During the Classical era of Ancient Greece, many city-states had forms of government similar to a democracy, in which the free (non-slave), native (non-foreigner) adult male citizens of the city took a major and direct part in the management of the affairs of state, such as declaring war, voting supplies, dispatching diplomatic missions and ratifying treaties. These activities were often handled by a form of direct democracy, based on a popular assembly. Others, of judicial and official nature, were often handled by large juries, drawn from the citizen body in a process known as sortition.
By far the most significant and well-understood example is Athenian democracy in Athens. However, at least fifty-two classical Greek city-states including Corinth, Megara, and Syracuse also had democratic regimes during part of their history.
During the 3rd century BC, the political center of gravity in Greece shifted from individual city-states to leagues, such as the Aetolian League and the Achaean League. These were confederations that jointly handled the foreign and military affairs for the member cities. Their internal structure was democratic with respect to the member cities, that is, each city within the league had weight roughly proportional to its size and power. On the other hand, the cities themselves were largely represented in the leagues by the wealthy elites.
These leagues differed from earlier groupings of Greek city-states, like the Peloponnesian League or the Delian League, in that they were not dominated by a single city as the earlier leagues used to be dominated by Athens and Sparta.
- Eric W. Robinson, Ancient Greek Democracy: Readings and Sources, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2003.