The Origin of Democracy

The Origin of Democracy

2014, History  -   36 Comments
Ratings: 6.20/10 from 237 users.

The Origin of Democracy contrasts three ancient civilizations - Roman, Greek, and Persian - primarily focusing on their approaches to ruling the citizens that comprised them. In 392 B.C., in Athens, Socrates was found guilty by jury for corrupting the minds of young people and similar dissent-related charges, and put to death by poisoning. "People do not like to have their knowledge questioned, but I know that I know nothing." Those were the words he went out on, and it is said that he was the first victim of democracy.

Socrates belittled the government of Athens a great deal, insisting that political representation is a trade that requires skill and commitment - something he strongly felt politicians in place at the time in Greece lacked, that they were only in positions of power by way of a sort of birthright.

This is significant because Athenians are credited with the creation of democracy, and the film theorizes that their democracy was anything but what we consider one to be in modern society. 400,000 people lived in Athens during ancient Greece's heyday, and more than 200,000 of those inhabitants were slaves who of course had no voting or representation rights whatsoever. Women were also not permitted to participate in political matters. The filmmakers are quick to point out how aristocratic this approach to democracy sounds.

Comparatively, the film turns to the Persian Empire, which ruled via a more traditional and straightforward dictatorship methodology. In a vast, sprawling empire that stretched from the Indies to Egypt, rulers of provinces with similar religious views presided. These rulers were required to have "divine splendor" in order to take over power - and anyone who became king had this splendor, and anyone pulled down from their throne was said to have lost that splendor. This splendor was believed to be a form of the gods' blessing, and people obeyed this ruler's bidding because it was believed to be the bidding of the gods themselves.

The film's angle is that the interpretation of democracy as a form of government is a subjective one, and has often been abused - much like every form of government has and will continue to be at times.

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36 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Tom

    This is just ridiculous, and BADLY made to boot

  2. Carlo Valente

    The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation, written by John M. Hobson in 2004, is a book that argues against the historical theory of the rise of the West after 1492 as a "virgin birth", but rather as a product of Western interactions with more technically and socially advanced Eastern civilization.

  3. Hanne Kehrwald

    We would like to know the disributor of The Origin of Democracy. I am commissiong editor at Deutsche Welle, the international Broadcaster of Germany and we would like to buy a linsence for this program.
    Hanne Kehrwald
    DW Documentary
    Deutsche Welle

  4. Lincoln

    Still not sure yet what to say more about this I don't like negative words but its the truth.

  5. Lincoln

    Relates nothing to ancient history of democracy

  6. George B.

    Amateurish propaganda.

  7. Jeff

    if im doing a document of democracys can i find good info? otherwise I going to a different website

  8. Billy Bob

    This is a terrible film

  9. Sorbcire

    History is full of lies to promote the myth of "white supremacy", to start the race and civilization of the Mediterranean, which was totally stolen, distorted and appropriated by Germanic barbarians, a primitive people without own history.

  10. Christoph Resmerowski

    not really worth a comment.

  11. Yara Moad

    Enjoyed learning from all the comments. Now l gotta watch this commentary! I will get the book if l can. "Democracy in lndia by Steve Muhlberger" l love researching

  12. Arya

    Please do not delete the link that I have been trying to upload. Let other people read it. If it gets deleted again look up: Democracy in Ancient India by Steve Muhlberger

  13. Arya

    Here is one of the sources to ancient Democracy in Northern India as well as other places. I have written a MA writing sample on this subject . I used primary sources from both Hellenic and Indo Iranian sources. This article also goes through both eastern and western sources proving that these republics were not just oligarchic republics but democracies as well. It's important for any student who is a serious student of learning the history of democracy. It further proves that democracy and republicanism is not only a phenomenon that only came from the West but from the East as well.

  14. Arya

    I thought this documentary was interesting in that it gives a perspective from Iran's government. However I thought this was about the origin of democracy and republicanism. They could have talked about the ancient republics in Northen India founded by Indo-Iranian tribes during the 6th century BC before Athens' in 5th etc. In Sanskrit the word for "rule of the people" is Ghana Sangha. These ancient republics were called the "Mahajanapada" Foothold of the Tribe. Some scholars believe the ideas of democracy predate Hellas but they also agree that the Greeks reinvented the idea but not officially inventing democracy out of nowhere

  15. A. Ashes

    Hahaha! Lol, you're all wrong & so is this doc. The system of democracy in this country (US) was mainly based on the Iroquois League or Confederacy. Ben Franklin is largely regarded as bringing this concept of govt into the framing of the Constitution. Wake up & research the history people! Native Americans have contributed much more than popcorn, canoes, land for enriching Europeans & camouflage & beads to the world than you realize!

  16. Torba

    Perfect example of Iranian propaganda aimed to justify their oppressive government claiming that it is divined. You have to be a complete fool to believe it.

  17. Jon

    The side plot in the movie 300 hints on this issue. there was a badly deformed ogre who volunteered to fight for the Greek side. He was rejected. Sensing physicall discrimination, the ogre offered to spy for Xerxes, the Persian King. This compromised the Greek position which could be due to the elitism or lack of democracy?

    Hmmm something doesn't fit if that story had been about democracy.

  18. RJ

    Oh, I think someone put the wrong title up; pretty sure it was supposed to read:

    A documentary made by pro-Iranians who are jealous that their people didn't invent Democracy, so now they are going to attempt to convince us that they did.


  19. zadok

    Definitely pro-Iranian propaganda. Still an interesting perspective. It tells us as much about Iran, and how they see themselves and the West, probably much more even than the actually story on the documentary. If the facts are true (and I will defintely check) it also says interesting things about Democracy itself, such as the claim that 200,000 Athenians were slaves. I thought Athens had only about 30,000 people altogether. I will definitely try to find an answer, not from some lying sleazy parsi b*stards who just want to destroy the West and create and evil Iranian Islamic empire.

