Special Sub-Topic: Greece to Us: Political Origins
|The Greek conception of "polis" incorporated more than our modern concepts of city or even capital. The polis became a civic center, marketplace and ultimately the site of political discourse. Yet which of the following best describes the historical and etymological origin of "polis".|
A fort on a hill. Assur in Assyria, Babylon in Persia, Thebes in Memphis - the great cities of the ancient world were often situated for trade and became the center of government and commerce for empires. In contrast, the need for defending communities of farmers determined the location of the Greek polis. The polis was generally located on a defensible hill some distance inland from the Mediterranean, which could convey enemies as easily as commodities. The Indo-European root "pele" from which "polis" derived means "fortified high place".
|Spartan government included a council with a minimum age requirement of 60 years. Which of the following terms describes a society ruled by the aged?|
Gerontocracy. The "-archy" in gynarchy derives from the ancient Greek "archon", which means to rule. The ancient Greek word "kratos", from which "-cracy" derives, denotes power and mastery. In ancient Sparta a council of 28 elders wielded considerable power. They had judicial authority and the dual monarchs of Sparta could not submit legislation for approval to the Spartan assembly without the elder council's consent. My favorite term, "squirarchy", denotes rule by the landed gentry, although I would prefer that it referred to a hegemony of squirrels. The exarches ruled Byzantine provinces; and in a gynarchy only women would be enfranchised.
|During a time of economic crisis, Solon became the archon of Athens and instituted a constitution with two striking features. Agricultural debt and servitude were canceled, and agricultural production became the standard for eligibility for public office and military service. What term is usually applied to the political system Solon's reforms created?|
Timocracy. The Greek root for timocracy, "timee", is an ancient Greek word that denoted honor when applied to people but denoted worth when applied to things. Solon tied civic honor to grain production, thus timocracy can be appropriately applied to the government deriving from this conjunction. However, in "The Republic" Plato reverses the equation making honor the prerequisite for public service. In fact, Plato's use of the word "timocracy" is the earliest found in ancient manuscripts. In describing his ideal standard of governance based on the love of honor, Plato laments that he knows of no word to describe the type of government he is proposing and says, "We must call it either timocracy or timarchy." Timocracy continues to be applied both to government based on honor and rule by the propertied classes.
|In the sixth century BCE, Solon departed Athens, and his devious associate Peisistratos made himself the absolute ruler of Athens. Which of the following terms could NOT be appropriately applied to Peisistratos?|
Anarchist. Tyranny is a virtual transliteration of the ancient Greek "turannos". Tyranny, in the generic sense, was prevalent in sixth century Greece. Tyrants were often popular and the term was not initially a pejorative one. According to Herodotus, "Peisistratos ruled the Athenians, disturbing in no way the order of offices nor changing the laws, but governing the city according to its established constitution and arranging all things fairly and well." Those who deposed Peisistratos in 559 BCE presumably did not share Herodotus' opinion. However, Peisistratos regained control of the polis and ultimately passed his rule on to his son.
|Aristotle taught that some forms of government passed naturally into another baser form due to human moral failings. For instance, he said, "Kingship passes into tyranny, because Tyranny is the bad form of monarchy, so that a bad king becomes a tyrant." Into what inferior form of government does Aristotle indicate timocracy may degrade?|
Democracy. Aristotle believed timocracy to be the best form of government. He described timocracy as a state in which all that own a minimally qualifying amount of property participate equally in the political process. But just as kingship can become tyranny and aristocracy can devolve to oligarchy, so even the best form of government, timocracy, may be subverted. Those of us who are now victims of what Plato and Aristotle considered a degenerate form of government can take consolation from the fact that that Aristotle informed us, "Democracy is the least bad of the perversions." (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (ed. J. Bywater))
|"Demos" is the word from which our word democracy was derived. To which of the following might an ancient Greek be referring when using the word "demos"?|
All of these (A circus performer, A commoner, A prostitute). In ancient Greece, "demos" could refer either to a land or the inhabitants thereof. Geographically it was applied to both small districts and larger areas. It could be used to convey the idea of "country folk" or "commoner". In a political sense it could indicate popular government as opposed to oligarchy. It could also denote a circus performer or prostitute.
