If the Areopagus served as the House of Lords, then the equally bare and flat stony hill that is the Pnyx was the much rowdier House of Commons.
Here was People Power, in the form of the Council of 500 (think of them as executive but annually elected city officials) and the Ecclesia, which basically meant the electorate as a whole.
Direct Democracy kicked off here in 507BC and, with a few hiccoughs, didn’t look back until the Roman Republic (ironically set up in the same hairbreadth of time, and for the same reason) suppressed it over 400 years later.
You can stand on the Speaker’s Platform, the Bema, and look out at the people gathered around. They won’t vote for you, of course, but for a moment you can feel the surge of emotion that Pericles, Demosthenes and others must have felt as they stood on the very same spot.
It was on the Pnyx that the assembled men of Athens hammered out the eternal principles of one man, one vote; that all are equal before the law; that the law applies equally to all, and everyone has equal rights and opportunities.
Everyone had the right to speak and be heard. ‘Everyone’ meaning adult male household owning (which meant taxpaying) citizens, that is – direct democracy didn’t stretch too far…
From the Pnyx you can wander, as the Ecclesia did, down the hill to the Agora below, Athens’ open spread marketplace.
Article & Photos © Carl Ottersen