I suppose we can't know the answer to this question, but I think it's worth hearing other people's best guesses. My theory is that Greece is special because it’s mostly comprised of many small islands. Expanding a kingdom from one island to two is much more difficult than expanding a kingdom on land. Each island had its most powerful family and it would have been [more] natural for them to see each other as rough equals. Democracy would have been an obvious government type when the islands needed to make a collective decision.

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    Much speculation - few facts and no references. Our goal is to compose definitive answers, and that all analysis be backed up by evidence. As Democracy developed on mainland Greece and not the Aegean archipelago, I see no particular merit to this analysis as presented. Mar 28, 2015 at 4:28
  • This is the kind of info I was looking for. Thanks Peter Mar 28, 2015 at 4:55

2 Answers 2


Each of the Greek city states had its own constitution. Some had kings, others were ruled by an aristocratic oligarchy. Democracy (in the original Greek sense of the term) was basically limited to Athens. It is not true that Greece was “mostly comprised of many small islands”; Athens in any case is not an island. So your linkage of democracy and islands does not really have anything in its favour.

  • Other cities had democracy too. For example, Argos or Megara. We just know a lot more about Athens. Mar 28, 2015 at 20:41
  • That is why I said "basically".
    – fdb
    Mar 28, 2015 at 20:45
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    I don't want to nitpick but your usage seems to imply that democracy outsie of Athens was a marginal or insignificant phenomenon. This is not so. Starting from the 7th century many cities were democratic during some or all of their history. The tug of war between democracy and oligarchy is an important part of Thucydides's story - which would not have been so were democracy marginal. Mar 28, 2015 at 20:50
  • Did they have a written constitution, or are you saying that each had distinct governance?
    – MCW
    Mar 28, 2015 at 22:02
  • An unwritten constitution, as in Britain even today.
    – fdb
    Mar 28, 2015 at 22:24

It didn't, that kind of tribal "democracy" isn't special to Greece. Lots of tribes make collective deicisions in a more or less democratic way. Greek democracy excludes most of the population who arent citizens. That's not different from other societies where only the priviledged caste can participate in government. Greece is just remembered specially today because it was the inspiration when real modern democracy was being setup in the last few centuries.

  • Im pointing out the premise was flawed Mar 28, 2015 at 9:04
  • So you think ancient Greece was really democratic? Its not. Mar 28, 2015 at 9:09
  • if you dont like my answer go away and make your own. my answer is the op's wrong about greece being special and democracy didn't start there Mar 28, 2015 at 9:12
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    I am afraid I have to downvote: Greek democracy was special. The notion of the entire (male, adult, unenslaved) population participating in government and making the laws is not something that's found in tribes. Try coming up with examples form elsewhere and you'll see how special that was. (I've once read that Indian villages had something similar - but on a much smaller scale, so that might be one small example). The fact that by modern standards the Greek poleis were very bigoted (against women and slaves, chiefly) should not blind us to their being a real huge step furward in history. Mar 28, 2015 at 14:14
  • @FelixGoldberg ancient india had democracies if we dont count the lowest castes, in the same way you exclud greek slaves. Germanic tribes practiced direct democracies. New zealand Maories had tribe meetings where heads of households could speak about big issues like the Greek forums Mar 28, 2015 at 16:19

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