You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

Democracy and the Athenians

4. The Assembly and Political Leadership

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the workings of democracy in the later fifth century, focusing in particular on the popular assembly and the political leadership of Athens in this period. Firstly, we think about how the popular assembly actually operated, noting the important role of the Council of 500 in deciding which topics should be discussed and (in most cases) coming up with a proposed course of action. After that, we think about how political leadership operated in this system: since discussion in the popular assembly was limited to topics that had been pre-selected by the Council, to what extent was it possible for political leaders to influence broader policy more generally? Finally, we think about whether Athens really saw the rise of a new kind of politician after the death of Pericles in the early 420s.


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 - The Assembly and Political Leadership [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Osborne, R. "Democracy and the Athenians – The Assembly and Political Leadership." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,