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Word Count: 996
What is in a word We may live in a very different and much more complex world but without the ancient Greeks we would not even have the words to talk about many of the things we care most about Take politics for example apart from the word itself from polis meaning city-state or community many of the other basic political terms in our everyday vocabulary are borrowed from the ancient Greeks monarchy aristocracy tyranny oligarchy and - of course - democracy The ancient Greek word demokratia was ambiguous It meant literally people-power However who were the people to whom the power belonged Was it all the people - all duly qualified citizens Or only some of the people - the masses The Greek word demos could mean either Theres a theory that the word demokratia was coined by democracys enemies members of the rich and aristocratic elite who did not like being outvoted by the common herd their social and economic inferiors If this theory is right democracy must originally have meant something like mob rule or dictatorship of the proletariat Greece was a collection of some 1500 separate communities scattered round the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores like frogs around a pond By the time of Aristotle fourth century BCE there were hundreds of Greek democracies Greece in those times was not a single political entity but rather a collection of some 1500 separate poleis or cities scattered round the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores like frogs around a pond as Plato once charmingly put it Those cities that were not democracies were either oligarchies - where power was in the hands of the few richest citizens - or monarchies called tyrannies in cases where the sole ruler had usurped power by force rather than inheritance Of the democracies the oldest the most stable the most long-lived but also the most radical was Athens The origin of the Athenian democracy
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