The Cinq-Cents

Cinq-Cents—the Council of 500—was the elective assembly which ruled France at the end of the Revolution, between the end of the terror and the seizure of power by General Bonaparte (1795-99). Much overlooked now, the so-called Directory period was an attempt at creating a stable and balanced democracy, with the Assembly empowered to nominate five directors, who, once they had been approved by the 250-strong Senate of ‘Ancients,’ ruled the Republic.

The Assembly consciously looked back to the democracy of ancient Athens, which was governed through the Boule, an assembly of 500. However, the ancient model attempted to avoid the perils of influence peddling and the factionalism of party politics by cutting out the voting process; instead, each of the ten tribes of Athens and its hinterland held a ballot to send fifty of their men to attend this standing council for a year. After a year’s service, they had to resign.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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