In Greece and West Asia, mainly in what is now Turkey, there was a period of time around 650-400 BC when many city-states were ruled by tyrants. “Tyrant” is probably a Lydian word, from West Asia. Tyrannies usually grew out of oligarchies like this: in an oligarchy, each of the rich men is always trying to get more power than the others. But the other rich men keep them from doing it.
But if one of the rich men thinks of asking for help from the poor people, he can get ahead that way, and may make himself tyrant. So a tyrant is like a king, but a king who does not have the law or religion behind him, and only rules because the poor people support him. Tyrants are something like Mafia bosses like the Godfather.
Oligarchy means the rule of the few, and those few are generally the people who are richer and more powerful than the others, what you might call the aristocrats or the nobles. These are not always men: just as monarchies have both kings and queens, women sometimes appear in councils of aristocrats, and even when they are not members, they are often there telling their husbands or their sons what to do. So oligarchies are generally bad for the poor, but they are pretty good for women, at least for rich women from powerful families.
Usually the way it works is that there is a group of people who are in charge, somehow. Sometimes they may be elected, and sometimes they are born into their position, and at other times you might have to have a certain amount of money or land in order to be in the council. Then this group of people meets every so often – every week or every month – to decide important questions, and to appoint somebody to deal with things. Like they might decide that it should be illegal to steal, and then they would appoint one of the nobles to be a judge, and decide if people were guilty of stealing, and decide what to do with them if they were guilty.
The Greeks had a lot of different kinds of governments, because there were many different city-states in ancient Greece, and they each had their own government. In addition, people’s ideas about what made a good government changed over time.
Aristotle divided Greek governments into monarchies, oligarchies, tyrannies and democracies, and most historians still use these same divisions. For the most part, Greece began by having monarchies, then oligarchies, then tyrannies and then democracies, but at each period there were plenty of city-states using a different system, and there were many which never did become democracies or tyrannies at all. In the Late Bronze Age (the Mycenean period), between about 2000 and 1200 BC, all Greek city-states seem to have been monarchies, ruled by kings. Homer’s Iliad, and Greek mythology in general, shows us a whole series of kings like Agamemnon and Theseus, and some of their palaces have survived for archaeologists to dig up.
After the Dark Age, though, only a few Greek city-states still had kings. Sparta is the most famous of these, though actually Sparta had two kings, usually brothers or cousins, at the same time. One would stay home and the other go off to fight wars.
Most city-states in the archaic period were ruled by oligarchies, which is a group of aristocrats (rich men) who tell everyone else what to do. Then in the 600’s and 500’s BC a lot of city-states were taken over by tyrants. Tyrants were usually one of the aristocrats who got power over the others by getting the support of the poor people. They ruled kind of like kings, but without any legal right to rule.
In 510 BC, the city-state of Athens created the first democratic government, and soon other Greek city-states imitated them. But Athenian democracy did not really give power to everyone. Most of the people in Athens couldn’t vote – no women, no slaves, no foreigners (even Greeks from other city-states), and no children. And also, Athens at this time had an empire, ruling over many other Greek city-states, and none of those people living in the other city-states could vote either. Of course it is a lot easier to have a democratic government when you are only deciding what other people should do. (And many Greek city-states kept oligarchic government, or tyrannies, or monarchies, through this whole time).
Then in the 300’s BC, Greece was conquered by Philip of Macedon, and all of Greece began to be ruled by him as their king (in theory he was only leading a league of Greek city-states, but really he acted like a king). Athens and other Greek city-states still kept their local democracies or oligarchies for local government, but bigger decisions were made by Philip, and then by Philip’s son Alexander the Great.
After Alexander died in 323 BC, Greece became a kingdom ruled by a series of Macedonian kings, until it was gradually taken over by the Romans between 200 and 146 BC. From 146 BC on, Greece was a province of the Roman Empire. Even after the Roman Empire in the West collapsed, Greece was still part of the Eastern Empire.
(Posted by johnslat at answers.yahoo.com)
Democracy is said to be the government of the many. But what if the many are men of property and have the power in their hands? In like manner oligarchy is said to be the government of the few; but what if the poor are fewer than the rich, and have the power in their hands because they are stronger? In these cases the distinction which we have drawn between these different forms of government would no longer hold good.
Suppose, once more, that we add wealth to the few and poverty to the many, and name the governments accordingly — an oligarchy is said to be that in which the few and the wealthy, and a democracy that in which the many and the poor are the rulers — there will still be a difficulty. For, if the only forms of government are the ones already mentioned, how shall we describe those other governments also just mentioned by us, in which the rich are the more numerous and the poor are the fewer, and both govern in their respective states?
The argument seems to show that, whether in oligarchies or in democracies, the number of the governing body, whether the greater number, as in a democracy, or the smaller number, as in an oligarchy, is an accident due to the fact that the rich everywhere are few, and the poor numerous. But if so, there is a misapprehension of the causes of the difference between them. For the real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is a democracy. But as a fact the rich are few and the poor many; for few are well-to-do, whereas freedom is enjoyed by an, and wealth and freedom are the grounds on which the oligarchic and democratically parties respectively claim power in the state.
