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Ancient History
Ancient Greece

How did noble landowners gain power in the Greek city-states?


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September 13, 2011 6:11AM

The aristocrats succeeded the kings, and organised the political system to suit themselves. This is known as an Oligarchy (= rule of the few). By restricting the voting system to those with property valued at above a certain amount, they gave themselves control of government.

This had of course its limitations. In the unstable world of the city-states, it was essential to be able to raise an army to defend the city's territory (including their own). It was therefore necessary to widen the franchise to those who were military material (ie could afford the arms and armour of a warrior). This therefore included the small-farmers, who were neither aristocratic nor wealthy.

Keeping control of this widened electoral base meant keeping control of the law courts and the governing council. As in the Athenian case, when the lower classes gained control of the law courts, no one was immune, anyone could be prosecuted by anyone, popular juries sat in judgment and democracy (= people power) ensued.