|Every Athenian citizen was a member of the "ekklesia" or general assembly of the Athenian democracy. Which of the following was NOT a requirement for citizenship in the Athenian democracy?|
Owning property. Athens was the first, most radical and arguably, the most successful of hundreds of democratic city-states in the ancient Greek world. The Athenian democracy is often called "direct", in part because the general assembly was not an elected body but rather included all citizens. This distinguishes it from representative democracies in which the entire body of citizens elects a small number of people to represent them. However, the general assembly, consisting of about 1/6th of the population, was expected to act in the interest of all citizens. (This is exactly the reasoning use to justify the absence of American colonial representation in the British Parliament.) In addition, holders of most political offices and members of the Athens' ruling council were chosen by lot rather than election further distinguishing it from an electoral system.
"Ek" is a combing form of "ex" meaning out of. "Klesia" comes from the verb "kaleoo" meaning to call. The general assembly was composed of those called to assemble. Interestingly, "ekklesia" was also the term for the early Christian church and the root survives in the modern English word "ecclesiastical". In this context the caller was God.
|Sparta is generally viewed as a repressive, militaristic oligarchy despite having its own general assembly that included all male citizens above the age of 30 as members. Which of the following could account for the Spartan state being viewed as less open and democratic than the Athenian democracy?|
All of these (Sparta had stricter requirements for citizenship, The Spartan Assembly's powers were limited to approval of decisions made by more powerful elements of the government, A militaristic approach was needed to maintain control of a large subject population). Early in the sixth century BCE, Solon canceled agricultural debt and instituted reforms that would prevent the reemergence of agrarian serfdom. In Sparta, a large population of "helots", which were descendants of conquered peoples, labored as serfs and slaves to enable the approximately 9000 "equals" that made up the Spartan ruling class to sustain their culture and prosecute their wars. The Spartan government consisted of a dual monarchy, a 28-member council of elders and the general assembly. This last body's sole function was the ratification of the actions of the former two.
|In ancient democratic Athens, was it more consequential to be called an "idiotes" or to be ostracized?|
Ostracized & be ostracized & to be ostracized&ostracised&be ostracised&to be ostracised. In democratic ancient Athens, a citizen was expected to actively participate in the political life of the polis and was subject to being derided as an "idiotes" should said citizen fail to do so. However, there were no formal sanctions levied against "idiotes". (The word "idiotes" also distinguished layperson from expert, and the modern English usage of "idiot" now implies both contempt and mental deficiency.)
Cleisthenes, who is often given credit for instituting democratic rule in Athens, likewise instituted ostracism: a procedure for banishing a citizen for 10 years. At a general assembly, citizens were given shards on which to write one name of a person they felt should be banished. The standard for banishment is uncertain. Most likely, either the person named on the most shards or any person named on 6000 or more shards was subject to banishment. And those banished were often the prominent and popular (and therefore the most likely to successfully oppose democracy). Included in this number were Cleisthene's follower, Aristides the Just, and the historian Thucydides.
|Socrates was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. Under which form of government was Socrates condemned?|
Democracy. Socrates has left behind no writings. But in Plato's "Apology", Socrates is portrayed as harshly criticizing democracy for its reliance on the untrained and the inexperienced to govern. Aristotle, who studied under Plato, expresses these sentiments with less vehemence. Professor of ancient history, Paul Cartledge speculates that Socrates' execution so seriously damaged democracy's reputation as to significantly contribute to democracy not again becoming a force in politics for over 2000 years. "http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/greeks/greekcritics_04.shtml"
Did you find these entries particularly interesting, or do you have comments / corrections to make? Let the author know!
Send the author a thank you or
Submit a correction