demokratia

how did the ancient athenians manage? to have a functioning democracy, that is — for as long as they did?

having a real, working democratic society seems to be at direct odds with being a clannish or tribalistic society. but the ancient greeks, including the athenians, were clannish|tribal — they had phylai (clans or tribes) and phratries (kin-groups or, maybe, sub-clans). and they definitely practiced inbreeding, frequently marrying cousins. in fact, fbd marriage was obligatory in the case of a female heiress — she had to marry one of her paternal cousins so that the estate would not go out of the extended family.

so how the h*ck did they manage to come up with a working demokratia?

cleisthenes’ reforms in 508/7 b.c.

in order to put a stop to the tyrannies that were continually popping up in athens (or, more likely, to quash the powers of clans other than his own — some of his family members had been tyrants, after all), cleisthenes devised a new system whereby athenian society would be organized.

the countryside surrounding athens, attica, had been politically arranged into demes, or regions or neighborhoods. to be a citizen, though, you had to be a member of a long-standing athenian phratry (kin-group). the demes were probably dominated by the phratries that happened to live in them.

cleisthenes rearranged all the demes in a brilliant sort-of reverse-gerrymandering scheme. the new political regions (trittyes) each consisted of three different, non-contiguous areas: from the coast, from the city, and from a rural area. everyone eligible to vote would now cast their vote as a member of a trittys, not (so much anymore) as a member of a phratry.

heh. brilliant!:

“After this victory Cleisthenes began to reform the government of Athens. In order to forestall strife between the traditional clans, which had led to the tyranny in the first place, he changed the political organization from the four traditional tribes, which were based on family relations, into ten tribes according to their area of residence (their deme). Most modern historians suppose there were 139 demes (this is still a matter of debate), organized into thirty groups called trittyes (‘thirds’), with ten demes divided among three regions in each trittys (a city region, asty; a coastal region, paralia; and an inland region, mesogeia). Cleisthenes also abolished patronymics in favour of demonymics (a name given according to the deme to which one belongs), thus increasing Athenians’ sense of belonging to a deme.” [wikip]

this system worked, with a few short interruptions and some changes, for more than a couple hundred years. cool.

cheryl anne cox goes into a lot of detail about athenian marriage patterns. i’ve read some of her book, but not all, so i still don’t have a good overview of how it all worked and what sort of changes in how athenians mated, if any, might have happened over time. she does mention that cousin marriage occurred not infrequently, but that arranged marriages (most of the marriages of vips in athens|attica were arranged) also happened between neighbors in a deme — you know, to create alliances between important families, join up big farms, etc., etc. she also notes that marriage in the city was more heterogamous.

the phratries (kin-groups) did, apprarently, loose their significance during the classical period in athens. did this have to do with increasing marriages across the artifically created trittyes (i.e. outbreeding) with a concomitant decrease in marriages within the phratry (i.e. inbreeding)? dunno, but i’d put money on it.

also, had the phratries, which had been powerful during the greek dark ages, already been weakened by the time of cleisthenes’ reforms by the outbreeding in the demes that cox describes? i think it likely.

maybe athenian society was already primed for demokratia by the time cleisthenes got there.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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15 Comments

  1. I have often wondered about Athenian democracy. Who actually voted? Who actually governed? They obviously had slaves and “free” peasants and artisans. And women. I doubt these people voted. Maybe some of the artisans. All in all, Athenian democracy seems to be a lot like early 19th Century British democracy: very limited electorate and domination by the aristocracy.

    Am I wrong yet again? Did your reading turn up any evidence as to who did the voting and who could hold office. Please don’t tell me I have to do my own work.

    Reply

  2. You can see how the mechanism could work. Reforms are undertaken simply to reduce the conflict caused by clannishness and the resulting exogamy creates a more egalitarian and democratic tendency as a side-effect.

    I expect the Roman not-really-tribes came about in a similar way. They originally had kin-based ones and later someone created a system for splitting them up and creating artificial ones.

