Athens was one of thefirst city-states.Each of these independent states consisted of a city and the region that surrounded it.Athens had a king, as did other Greek states.According to tradition, thefirst king of Athens was named Cecrops.Kings ruled the city-state until 682 B.C. Beginning that year, elected officials called archons headed the government of Athens.The general assembly, which consisted of all adult male citizens of Athens, elected the archons to one-year terms. After their term of office, the archons joined the Areopagus, a council of elder statesmen.The Areopagus judged murder trials and prepared political matters for the vote of the general assembly.
Hippias fell from power in 510 B.C., and Cleisthenes, the head of a leading family, became the most powerful statesman in Athens.About 508 B.C., the Athenians adopted a new constitution proposed by Cleisthenes, which made the state a democracy.This constitution was an unwritten one, but it stayed in effect with little change for hundreds of years.The constitution kept the ideas of Solon, but it also provided for new conditions that had developed since Solon’s rule.
Until Cleisthenes’ time, citizenship in Athens had been based on blood relationship to the four Ionic tribes that had originally settled Attica.A man had to belong to a phratry (brotherhood) to be a citizen.Under Cleisthenes’ system, all men 18 years of age and older were registered as citizens and as members of the deme (village or town) in which they lived.In time, membership in the demes became hereditary, and so a man might belong to a deme in which he did not actually live.Cleisthenes divided the demes into 30 groups called trittyes, which, in turn, were divided into 10 new tribes.Each of the 10 tribes was made up of 3 trittyes from different regions of Athens.Thus, members of each tribe came from various families and different parts of the city-state.