Recurring Dynamics of History

Activity 1: Prediction about Democracy in Ancient Greece

In this learning module, we will study an important Recurring Dynamic of History, which is a pattern that has repeated multiple times over the course of human history, a pattern that can help us better understand how the world works and how humans behave.

But I'm not going to tell you what that pattern is right now. See if you can figure it out as we go along.

Can People Rule Themselves?

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

We’re traveling back in time—centuries back, before the time of our grandparents, before the middle ages, before the birth of Jesus—to ancient Greece in the year 435 BC, where we will meet two young people about your age. Damon is attending school and will later join the military. His sister Astra is learning how to read and run a household from her mother.

A democratic council in ancient Greece.

They live in Athens, a city-state that includes the city of Athens and surrounding territory. A city-state is like an independent country with its own government. Athens is a special place: It is the center of arts and learning in ancient Greece, and it has an unusual form of government.

Athens is a democracy, which means rule by the people. In Athens all male citizens can vote on new laws. This approach is very different from other ancient societies ruled by kings who wield absolute power over their people, and where the people are separated by class into a small group of the rich and a large group of the poor.

Damon and Astra are proud to be from Athens, where they have a comfortable home; and where they can enjoy feasts and celebrations; music and theater; a colorful marketplace featuring products from all over the known world; and lively debates in the town square about important issues of the day. Damon and Astra have lived their whole lives under Athenian democracy, and they expect it to last forever.

Make a Prediction

What does the future hold for Damon and Astra and their descendants? Which of the following two predictions do you think is most likely to come true:

Prediction (A): Democracy will flourish

Democracy will spread from Athens to other Greek city-states and become the dominant form of government in Greece throughout the remainder of the ancient period (about 900 more years). Democracy will expand from Greece to nearby regions including Rome, where it will continue in modified form—as a republic—down to the present day.

Prediction (B): Democracy will fall

Within a hundred years, a military strongman will conquer all Greek city-states, ending their independence and their democracies. Likewise, the Roman Republic will fall to a military strongman.

Make Your Choice

Which prediction do you think will come true: Democracy will flourish in ancient Greece and Rome, or democracy will fall? In a few sentences, state the reason(s) for your choice.

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