Unknown Historical Figures – Cleisthenes

Cleisthenes was an ancient Athenian in 6th and 5th century B.C. from the family Alcmaeonidae, a noble family. The Family Alcmaeonidae is known for its usurping, exiling and reinstatements. Alcmaeonidae Family has been exiled several times before and has always been allowed to return in crisis times in Athens. They were mostly a family close to the kingship and interfered often in the king’s business and affairs. Cleisthenes is no exception to this family trend found as of late in historical findings. He overthrew the tyrannical King Hippias in 508 B.C. with the reluctant help of the Spartans due to an oracle’s falsified prophecy that was engineered by Cleisthenes himself. He wished to have the throne himself but wanted to rule with gentility, much unlike the rulers as of late in Athens. He is known to many as the “father of Athenian Democracy” and helped to decrease the power of the nobility in Athens. Ironic, isn’t it? But he wanted a type of democracy because the monarchy of the Athens of that day was obsolete due to many rulers turning to tyranny when they assume power. Spartan King Cleomenes exiled Cleisthenes from Athens due to Cleisthenes supposedly having the “Alcmaeonid curse” that said the Alcmaeonidae Family was ineligible to rule. The Spartan King then handed the throne to Isagoras, Cleisthenes’ rival in the fight for the kingship in Athens. With a kingship set on falsehoods, exiles, and abuse of citizens, Isagoras’ fall was inevitable and the citizens brought Cleisthenes back from his unwarranted exile. Upon his return, Cleisthenes split the four traditional tribes (based on family relations) into ten residence-based tribes. He set up a type of legislative bodies where the people were elected by lottery, or by chance of vote. He thus eliminated the need for a government based on kinship and heredity in Athens and the people agreed to this change in government after Isagoras’ tyrannical rule. Cleisthenes created the Boule which is a council of citizens and gave it 500 members, or 50 from each of the ten newly-formed tribes. He called these reforms for Athens isonomia ( iso=equal, nomos=law) instead of demokratia, which would translate to democracy today. Cleisthenes provided ostracism for Athens which was a law that said a vote of more than 6,000 citizens would exile a citizen they feel is a threat to society for ten years. Cleisthenes life was productive and remains little-known by many people worldwide. Without him, democracy may not have its form today because he provided many changes and laid the foundations for democracy’s future forms.


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