  20. tom432

    not very well balanced doc basicly saying that the roots of democracy lies in the east not the west. This is somewhat true because of the type of government that they had. in Persia you had to appease the other kings in your kingdom as there where many. so yes Persia had in some ways a more fair government but this is not due to some moral superiority its down to the way their empire was shaped and the fear of losing power to other kings. In Athens it was a stunted form of democracy Rome is not known for its "democracy". rome was brutal it always was their claim to fame is all about military power and construction. their system of governance was to follow the strong simple.

  21. daveb81

    Gee, I didn't know Iran was so important in influencing democracy. Thanks, Iranian documentary makers, for setting me straight.

  22. AK

    At 30:32, there was a mistake in the commentary that in year 1313 the Edict of Milan was issued; correct year is 313.

  23. Sonmi Papasong

    Another documentary I found impossible to watch owing to the incongruous soundtrack. Why smother such productions with music? It's the narrative that should be important. I find that 'documentaries' that require soundtracks tend to be lacking in a quality narrative.

  24. Irish Rebel

    it would have been better if it stopped focusing on religion and Iran and went into more detail of human psychology when voting and differences of democracy in capitalist and socialist societies also should have talked about how the media and especially the MSM undermine democracy (thats imo) also how Sparta and alot of modern day un-democratic country's become so strong without democracy

  25. noboundryman

    All governments, regardless of how they are labeled, are controlled by the elites, a minority. Even the most open democratic societies are controlled by the elites, the few, while the peasantry know little of the deals being made behind their backs about their future. The mechanisms of power are always at work. Secret deals line the pockets of the greedy, and the aggressive. For anyone who thinks the soviet Union had anything to do with the philosophy of Marx they are sorely mistaken. The Soviet system, just like the American "so called" democratic system was controlled by (thugs, murderers, thieves, scoundrels, and lunatics ). It still is today.

    In the modern world, all the money all the power, all the decisions belong to the power elites, in Brussels, Wall Street, Dubai, Washington, Beijing, etc. The banks and the oil company executives pull all the political strings $$$. The peoples wishes are only secondary at best, and are of little concern to the elites. It's all a facade. The only way to grab power is to take it by force. The elites have to be overrun from time to time, and sent to the gallows, for a new group of murderers thugs, thieves, and scoundrels to take over. Things go well for a while until the people get wise, and the money stops flowing. Then the gallows get dusted off again. It's long passed the time to hang some people. It should have been done years ago. Hopefully we will see some public hangings on Wall Street, and Brussels, and Beijing soon, to flush out the sewers. We are long overdue.

  26. zee788

    Screw democracy. Rule by the majority is simply another 'might makes right' type of philosophy.

  27. Thom Prentice

    The presise and assumption are in error. Democracy was invented earlier. In Sumer. Mesopotamia. We now call it "Iraq".

    1. daveb81

      There is no consensus definition of democracy. The only true democracy was the ancient Greek democracy since democracy is literally a Greek word that they coined for that particular style of government. All "democracies" since then have been modeled on ancient Greek democracy. And Mesopotamia did not invent democracy. They had an oligarchy system of government.

    2. john grammaticus

      Dont bother, daveb81.
      Thom Prentice, you really dont have a clue about what you are talking about, do you?
      Sumer inventing democracy? We know they have some sort of central goverment but our knowledge is soo limited. Point me to a single tablet (you know the clay pieces with sheep counts?) that shows Sumer was a democracy. Heck, have you read the Sumerian king list? well..

    3. Thom Prentice

      Grammati, In Sumer, the first records (accounting) were kept on clay artifacts about the size of a Hershey's kiss. Writing evolved from that further enabling centralizing of power. Democracy was implemented only to be given up in a time of crisis when a dictator would guide Sumer. At the end of the crisis, the dictator would step down and the democracy would resume. Et cetera. Ever read Gilgamesh? And yes the King's List is interesting and also simultaneously problematic. Get some education next time before vomiting in a comments section, whydoncha?

  28. TonyIII

    Well! It's a vast sweeping outline and not badly done even in the early parts when the generalities are "common". Yet, the last 30% satrts to get really preachy. It could easily make the valid point that Europeans don't know squat about Persia; but, launching into modern politics is not the way to do it. The Roman Empire did not accept Christianity simply because it needed a unifying principle. It was a bit more complex than that. I suppose broader education would help all concerned; but, at present Western Education is a bit "compromised". God help us all.

  29. WTC7

    If you think that you will find some good information that relates to the ancient democracies, be warned - you will not.

    The doc is all over the place, basically has no structure or defined line of argument with regard to the origin of democracy. Its final goal - to prove that the actual origins of democracy are to be found in the ancient Persia, contrary to what the 'West' believes - has not been achieved.

    It's a shallow, badly made peace of historical revisionism (it mentions Alexander the Great in only one short instance!), with all due respect to the fact that the Persians did not practice slavery to the extent it has been practiced in ancient Greece or Rome.

    As a final note, I must say that I am not familiar with the history of Persia, but the doc did not enlighten me in that regard either.

    1. Lenny

      PressTV is Iranian propaganda.

    2. WTC7

      You are absolutely right! I kinda figured it out :)

    3. Zac

      yes...Iranian propaganda, absolutely! Just listening to the opening sentences, one can hear it.To not mention Victor Davis Hanson, a fine classical historian, reveals a clear effort to deceive the audience.

    4. bringmeredwine

      Thanks for the heads up.