History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I realize that many people say that Athens is where democracy started, but is there any solid proof that it was the first? On Wikipedia, it is stated that:

there is evidence to suggest that democratic forms of government, in a broad sense, may have existed in several areas of the world well before the turn of the 5th century.

What would this include? Any specific examples and evidence? If not, then probably just answer so.

share|improve this question
Related history.stackexchange.com/q/3024/961 – American Luke Nov 26 '12 at 15:00
@Luke It's similar, but I this question isn't really about the influence on Greeks, but is more focused on the origins of democracy itself, or where it first appeared (regardless of its impact). – Reliable Source Nov 26 '12 at 15:05
Two problems: 1) Define democracy (do quasi democratic tribal societies count?) 2) Lack of accurate historical records (For example: Spartans were quite democratic, and their body of laws predates Solon's by a century or two, but they had the bad habit of not keeping records). – Yannis Nov 26 '12 at 16:14
Interesting read: The Secret History of Democracy – Yannis Nov 26 '12 at 16:38
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Democracy is usually understood as a system where decisions are taken by the method of voting among the citizens.

This means that essentially democracy shares its origins with the method of voting.

Historians know that tribe councils were popular among most ancient cultures, including Mycenean Greeks and ancient Germanic tribes.

Even more, arguably it was the most ancient form of government because authoritarian rule and compulsion require sufficient inequality in means and resources which became only possible with advent of neolithic.

Even more, if you look at an animal herd, you will see that the leader is usually chosen by "voting": the herd votes whom to follow with their legs.

The direction of movement is even chosen by voting among fish and even more primitive animals.

It is thus possible that "democracy" at least predates chordates.

share|improve this answer
Are there any sources to back that up? If you do (maybe expand more), I'll change it to accepted answer. – Reliable Source Nov 28 '12 at 12:03
@Reliable Source, sources for what part? – Anixx Nov 28 '12 at 13:44
You say "Historians know that...." where did you get that? What historians? Also, where did you get the information on animals? Basically, any and all sources you had. – Reliable Source Nov 28 '12 at 14:19
@Reliable Source There are multiple instances of collective decision making in Homer's Iliad for example. Even more, it starts with a voting in Council of Gods. Regarding Germanic tribes, refer to Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico where he describes several Germanic congresses. – Anixx Nov 28 '12 at 14:30
@ReliableSource The decision making in hunter-gatherer bands (the "before Neolithic" humans) is backed up by "Guns, Germs, and Steel". – kubanczyk Nov 28 '12 at 14:38

There were in ancient India "republics", for example, this one. I am not an expert on them, so I can't vouch for how democratic compared to the Greek polis they were; however, in some measure they do fit the bill.

share|improve this answer
This link has some good information. – Jayaram Nov 29 '12 at 23:19

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.