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THE MAKING OF EUROPE / EARLY EUROPEAN HISTORY

From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS

I. THE LANDS OF THE WEST AND THE RISE OF GREECE TO ABOUT 500 B.C.

Rediscovering the Path to Europe
Em. Macron, Rediscovering the Path to Europe


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Page 18

GOVERNMENT OF THE CITY-STATE

The Homeric poems, which give us our first view of the Greek city-state, also contain the most ancient account of its government. Each city-state had a king, "the shepherd of the people" [19] as Homer calls him. The king did not possess absolute authority. He was surrounded by a council of nobles, chiefly the great landowners of the community. They helped him in judgment and sacrifice, followed him to war, and filled the principal offices. Both king and nobles were obliged to consult the common people on matters of great importance. For this purpose the ruler would summon the citizens to the market place to hear the deliberations of his council and to settle such questions as making war or declaring peace. All men of free birth could attend the assembly, where they shouted assent to the decision of their leaders or showed disapproval by silence. This public assembly had little importance in the Homeric Age, but later it became the center of Greek democracy.

[19] Iliad, ii, 243.


POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CITY-STATE

After the middle of the eighth century B.C., when historic times began in Greece, some interesting changes took place in the government of the city- states. In some of them, for example, Thebes and Corinth, the nobles became strong enough to abolish the kingship altogether. Monarchy, the rule of one, thus gave away to aristocracy, [20] the rule of the nobles. In other states, for instance, Sparta and Argos, the kings were not driven out, but their power was much weakened. Some states came under the control of usurpers whom the Greeks called "tyrants." A tyrant was a man who gained supreme power by force and governed for his own benefit without regard to the laws. There were many tyrannies in the Greek world during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Still other states went through an entire cycle of changes from kingship to aristocracy, from aristocracy to tyranny, and from tyranny to democracy or popular rule.

[20] Aristocracy means, literally, the "government of the best." The Greeks also used the word _oligarchy_--"rule of the few"—to describe a government by citizens who belong to the wealthy class.

SPARTA AND ATHENS AS TYPES OF THE CITY-STATE

The isolated and independent Greek communities thus developed at an early period many different kinds of government. To study them all would be a long task. It is better to fix our attention on the two city-states which held the principal place in Greek history and at the same time presented the most striking contrasts in government and social life. These were Sparta and Athens.

 

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THE MAKING OF EUROPE / EARLY EUROPEAN HISTORY: Table of Contents

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IN PRINT

Rediscovering the Path to Europe Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House

Learned Freeware

 

Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy

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