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  3. @g.w. – “Reforms are undertaken simply to reduce the conflict caused by clannishness and the resulting exogamy creates a more egalitarian and democratic tendency as a side-effect.”

    exactly!

    @g.w. – “I expect the Roman not-really-tribes came about in a similar way. They originally had kin-based ones and later someone created a system for splitting them up and creating artificial ones.”

    yeah, so i understand. i don’t know the history of the roman not-really-tribes tribes, but i’m curious to find out. i suppose the romans might’ve just copied what the greeks had done since they had such a greek fetish. dunno!

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  4. @bob – “Please don’t tell me I have to do my own work.”

    no! we can’t have that. that would never do! (~_^)

    drawing on my vast knowledge of athenian democracy (i.e. what i read on wikipedia last night), only male citizens above the age of 20 who had completed their military training had the right/duty to vote. so, no, this did not include foreigners living in the city (for any length of time), slaves, freed slaves, or women. it did include all classes of male citizens, though, from the richest to the manual laborers.

    these citizens would get together as the ecclesia to vote on many/most(?) issues. in the 5th century b.c., they prolly numbered 43,000 individuals! for many issues, a quorum of 6000 was required, so the voting rounds (done by a show of hands) must’ve been quite an event!

    oh, and it was your duty to vote, not just your right:

    “A gang of Scythian slaves, carrying ropes dipped in red ochre (miltos, hence Miltiades, i.e. the Red-Haired) would go through the city on the days the Ekklesia was to meet, and use their ropes to lash those citizens not in attendance. With garments thus stained, shamed citizens could legally carry out no business until they visited the meeting grounds of the Ekklesia on the hill called the Pnyx.”

    many (most? all? i don’t have a full grasp of this…) of the government officials — i.e. people running the show from day-to-day — were chosen by lot on an annual basis! anybody (any citizen) could wind up in practically any government position. personally, i like the sound of this. get rid of all these idiot professional politicians that we’ve got now! (oh, you had to be over the age of 30 to be in one of these administrative positions.)

    here’s a nice flowchart of the athenian constitution for you to enjoy. (^_^)

    Reply

  5. hbdchick

    “i suppose the romans might’ve just copied what the greeks had done since they had such a greek fetish. dunno!”

    The Romans apparently copied a lot of their social institutions from the Etruscans. The Etruscans were to the north of them (Etruria), originally more advanced, and destroyed by the early Celtic incursion that took over a lot of northern Italy and sacked Rome about 400BC(ish).

    The link is the Etruscans supposedly originally sailed there from Greece or at least that’s what their founding myth said.

    Reply

  6. @g.w. – “The Romans apparently copied a lot of their social institutions from the Etruscans.”

    ok! didn’t know that.

    @g.w. – “The link is the Etruscans supposedly originally sailed there from Greece or at least that’s what their founding myth said.”

    there’s even some genetic evidence to suggest this, now, isn’t there? at least that they came from western anatolia (greece, more or less) — including their cows!

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  7. “there’s even some genetic evidence to suggest this, now, isn’t there?”

    didn’t know that. i’m very much a dabbler in a lot of ponds rather than an expert in any one in particular. the only thing i’m an expert in is avoiding getting stabbed :)

    (long story)

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  8. “there’s even some genetic evidence to suggest this, now, isn’t there?”

    This may tie into something else.

    I came into this through working in an inner-city environment where there were a lot of ethnic groups from different parts of the world clustered into separate enclaves and coming to the conclusion that the distinct differences between these groups represented snap-shots of evolution.

    When you look at it that way you find you can categorise people largely by latitude: tropical, sub-tropical, mid-latitudes and northern with various splits and exceptions and hybrids e.g. europeans and north asians are two very distinct forms of northern. Anyway blah blah after reading bits and pieces one of the distinctive features of europeans i’d noticed is commonly accepted as a distinctive characteristic i.e. individualism vs collectivism.

    I was trying to think how that might have come about.