When speaking of royalty we also spoke of two forms of tyranny, which are both according to law, and therefore easily pass into royalty. Among barbarians there are elected monarchs who exercise a despotic power; despotic rulers were also elected in ancient Hellas, called Aesymnetes or Dictators. These monarchies, when compared with one another, exhibit certain differences. And they are royal, in so far as the monarch rules according to law over willing subjects; but they are tyrannical in so far as he is despotic and rules according to his own fancy. There is also a third kind of tyranny, which is the most typical form, and is the counterpart of the perfect monarchy. This tyranny is just that arbitrary power of an individual which is responsible to no one, and governs all alike, whether equals or better, with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects, and therefore against their will. No freeman, if he can escape from it, will endure such a government.
The appointment of a king is the resource of the better classes against the people, and he is elected by them out of their own number, because either he himself or his family excel in virtue and virtuous actions; whereas a tyrant is chosen from the people to be their protector against the notables, and in order to prevent them from being injured. History shows that almost all tyrants have been demagogues who gained the favor of the people by their accusation of the notables. At any rate this was the manner in which the tyrannies arose in the days when cities had increased in power. Others which were older originated in the ambition of kings wanting to overstep the limits of their hereditary power and become despots. Others again grew out of the class which were chosen to be chief magistrates; for in ancient times the people who elected them gave the magistrates, whether civil or religious, a long tenure. Others arose out of the custom which oligarchies had of making some individual supreme over the highest offices. In any of these ways an ambitious man had no difficulty, if he desired, in creating a tyranny, since he had the power in his hands already, either as king or as one of the officers of state. Thus Pheidon at Argos and several others were originally kings, and ended by becoming tyrants; Phalaris, on the other hand, and the Ionian tyrants, acquired the tyranny by holding great offices. Whereas Panaetius at Leontini, Cypselus at Corinth, Peisistratus at Athens, Dionysius at Syracuse, and several others were at first demagogues but afterwards became tyrants. As of oligarchy so of tyranny, the end is wealth; (for by wealth only can the tyrant maintain either his guard or his luxury). Both mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms. Both agree too in injuring the people and driving them out of the city and dispersing them. From democracy tyrants have borrowed the art of making war upon the notables and destroying them secretly or openly, or of exiling them because they are rivals and stand in the way of their power; and also because plots against them are contrived by men of this dass, who either want to rule or to escape subjection. Hence Periander advised Thrasybulus by cutting off the tops of the tallest ears of corn, meaning that he must always put out of the way the citizens who overtop the rest.
Royalties do not now come into existence; where such forms of government arise, they are rather monarchies or tyrannies. For the rule of a king is over voluntary subjects, and he is supreme in all important matters; but in our own day men are more upon an equality, and no one is so immeasurably superior to others as to represent adequately the greatness and dignity of the office. Hence mankind will not, if they can help, endure it, and anyone who obtains power by force or fraud is at once thought to be a tyrant. In hereditary monarchies a further cause of destruction is the fact that kings often fall into contempt, and, although possessing not tyrannical power, but only royal dignity, are apt to outrage others. Their overthrow is then readily affected; for there is an end to the king when his subjects do not want to have him, but the tyrant lasts, whether they like him or not.
In book VIII of The Republic, Plato has Socrates describe the five stages of government:                                                                                                             In an aristocracy, the good and wise leaders, being human, will fail. The intelligence of the senses will seduce them into producing children and future leaders unworthy to be guardians of the state, people who are chained by their senses. The platonic relationships (people marrying for the best offspring and not for sensual pleasure) will become out of fashion. “Iron will mingle with silver, and brass with gold, and hence will arise dissimilarity and inequality and irregularity, which in all cases lead to hatred and war.”
Philosophers will lose their power to warriors, who are cruder and less knowledgeable about philosophy, leading to Democracy. Democracy is patterned after Sparta. Here the warriors will rule, but the moneyed class will be empowered, for soldiers are miserly and covetous. Property will eventually be coveted more than the good of the state. Personal ambition will replace ambition for the state. Citizens will become overly obedient to the state.
Thus, Democracy will give way to Oligarchy. As personal wealth becomes more important, its presence is needed in order to rule. The guardians of the state are all rich and two classes appear—the rich and the poor. The rich have power; the poor don’t.
•Personal wealth ruins Timocracy. People break the law for money. All seek wealth and leave virtue behind.
•The rich are honored and cultivated. Virtues are neglected and shunned.
•Men love trade, materialism and money. Flaws of an Oligarchy
•Rulers are elected because of material success: who would pick the richest sailor to navigate the ship rather than the most able and knowledgeable about navigating?
•Two classes—rich and poor— are united and afraid of war.
•The fondness of money makes citizens unwilling to pay taxes, thus leaving the state in disrepair.
•Homeless people wander the streets—ruined but alive and angry. Crime increases and more measures are needed to stop crime, more freedoms are curtailed. As more freedoms are lost and more inequalities are apparent, the need for freedom increases. As the rich make more and more decisions based upon their personal welfare, more cries for justice and equality are heard and democracy is born.
In a democracy, the desire for freedom will prove to be its downfall. In a democracy the people rule and the rulers are slaves to the people. The people demand more and more freedom, until they are free to do anything they want, without responsibility to anyone. Soon the anarchy descends into the family. The father is equal with his sons, and he begins to fear them. And the sons no longer respect their father, for he is their equal and they are free to do as they please.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s