Holding Power Close: Ancient Greece

            In studying business, Ancient Greece, the aristocracy and their attempts at democracy has cropped up many times.  Ancient Greece had philosophers and leaders that were open to new ways of organizing that were previously not thought of.  In business leadership, the examples of the evolution of Ancient Greece can inform ideas of continuous improvement as well as distributed leadership.

            As Ancient Greece evolved, the poleis, or city-states, experimented with several forms of government.  Delving into monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy, Greece experienced the best and worst, whether from evil tyrants or from the heart of true democracy.  When city-states were successfully running themselves under a form of government, a war or foreign occupation easily upset that form of government.


            Monarchy means that the government is ruled by an individual.  This person inherited his rule and comes from a royal line.  Macedonia and Epeiros were notable monarchies (Cartwright, 2018).  Monarchy is similar to tyranny except that monarchs inherit their power rather than taking their power in their polis.  When a monarch conquered another land, they would have been a tyrant in that land.  For instance, Darius and Xerxes were kings in Persia, but considered to be tyrants in Greece (Cartwright, 2018).


            Aristocracy means that the government is rules by the best people.  Being the “best” usually meant being the riches or most capable.  Every polis in Ancient Greece, regardless of their form of government, had an aristocratic philosophy, empowering the richest or most militarily successful citizens (Greentree0, 2018).  Democracies like Athens, for instance, empowered the aristocrats above the average citizen (Brand, n.d., p.31).  Likewise, the Ephors and Gerousia of Sparta were elected officials, but they were aristocrats (Brand, n.d., p.10).  In a plainly aristocratic form of government, the power of the city-state is held by the rich and powerful.  In most city-states, this was the case.


            Tyranny means that government is ruled by an individual who has seized his power.  At times, Syracuse in Sicily had tyrants such as Dionysios and Dionysios II.  Athens, despite being a democracy, experienced rule under a benevolent tyrant named Peisistratos.  Other tyrants such as Polycrates in Samos and Lycophron in Thessaly also reigned. Invading Persian kings Darius and Xerxies were vilified as evil tyrants, while many tyrants within the poleis of Ancient Greece were benevolent (Cartwright, 2018).  In Ancient Greeks with many wars and disputes, power changed with a conquering army, led by a leader that would be called a tyrant.


            Oligarchy means that government is ruled by a group of individuals (Cartwright, 2018).  Although Sparta had two kings, it was not a monarchy.  Power was also shared with officials who were elected citizens, such as Ephors, Gerousia, and the Assembly (Brand, n.d., p.10).  Across the other city-states of Ancient Greece, oligarchy was the most common form of government.  Oligarchies cropped up commonly in the polis when democracy went wrong.  Even in the history of Athens, there were times when it devolved into an oligarchy such as the “oligarchy of the 400” and the “oligarchy of 5000.”  Thebes and Megara were also oligarchies at times (Cartwright, 2018).  In later Greece, in the 4th century B.C. after the fall of Athens, democracy was replaced in all polis by an oligarchy that pledged allegiance to Sparta (Halsall, 1999).


            Democracy means that the government is ruled by the people (Cartwright, 2018).  Athens had a true democracy in which all officials were elected from the citizens.  Although only the aristocracy were elected to the highest positions, any citizen over the age of 20 could hold lesser elected positions (Brand, n.d., p.31).  Syracuse, Rhodes, and Erythrai were also democratic governments (Cartwright, 2018).  Democracy seems to be the ideal that many Greeks aspired to, although their aristocracy usually tilted a well-intentioned democracy into an aristocracy or oligarchy.


            In conclusion, Ancient Greece leaned heavily toward oligarchy and aristocracy, although most city-states idealized Athenian democracy.  Sparta’s long-lasting oligarchy had longevity through the times of Ancient Greece, which may be one of the reasons that Sparta itself had such influence in early Greece.  By holding onto its power with a small group, it was more efficient and effective than other poleis.


Brand, P. J. (n.d.). Athens & Sparta: Democracy vs. dictatorship.  Retrieved from https://my.uopeople.edu/pluginfile.php/1096377/mod_book/chapter/266691/Athens%20%20Sparta%20dictatorship%20%20democracy.pdf?time=1582319035433

Cartwright, M. (2018). Ancient Greek Government. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Government/

Greentree0. (2018). Monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy as forms of government in Ancient Greek city-states. Steemit. Retrieved from https://steemit.com/history/@greentree0/monarchy-aristocracy-tyranny-oligarchy-and-democracy-as-forms-of-government-in-ancient-greek-city-states

Halsall, P. (1999, January). Sparta. In Ancient History Sourcebook: 11th Britannica. Fordham University. Retrieved from https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/eb11-sparta.asp

See U in History / Mythology. (2017, November 29). The Greek city-states – Ancient history #02 – See U in History [Video]. YouTube.  Retrieved from https://youtu.be/gcAPoY6l-Pc

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