Of course, the earliest forms of democracy here in Athens were far from perfect — just as the early forms of democracy in the United States were far from perfect. The rights of ancient Athens were not extended to women or to slaves. But Pericles explained, “our constitution favors the many instead of the few…this is why it is called a democracy.”

Athenians also knew that, however noble, ideas alone were not enough. To have meaning, principles must be enshrined in laws and protected by institutions, and advanced through civic participation. And so they gathered in a great assembly to debate and decide affairs of state, each citizen with the right to speak, casting their vote with a show of hands, or choosing a pebble — white for yes, black for no. Laws were etched in stone for all to see and abide by. Courts, with citizen jurors, upheld that rule of law.