Kleroterion: What Is It, History And How It Works

The kleroterion is considered one of the first artifacts that was used to exercise democracy at any time in history. Its origin dates back to the time when Greece was divided into polis, which were independent city-states with their own government and public institutions, whose officials were elected by the people.

It was a large piece of stone with several holes located in columns throughout the entire rock. Citizens inserted their identity cards into one of the holes and then each one was chosen at random. By means of this device, the inhabitants of Athenian Greece elected other citizens who would later form part of the boulé.

Kleroterion in the Agora Museum of Athens. Source: Sharon Mollerus, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The boulĂ© was a private citizens’ council of 500 inhabitants, responsible for making decisions. In addition, through the kleroterion, the high command of the government, legislators and juries were also elected.

These objects were of various sizes, depending on the number of officials nominated for each position. They were created by carving the stone and were considered artifacts of random selection; that is, they did not directly elect an official, but they gave the same possibility to all of being elected.

Article index

  • one

    History

  • two

    Civilization that invented the kleroterion

    • 2.1

      Beginnings of democracy

    • 2.2

      Use of the kleroterion

    • 23

      Civil liberties

    • 2.4

      Organization

  • 3

    Functioning

    • 3.1

      In the government elections

    • 3.2

      In the courts

  • 4

    References

History

Before the formation of what is now known as Greece, there was Athens, a republic that first founded democracy as a system of government. Democracy is a word that comes from the Greek and means “government of the people.”

When the system originated, Athens was a Greek city-state, called a polis. Throughout all of Greece there were several polis, dividing the country into different huge cities that were governed independently.

Civilization that invented the kleroterion

Athenian democracy is the first type of democracy in history, and it did not feature political propaganda or complex voting systems like current processes. The leaders were chosen randomly by the people, making this system a direct democracy.

The random system for the election of the rulers was carried out with the use of a kleroterion, one of the first voting devices on record.

Beginnings of democracy

During its inception, there were a few government positions considered administrative and legal. Ordinary citizens were randomly selected by other ordinary citizens to hold government office.

In turn, there was the first indication of a legislative assembly, which was made up of all the inhabitants of the city to enact or deny laws.

However, the right to vote was severely limited. Foreigners, women, slaves and anyone who was not a landowner or over 20 years of age could not vote, as he was not considered a citizen of Athens. At that time the citizens were only those who fought in the war.

Use of the kleroterion

The kleroterion was the main tool used by those considered to be citizens of Athens to randomly choose other citizens to occupy government positions.

The approach to a democracy as direct as the Athenian avoided problems such as those that arise in modern democracies. As the election was random by means of the kleroterion, the possibility that a leader with high charisma and with populist visions could manipulate the people to obtain the vote was eliminated.

Furthermore, decisions were made with the participation of all citizens. Although there was a certain degree of delegation in administrative and governmental decisions, the laws had to pass through the approval of the people and were discussed in the citizens’ assemblies.

Civil liberties

During the time of Athenian Greece, there was no constitution in itself to ensure the rights of citizens. In fact, the word “right” had no meaning to the Greeks.

The creation of more complex constitutions would come later in history, but in Athens citizens could live in freedom and not in opposition to the government.

The high command and the decisions were influenced by the same citizens and the people had the same possibility to exercise one position or another.

Organization

There were two main decision-making bodies in Athens. The first was a body of 500 inhabitants chosen once a year at random with the help of the kleroterion, and the other was the Assembly.

The Greeks are considered the fathers of democracy, as they established a system in which each member of society played an important role in political and administrative decisions.

In fact, there was a system of organization in the assemblies where people with more knowledge about certain areas (such as agriculture or economics) could be easily identified.

This made it easier for the people to choose people who would know how to act in the face of certain problems, reducing the risk of a bad leader presenting a random system.

Functioning

Reconstructed Kleroterions in the Archaeological Museum of Athens. Source: Philafrenzy, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the government elections

To begin the voting process, Greek citizens had to wear a bronze plaque called a pinakia. This was one of the first citizen identifications in human history that were used for political purposes.

The pinakia had the name of each person who owned it engraved, and they inserted it into the space of the kleroterion that they decided.

Then a certain number of pinakias were randomly selected, depending on the government positions that required to be filled.

In the courts

Based on its use in an Athenian court, on the day of the trial the members who could participate as jurors approached the judge and each one was assigned a different section, represented by a column of holes in the kleroterion.

When it was time to elect the jury, the pinakias of all eligible citizens were placed in the holes in each column of the kleroterion. Each column represented a group of people with members of different tribes, and the selection of the jury was made by choosing a specific column.

On one side of the kleroterion was a bronze tube, where the jury manager placed a series of black and white spheres. Pulling a handle released one of the spheres.

If the sphere was white, the members of the first column were chosen. If it was black, all citizens in the first column were discarded. This process was done until the court was complete, with 10 jurors.

References

  1. Artifacts of Democracy: How the government worked in ancient Athens, Federico A, October 2015. Taken from medium.com
  2. The Jury, (nd). Taken from agathe.gr
  3. The lottery of Greek democracy, (nd), September 15, 2010. Taken from historyextra.com
  4. Kleroterion, (nd), October 29, 2017. Taken from Wikipedia.org
  5. Democracy, (nd), March 13, 2018. Taken from Wikipedia.org

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