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A Tale of Two Cities
Transcript of A Tale of Two Cities
When the polis emerged as the central institution
in Greece in the eighth century, it became difficult
for monarchs to keep their power. They remained, if
at all, as figureheads. The real power passed into the
hands of the aristocracy. This form of government can
be called a timocracy, but is mostly called an oligarchy.
The increasing division between the rich and the poor combined with the political aspirations of the nouveau riche opened the door to the rise of tyrants in the 7th and 6th centuries.
Greek tyrants were rulers who seized power by force
and were not subject to the law. The tyrants were
supported from the newly rich (rich from trade and industry) as well as from the poor peasants, who were in debt to the landholding aristocrats.
Tyrants would take power by a coup d'etat and
maintained it by using mercenary soldiers. Once
in power, they built new marketplaces, temples and walls. This created jobs and beautified the city. It also made them incredibly popular. Politically, tyrants favored the interests of merchants and traders by founding new colonies, developing new coinage and codifying systems of weights and measures. They also helped to develop the arts.
Athens, like many Greek cities, began as a monarchy
and became an oligarchy. This oligarchy possessed the
best land and controlled the religious life of Athens through a council called the Areopagus assisted by a board of nine archons. The archons served a year and then moved into the areopagus. There was an ecclesia, or assembly of full citizens, but it had no power.
The aristocrats took advantage of the poor forcing
them to sell themselves into slavery to repay loans.
The population called for the canceling of the debts
and the return of the land to the poor, but the aristocrats
did not want to budge.
The aristocrats saw the writing on the wall and called for Solon, a reform minded aristocrat, as the sole archon. He was given full power to make reforms. He made immediate changes: canceling all land debts, outlawing
any new loans based on humans as collateral, and freed people who had fallen into slavery. He did not redistribute the land to the poor.
Solon did not eliminate the power of the aristocracy. He opened the door for the wealthy to participate in the government. He divided the Athenians into 4 classes based on wealth:
Pentacosimomedimnoi - eligible to serve as archons and strategoi
Hippeis - served in the cavalry and also on the areopagus
Zeugitai - served in the hoplite infantry and on the boule, a council that prepared the agenda for the areopagus.
Thetes - served as peltasts, rowers or batmen. Exluded from public office, but could serve on the heliaea (court). This court allowed citizens to
prosecute government officials. The government was now accountable to the citizens.
Solon's reforms did not
solve the problem.
Soon, the old problems
took new faces
and threatened peace
in Athens. Soon,
tyranny came to Athens.
Pisistratus created new jobs, aided foreign trade,
and won the allegiance of small farmers by giving
them land and loans. He made it seem like the govern-
ment was working, but all of his friends were elected
to high positions. While Pisistratus ruled well, his son
was such an idiot and was exiled by the Athenians. Cleisthenes, another aristocratic reformer, was given
power and helped establish Athenian democracy.
Cleisthenes sought to weaken the power of the rich.
His first step was genius; instead of dividing Athens
by wealth or class, he divided them by demes, the
villages and townships. He divided all the citizens in t
the demes into 10 new tribes. Each tribe contained
a cross section of the population. Each tribe chose 50 members by lot to serve in the new Council of 500.
This council was responsible for foreign and
domestic affairs. The assembly would pass laws after debating them. Cleisthenes made the citizen's council the central body of Athenian political life. Democracy was born.