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Before You Learn About Athenian Officials


Athens in the time of Pericles (the great Greek leader who rebuilt the city after the destruction of the Persian Wars and was in charge of Athens at the start of the Peloponnesian War) was a democracy where citizens -- free males born in Athens -- voted for a variety of officials. If you are taking the new Classical Civilizations exam in the UK, Athenian Officials, Archons, Strategoi, and the Council of 500, are topics in section 10.3 The Athenian Constitution in the Time of Pericles, according to the Assessments and Qualifications Alliance (AQA).


The archons were chief magistrates not just in Athens, but in many of the Greek city-states. In Athens, the eponymous archon gave his name to the year and calendars were dated by his archonship. An archon may have been in charge of both the Athenian boule (council) and the ekklesia (assembly). The number of archons varied. One of the archons was in charge of war. He was called the polemarch combining the Greek for war and archon. Before entering office, which came to be awarded by lot and only for a limited time, the archons were subjected to fitness tests, including birth qualifications.


Eventually supplanting the polemarch as military leader of Athens, the strategos was an elected military leader or general. Originally there was one strategos in charge of each of the 10 tribes of Cleisthenes' division of Attica. The strategoi (pl. of strategos) exerted influence in foreign affairs as well and may have been able to call up the ekklesia (assembly). Unlike the archons, the strategoi could be elected indefinitely.

Boule - Council

The boule or council was the deliberative body in ancient Athens and the other city-states of Greece. Solon is said to have created a council of 400 to help the ekklesia (assembly) in 594. In 508 Cleisthenes increased membership to 500. The boule was elected by lot each year with each of the 10 tribes contributing 50 councilors. The boule's primary task was to create the agenda for the ekklesia.


The ekklesia (ecclesia) was the assembly. In Athens, the the ekklesia had the power to try archons after their year in office. Since the ekklesia probably selected the archons, and since, in time, it became common practice to make legal appeals to the ekklesia, the ekklesia (i.e., the people) had the supreme power.

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