The center of Athenian democracy was the Assembly. Its
membership included every citizen who had reached twenty years of age. Rarely,
however, did the attendance number more than five thousand, since most of the
citizens lived outside the walls in the country districts of Attica. Forty
regular meetings were held every year. These took place on the slopes of the
hill called the Pnyx. A speaker before the Assembly faced a difficult audience.
It was ready to yell its disapproval of his advice, to mock him if he
mispronounced a word, or to drown his voice with shouts and whistles.
Naturally, the debates became a training school for orators. No one could make
his mark in the Assembly who was not a clear and interesting speaker. Voting
was by show of hands, except in cases affecting individuals, such as ostracism,
when the ballot was used. Whatever the decision of the Assembly, it was final.
This great popular gathering settled questions of war and peace, sent out
military and naval expeditions, voted public expenditures, and had general control
over the affairs of Athens and the empire.
THE TEN GENERALS
The Assembly was assisted in the conduct of public
business by many officers and magistrates, among whom the Ten Generals held the
leading place. It was their duty to guide the deliberations of the Assembly and
to execute the orders of that body.