Historical context

In this section we provide an overview of the historical context during Sophocles’ lifetime, which will provide you with more context when reading his play Oedipus the King. 

The Attic democracy 

The cultural prime of Athens and the development of Attic democracy are directly linked to the name of Pericles (495 to 429 BC). He expanded the reforms already initiated by his predecessor Ephialtes, which included a pushback of noble power. 

Popular sovereignty in ancient Greece was expressed through the Ekklesia, a popular assembly to which every adult male Athenian who possessed civil rights belonged. All important decisions, such as alliance issues or decisions about war and peace, were made in the ekklesia. The council (called the "Bulé") was assigned to the people's assembly. The Bulé had 500 members, 50 of whom were men from each of the ten phyla of Athens. Any citizen of Athens over the age of 30 could become a member of the council. 


In the time of Pericles, the drawing of lots to determine new council members was introduced in Athens, as was the rule that no man could be a council member more than twice. This was intended to place the council's decisions on as broad a basis as possible. Likewise, these regulations prevented power from being concentrated in the hands of a few people. However, the council always formulated only preliminary decisions. The actual dec...

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