This was called the age of heroes and the famous Trojan War, set off by the capture of Helen of Troy and fought by Ulysses, Achilles and other God-like warriors occurred during this period.
The collapse of Mycenaean culture followed an invasion from the north by the Dorian people who were much more primitive.
A Dark Age of about 300 years spread throughout Greece reducing their previous cultural advances to almost nothing. Their writing skills were lost, and they abandoned all commerce. Surviving then meant living in small valleys trying to achieve self-sufficiency in sheltered environments. Eventually a system of larger central towns surrounded by smaller towns developed.
Around 800 BC written language reappeared using the Phoenician alphabet with added vowels. Religion was revived with Zeus the main God. These central towns and their surrounding smaller towns became independent countries or City-States.
Now we enter into the heart of the subject. In the beginning these city-states were ruled by kings, but as prosperity and culture advanced, a class of rich influential people, an Oligarchy, began to supplant monarchies in most city-states except Sparta.
Athens was one of the leaders of the city-states, being open to changes in culture and free exchange of ideas. The leadership in Athens listened to the complaints that caused unhappiness for the peasant class, the poor and other victims of abundant injustice.
The shared belief that every one of your fellow citizens could and should be listened to is the corner stone of the philosophy of Democracy.
The Greek city-states, specifically Athens, were the first societies to promote the fact that individualism is good and that each person is an equally precious individual who deserves the respect and attention of their culture and religion. The individual was considered important and the correlation was that individuals had the right to shape their own lives and destinies. In effect, if you think that an individual is precious and that his needs and ideas should be respected, then this leads to the conclusion that he has a right to contribute to the government.
The idea that an individual’s needs and ideas were important was totally unrecognized by kings and dictators at this time.
It is an enormous tribute to the ancient Greek city-states that their unprecedented ideas regarding the importance of the individual in society and respect for individual rights led to Democracy eventually including the Bill of Rights and modern Democracy.
In the beginning, opposition to totally revolutionary ideas for the time from members of Athens’ rich and powerful governing leadership was constant. They used their power to change original laws that could encourage new ideas.
However one of Athens’ leaders, Draco, wrote a definite set of laws, although they were very harsh, it was a major improvement on the Collection of local Laws and Laws derived from oral tradition. These laws were so harsh that the adjective draconian still means extreme and harsh. Draco’s laws were totally remodeled by Solon, another Greek politician.
Solon created a set of much more equable laws along with his major achievement the Greek Assembly, the first time a group of ordinary citizens were able to make laws and help choose their own rulers. That was around 594 BC.
This is the beginning, the first time we could pronounce the word Democracy and use it to describe a form of government, "The government of the People by the People," from the Greek roots, Demos = People and Kratas = rule or government.
But an effective Democracy was slow to come into effect due to the resistance of wealthy land owners. One member of the landed class sided with the poor landless class and took power as a tyrant in 560 BC. Although he was a dictator he drew up new laws that redistributed land. His name was Pisistratus.
In 508 BC there was another great statesman in the Democracy of Athens, Cleisthenes.
Cleisthenes worked on laws that enabled every citizen, even those who did not own land, to be a part of the Assembly. He also set up a council of 500 citizens over the age of 30 who proposed laws to the Assembly for approval. Members of the Council were chosen by lot.
The Democracy in Athens reached its peak from 461 BC to 429 BC under the leadership of Pericles. He opened public offices to all citizens and made adjustments that made Athenian Democracy more efficient.
During this period and after, art, literature, drama and music flourished to the extent that they are still copied today.
Athenian Democracy as a system of government was emulated by the other Greek city-states and became the Universal blueprint for Democracy in our modern era .
Moreover Greek Democracy was copied by many countries through the ages, the most famous example being the United States of America.
Without Greek DEMOCRACY there would not be the United States of America as we know it.
Although Greek Democracy was a tremendously successful government that set free the enormous creative potential of all its citizens, it did not give political rights to women and slaves were not citizens.
One element of Greek Democracy which was very important in its success was the education that young Athenians received. Young men received strong scholarly instruction, with emphasis on freedom of ideas and speech, the arts, philosophy, writing and oratory. After a solid education young men took a solemn oath to defend their city and its Gods and then did two years of military training.
Athens’ influence spread over the world including conquest and political and military alliances (The Delian League). Athens’ influence diminished greatly after disputes between Greek city-states and ended with the defeat of Athens by Sparta (one of the rare city-kingdoms) in the Peloponnesian War.
The ultimate threat to Greek Democracy was to be King Phillip II of Macedonia who divided and disrupted the alliances of the city-states through bribery and political maneuvering and finally defeated them in 338 BC. This date, 338 BC, identifies the beginning of the end of Greek Democracy.
King Phillip II of Macedonia’s son was to become The Emperor Alexander the Great.