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Democracy and the Athenians

2. Cleisthenes

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about Cleisthenes, the Athenian politician who came to prominence after the fall of the tyrant Hippias in the late sixth century BC. After half a century of politics being dominated by a single family, one of the Cleisthenes’ most important achievements was his insistence that members of the Council of 500 should be drawn from every single village in Attica, something which ensured that the Athenian politics would never again be dominated by individuals from a single region or interest group. We also discuss Cleisthenes’ decision to group the villages of Attica in ten tribes - groupings that further helped to ‘mix up’ the Athenian population.


In this course, Prof. Robin Osborne (University of Cambridge) explores the development and operation of Athenian democracy. In the first half of the course, we outline the major landmarks in the development of development of democracy, from Solon in the early sixth century, through Cleisthenes in the late sixth century, and then through the fifth century and the reforms of individuals such as Ephialtes and Pericles. In the second half, we think about the operation of Athenian democracy in its most radical form, focusing in particular on the workings of the popular assembly and the law-courts, the kind of political leaders that were influential in this period, and the benefits and drawbacks of mass participation in the political system.


Robin Osborne is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge and of the British Academy. He works on Greek History (political, social, economic, cultural) and Greek Archaeology (field archaeology and art history) between 1000 B.C. and 200 B.C, and has published extensively across a range of topics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Osborne, R. (2018, August 15). Democracy and the Athenians - Cleisthenes [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Osborne, R. "Democracy and the Athenians – Cleisthenes." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,