    One of the things you notice about different ethnic groups is how their levels of violent crime can vary dramatically. Now if the reason for this is a higher frequency of certain traits (which it is imo) and if traits are always there for a reason and if those violent traits are highly maladaptive in high-density urban environments (which they are) then i think it’s safe to say they evolved in a time and place where they were useful and they were bred out in some populations over time but not others.

    The thing is there might be multiple ways to achieve the same effect.

    Say the overall rate of internal violence in a group is given by (PCT/R)*PD where
    – PCT is potential criminal traits
    – R is restraint
    – PD is population density

    Then say any total score above a certain amount is maladaptive and creates selection pressures to solve the problem.

    For example assume a lot of PCTs like an immediate impulsive violent reaction to any percieved threat, were adaptive once, conscious restraint wasn’t developed yet and you’re looking at hunter-gatherer bands with very high PCT, low R and a low PD.

    You might get an group internal violence score of (10/1)*1 or 10. Say that is below the threshold for a problem. Then imagine the same people settle down in an agricultural village where the PD score is 3. The total GIV score is now 30 and a problem.

    If you accept that basic idea then reducing the score back to 10 can happen in more than one way. The group can reduce the total PCT score by reducing the frequency of certain PCT traits or the group can increase the frequency of some R restraining traits. The obvious way to do this is with a criminal process that executes, banishs and deters.

    If you do it primarily this way then you could see PCT going down and R going up and the total GIV going down. Say PCT drops to 9 and R increases to 3 with PD the same at 3 then your total score drops from 30 to 9, back below the threshold again. If the group grows and starts to live in higher-density towns with a PD of 5 then the group might need to see PCT drop to 8 and R increase to 4 for a total score of 10. And so on up to higher levels of population density.

    So if it was primarily a criminal justice process you’d expect to see populations who had lived in high density urban environments over very long periods of time to have lower levels of PCT traits and a higher level of R (one big aspect of which is conscientousness) than groups who hadn’t undergone that process.

    If you continued this process long enough a group might develop a level of conscientousness high enough that, even if they were still highly clannish and endogamous, the elite could leverage the concientousness into national levels of co-operation.

    In terms of the forces needed to overcome clannishness and create national levels of co-operation being blood-ties and idealogy a group could develop a trait that magnified the effect of idealogy i.e. conscientousness. This would make it easier for that group to reach national orbit. I think this may have been the north asian route.

    Anyway that was an aside.

    The criminal justice route of molding people to adapt to higher density living is a lot easier to imagine if you have an elite and elites require a surplus to form. So you can see how maybe cultures and groups that centered on the big river valleys may have gone that route. If you have high population density with the commensurate violence and a food surplus it makes sense an elite would form to deal with it.

    However what if there is no surplus. I keep coming back to this,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_Cucuteni%E2%80%93Trypillian_culture

    what happens when you have a high density subsistence population. You’d have the same violence problem but no surplus to support an elite to deal with it.

    Obviously you could still have a posse type criminal justice system but i was thinking something more fundamental that changed the actual population biologically was more likely although i couldn’t think what. Looking at the GIV equation and your endogamy-exogamy idea i think that fits the bill.

    If you look at population density what does it actually mean? It’s basically a proxy for average genetic distance and therefore genetic restraint. If you say restraint is broken down into implicit genetic restraint i.e. a natural aversion to killing your own near-kin and explicit restraint i.e a conscious avoidance of getting hung even though you want to kill someone, then in a hunter-gather band you don’t need much explicit restraint because you are surrounded by your own blood and buckets of natural implicit restraint.

    So exogamy is a proxy for lowering population density in my equation.

    If you have 15,000 clannish people squashed together in a Cuculeni town the effective PD might be 5 but if you make them more exogamous then the effective PD might only be 3. Basically you make people more related to each other to leverage implict restraint.

    So where there was a surplus i’d say the elite route would be more likely (or maybe a bit of both) but when that option was not available you get the exogamy option.

    (It’s a bit like the Tahitian island swingers solution we talked about a little while ago.)

