessed the use and implementation of most of its counterparts. Monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy are the predecessor of democracy. When other governmental form failed then democracy came as a solution. In a word, Ancient Greek is the birth place of different governmental form and civilization. Today we will Compare and contrast monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy each of these terms in the context of the Ancient Greek states and see how they all vary from one another.


Monarchy defines monarchy as, “a state or nation in which the supreme power is actually or nominally lodged in a monarch; supreme power or sovereignty held by a single person.”
The ancient Greece city-state Macedon were one in which monarchies flourished from 359 to 168 B.C.E. Here the monarch came from royal family, he lived in palace and made laws, enforced laws, had the villagers paid him taxes, and had his own military to enforce his laws.

According to, an aristocracy is “a governing body composed of those considered to be the best or most able people in the state.”

Almost all Greece city state was run by an aristocrat. For example, before Athenian democracy it was fall into the aristocratic philosophy. It is said that all most of the other city-states, “social prestige and political office were linked to property and military prowess (American School of Classical Studies, n.d.).”


“Cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others”, as defined by Merriam Webster.
Tyrants were rulers that came to power through cruel, unjust, and unconstitutional manners, “oftentimes murdering their predecessor (Cartwright, 2013).” Most or all ancient Greek city-states to some extent practiced this form of government. In Sparta majority of their population was slaves. The unfair treatment of slave and non- citizens was also widespread. These were “cruel and unfair” acts delivered by the people with power. Therefore, it can be concluded that most ancient Greek states had some form of Tyranny.

Oligarchy is defined by Oxford as, “a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.”
In ancient Greek states, the population of slaves was in most cases significantly larger than that of the privileged citizens, which include the politicians, aristocrats, and soldiers who constituted the rulers of the state. So in many cases, the rulers were the few. Even regardless of that fact, the only people who had substantial control were the politicians and the rich class of society that made up the minority. It is arguable that Sparta as an example, with its large slave population, and in addition to being a Tyranny there was also an Oligarchy. Typically, oligarchies were military rule like.


Democracy “A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” (Oxford dictionary)

This is undoubtedly the most distinguishing form of government among all the ancient Greek city-states. Although Athens practiced this form of government more generously than its neighbors, it may be surprising to state that almost all the Greek states practiced it to some extent. Let’s examine the definition of democracy. A form of government by “…the whole population or all the eligible members…” My take on this is that “eligible members” here means even though authority may not have been wielded by the “whole population”, there was a selected part of the population, “the eligible members”, that contributed to that authority and it was not by only one man. A rule by one man would make any state a dictatorship. The definition of a dictatorship by Merriam Webster is “rule, control, or leadership by one person with total power.”

Ancient Greek consist of many cities and each cities had different and multiple form of government over an extended period of time. All governmental form is unique in its structure and many of them overlap. Monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy all have some limitation which give rise the birth of democracy. All of this governmental form was created by ancient Greek polies and without it, we would know nothing about such system.


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