Such situation was highly untypical for the rest of contemporary societies that mostly relied on the tribal principle. The core factor that could be held responsible for the fragmentation of ancient Greece into numerous city-states was the country's geography, namely numerous mountains, hills and rivers that served as natural barriers between the regions. Despite self-identification as 'one people' the poleis fiercely defended their independent status and almost never considered the option of unification. Therefore, the political system of Ancient Greece had at least two specific characteristics that distinguished it from the rest of contemporary political systems:
Furthermore, even small city-states that could not compete with their larger neighbors were rarely conquered or ruled directly another polis. Instead the common practice in Ancient Greece was grouping of poleis into confederations or leagues, members of which constantly changed. In the Classical Period (5th and 4th centuries BC), these leagues became larger and fewer with one powerful polis being the dominant member. Athens, Sparta and Thebes were the three poleis that played the key roles in respective leagues.
Prior to the birth of democracy in Athens, the poleis we...
Rapid development of trade followed by the emergence of a middle class by the 6th century BC led to transformation of the traditional aristocratic rule. In some poleis such as Corinth the middle class revolted, overthrew the rule of aristocracy and replaced it with the dictators (tyrants). However, the rule of the tyrants was highly unstable because the aristocracy desperately wanted to regain control and used any methods in doing so (Rhodes, 2006, p.256-257).
In other poleis, the process of transformation was more peaceful because the ruling class reasonably admitted the power of middle classes and included their representatives into the ruling council. This type of government successfully existed in Sparta and became known as oligarchy, or 'rule by the few'. Athens also fell under a tyranny in the second half of the 6th century, but already in the 5th century BC the polis managed to establish the first democratic system or 'rule by the people'. Athens was described as having the most innovative and sophisticated democracy among all political structures that existed at that time and had democratic features (Dahl, 1989).
Political ideals and aims of the classical Athenian democracy were expressed by the outstanding Greek philosopher Aristotle in The Politics dated between 335 and 323 BC. Aristotle identified liberty as one of the founding principles of the classical democratic constitution. The philosopher argues that liberty has two major aspects, namely:
1) ruling and being ruled in turn;
2) living as one chooses (Aristotle, 1984)
The ideals of Athenian democracy - equality among citizens, liberty, and respect for the law and justice - have had great influence in the Western political thought, "although there are some central ideas, for