    Anyway now i think your exogamy thing is probably what made the Cuculeni able to live the way they did (very few weapons btw) and they would have been as individualistic and ideal-centric as modern Europeans for the same exogamy reasons however i don’t think their exogamy *then* is the reason for European individualism *now*. What happened in between – something to do with the climate changing i imagine and they spread out more (or whatever it was that happened) and got more endogamous and tribal again before taking over the Roman empire and getting more exogamous again through the church.

    (I think this could wax and wane depending on how people were living because i think high PCT and low R is adaptive for small-scale tribal warfare.)

    .
    Anyway how do the Etruscans fit into this? Well they probably don’t but…

    Apparently (i need to research this to be sure) agriculture didn’t first start in the riverine valleys. It started a bit further north and west(?) of the fertile crescent i.e. sort of around where the Etruscans may have come from. This agriculture may have been more like the cucuteni culture with no, or less, surplus therefore no, or a smaller, elite with fewer soldiers and executioners ergo more need for exogamy based pacification.

    Maybe.

    So the “European” distinctiveness may have come from not having a giant fertile river valley *and* not being in range of the armies of the people that did.

    .

    Reply

  9. @g.w. – “The thing is there might be multiple ways to achieve the same effect.”

    absolutely! i was thinking of the east asians, also, as i was reading what you wrote here. from “The 10,000 Year Explosion” re. an allele related to adhd:

    “The polymorphism is found at varying but significant levels in many parts of the world, but is almost entirely absent from East Asia…

    The Japanese say that the nail that sticks out is hammered down, but in China it may have been pulled out and thrown away.

    Selection for submission to authority sounds unnervingly like domestication…”

    some populations, like you say, may have just worked hard to elimate the “genes for” violence and impulsive behaviors from their gene pool.

    on the other hand, you could just try to get everybody to be more related to one another (like thomas aquinas kinda-sorta suggested) and, like you say, that ought to elminate some of the desire to bash “the other” over the head ’cause he might actually be your fifth cousin.

    imagine societies that have done both (if there are any). then you could really have some peace and tranquility! as long as some unrelated horde doesn’t invade you….

    thnx for sharing about the cucuteni–trypillian culture! never heard about it. fascinating!

    have you been reading about göbekli tepe in turkey? one of the earliest (ca. 11,000 years old) — and humongous! — temple complexes built by hunter-gatherers — who, so they say, did NOT live in any sort of urban setting — and they weren’t even doing much farming. “First came the temple, then the city.” very exciting, if correct!

    Reply

  10. hbdchick
    “on the other hand, you could just try to get everybody to be more related to one another (like thomas aquinas kinda-sorta suggested) and, like you say, that ought to elminate some of the desire to bash “the other” over the head ’cause he might actually be your fifth cousin.”

    Yes, plus if you have a surplus and an elite with guards at their disposal your first thought might be to go down the criminal justice route. However if you had no surplus, no elite and no soldiers then you’d need to think of something else.

    Over 3,000 years i think you can imagine either method having potentially dramatic differences in *biological* outcomes, man-made evolution.

    .
    “have you been reading about göbekli tepe in turkey? one of the earliest (ca. 11,000 years old)”

    I’d heard of it but not read much about it yet but i will now.

    Reply

  11. @g.w. – “sort of fits what we’ve been talking about.”

    it kinda-sorta does. it came to my mind after what you wrote about the whole cucuteni–trypillian thing and relatedness, etc., etc. hmmmmmm.

    Reply

  12. A comment/link on Steve Sailer’s blog made me wonder

    http://www.doceo.co.uk/background/shame_guilt.htm

    ####################
    A useful distinction for articulating these different assumptions and rules is that between “shame” culture and “guilt” culture.

