The Cleisthenes Project

The Cleisthenes Project brings state recognition to persons who have had a significant impact on democratic governance. This is accomplished through creation of plaster busts of these great figures for display inside the Ohio Statehouse.

The first bust honored Greek statesman Cleisthenes, the Father of Democracy. The Statehouse’s bust of Cleisthenes was the first ever made. It was crafted by Anna Christoforidis, a native of Greece and a world-renowned sculptress. The Cleisthenes Project also funded the acquisition of a bust of United States Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.

Cleisthenes is credited with creating the model for our modern-day democracy. In 510 B.C., Cleisthenes received the backing of the common people of Attica, the area around Athens, by promising them the right to vote in assembly. Cleisthenes was an unlikely champion of the common man. He was born into a rich and aristocratic family at a time when the city was deeply divided between commoners and noblemen.

Cleisthenes changed the electoral system of Attica. He divided the citizenry into ten electoral districts, each district containing precincts from the city proper, the coast and inland areas with roughly an equal number of citizens. Each precinct chose men over thirty years of age for the Council of 500. The council consisted of fifty representatives from each district were chosen by lot. The Council members took an oath and began their terms at the beginning of the year. Each member could only serve one year; no one could serve more than two years in a row or serve more than twice. Cleisthenes also established a voter registration system to provide for direct voter participation. 

Many people opposed Cleisthenes’ changes, creating an environment hostile to the evolution of democracy. It would take at least two generations for Cleisthenes’ form of government to become fully developed, beginning with the early efforts of Solon and continuing with Pericles. The Capitol Square Foundation’s Cleisthenes Project honors these significant contributions to democracy and democratic principles.