    It was articulated by Dodds (1951). Discussing ancient Greek epics and drama, he traced an increasing sophistication in their development, from a conception of the world and the moral order as arbitrary and subject to the whim of the gods, through to a later understanding of the limits of moral responsibility. Even among the great tragedians, for example, Aeschylus’ Oresteian Trilogy is about individuals simply caught up in the workings out of the curse of Atreus; Sophocles makes the issue of responsibility more problematic, and for Euripides it resides more fully in the individual. Aristotle eventually identified “hamartia” or “tragic fault” as an attribute of the individual. Dodds typifies the distinction as that between “shame” and personal “guilt”.
    ####################

    So…we have a clannish population based on kin-groups and along comes Cleisthenes who creates artifical kin-groups based on political divisions (which serve a practical purpose similar to the usual purpose of natural kin-groups) which we think might have made the Athenians behave less clannishly. However if the benefits of cooperating along the artificial clan lines were enough to make the Athenians behave less clannishly then perhaps they were also strong enough to make people start *marrying* within the artificial lines also. So his reforms may have led to a slow(?) process of outbreeding as people formed beneficial alliances within their new artificial clan.

    However if the artificial clan-lines were fixed and static and people started to inter-marry along the artifical clan lines then eventually they wouldn’t be artificial anymore so you could imagine a sequence from the original clans (inbred) to the artificial clans (outbreeding) to the artificial clans becoming real ones (inbred again now the artificial clan lines match the familial ones).

    This could have happened elsewhere in history also. It would be interesting if there were other times and places where a local version of Cleisthenes did something like this which led to a period of great innovation and scientific enquiry followed by a reversion to an earlier state?

    Reply

  13. @g.w. – “However if the artificial clan-lines were fixed and static and people started to inter-marry along the artifical clan lines then eventually they wouldn’t be artificial anymore so you could imagine a sequence from the original clans (inbred) to the artificial clans (outbreeding) to the artificial clans becoming real ones (inbred again now the artificial clan lines match the familial ones).”

    yes! i’ve been thinking along the same lines. (^_^)

    there’s some linguistic evidence to suggest — or maybe just hint — that the artificial clan-lines maybe did lead to outbreeding (and concomitant changes in the nature of ancient greek society/mentality), but i have the impression that the outbreeding didn’t stick the way it did in northern europe, and that, like you say, new clans were established instead of the greeks following the ultimate outbreeding path like northern europeans. from mitterauer (<< follow the link for the whole quote):

    “Fundamental trends in the changing kinship systems in Europe can best be deduced from the modified kinship terms in various European languages…. Three major transformational processes illustrate this statement with regard to European kinship systems.

    “We can describe the first fundamental trend in the shifting of European kinship terms as the gradual appearance of the same, or parallel, terms for paternal and maternal relatives, which is best shown in the expressions for a parent’s siblings. All the Indo-European languages of Europe originally distinguished between the father’s brother or sister and the mother’s brother or sister…. As the history of almost every European language evolved, distinctions between paternal and maternal relatives became neutral… Greek was the first European language to eliminate the terminological distinction between the father’s and the mother’s side, a transition that began as early as between the fifth and third century BC….

    “That the great transformational process of European kinship terminology must also have had pre-Christian roots is clear from a sequence of events over a long period of time. The rudimentary beginnings are found in the Greek language from the fifth to the third century BC, and it is very likely that broader considerations further influenced these processes. Traditional ancient Greek kinship terminology was probably transmitted just the way ancient Greek traditions were, by and large within a Christian context. The term ‘brother’ can serve as a concrete example. The expansion of the concept of ‘brother’ beyond blood kinship in several Romance languages led to the emergence of a new term for the biological brother. This can surely be traced back to a Christian influence, but the phenomenon itself is not genuinely Christian. In various Eastern religious communities, strangers became ‘brothers’ by means of initiation ceremonies. The teachings of the Stoics spread the term even further. The use of ‘brother’ in urban contexts for a brother in office or a fraternity brother goes back a long way. Hellenistic urban cultures may be regarded as the social foil for this phenomenon, which, thanks to Christianity, continued to live and have an effect on medieval European societies….”

    Reply

  14. random comment not wholly related to this post, but ive been wondering if there’d be a way to see if there’s any predictive power to the marriage type/patterns and the type of social structure we see. Contemporary Russia has got me thinking about this idea, fwiw.

    Reply

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