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Characteristics of city states -- poleis


Urban center – often protected by stout walls

            Also included supporting countryside with small villages

            Polis was the people rather than the urban center

Polis could pull up stakes and decamp; Athens fled to Salamis, city destroyed by Persians, but polis survived.

Particular patron/protector god or goddess

a.    Both Athens and Sparta had Athena as patron/protector.

b.  Group religious allegiance and cult practices – animal sacrifice.

Citizenship – partnership among citizens – perhaps influenced by foreign contact: Cyprus, Phoenecia

a.    Males citizens had full political participation rights, but women still counted as citizens of the community legally, socially, and religiously.

b.    All citizens theoretically equal, but aristocrats and oligarchs were (Orwellian) “more equal.” 

Aristotle (384-322 BC) on the city state:

a.    Emergence of the polis the inevitable result of forces of nature (i.e., combined effect of social and economic forces):  “Humans are beings who by nature live in a polis.”

b.    Aristotle only half-jokingly maintained that  anyone who existed outside the community of a polis must be either a beast or a deity.           



The Greek poleis in the archaic period:


The Archaic period politically is characterized by the waning rule of the aristocracy. The Greek states were generally ruled by an elite of birth and wealth.  However, social unrest is created by the power abuses of the aristocracy, the economic problems created through the concentration of wealth in a few hands and increasing poor populations, and the new challenges of an ever changing world. Laws are introduced in many Greek states for the first time, in an attempt to redress the extremes of aristocratic rule and calm the spirits. These often are not far-reaching enough to deal with the source of the problem. Tyrants (dictators) take advantage of the popular unrest in several city states and seize control from the aristocracy. Greek Lyric poetry has encapsulated the restless spirit of the time.


Two examples of Archaic Poleis:


Sparta                                                                                   Athens

The Spartan Constitution in the 7th C. BC                        The Athenian Constitution in the 7th c. BC


2 kings                                                                                  9 archons

influential but powerless in Sparta                                    Extensive executive responsibilities

Absolute power outside Sparta as                                    (Social policy, religion, judicial system)

leaders of the army


5 ephors

The most powerful body in Sparta


gerousia                                                                               Areopagos Council

Legal Responsibilities                                                        Legal Responsibilities, extensive power


Assembly (Apella)                                                               Assembly

Very limited powers                                                            Very limited powers


In the archaic period both Athens and Sparta have similar constitutions. However, while the Athenian constitution constantly evolves to meet the changing needs of an ever growing state, the Spartan constitution stands still and inflexible through the centuries. Ancient authors often praise the stability of the Spartan system and criticize the constant changes in the Athenian system, but in reality, this inflexibility proves to be the downfall of Sparta. 


The evolution towards the Classical Period


In Athens the tyrant Peisistratos enfranchises all free Athenian born males and makes them citizens, regardless of land ownership, wealth or social status. Kleisthenes takes it one step further and introduces the Moderate Democracy in 509. The archons lose some of their power which goes to the Assembly, and the Assembly becomes the sovereign body. However, the highest offices of the state are still closed to the lower classes. They can elect people for these offices but not be elected. 

A further reform in 462 by Ephialtes removes the last vestiges of the aristocratic state, strips the Areopagos of its powers to oversee the state and interfere at will into public matters, and opens all offices to all Athenians. Now every citizen has an equal right of speech (isegoria), and treatment before the law (isonomia). Scholars call this final phase in the evolution of the democratic constitution 'The Radical Democracy'.


In Sparta very little changes throughout the classical period. The reverence towards the laws of Sparta, beaten into its citizens from a very young age, is far stronger than any practical considerations. By the beginning of the 4th century, when Spartan power reaches its peak, the Archaic system of Sparta looks really archaic, like an anomaly in time, and eventually proves to be a great impediment.  Citizenship remains tied to land ownership, and citizens who cannot afford to pay their way lose their status as fully enfranchised Spartan citizens and become inferiors (hypomeiones). Over time this results to a low birth rate and reduction of the citizen body. By the middle of the 4th century this demographic problem becomes critical. Sparta still refuses to change its constitution, and fades into insignificance.




Athens and Sparta

Table of contents

     1  Development of Athenian Democracy
     2  Draco (Lawgiver)
     3  Draconian Constitution
     4  Solon
     5  Reforms of Solon
     6  Peisistratos
     7  Cleisthenes
     8a  Symposium  
     8b  Athens Economy

     9a  Archaic Greece Timeline
     9b  Archaic Greek legends

     9c  Internet Links   
   10  Archaic Age Sparta
    11  Late Archaic City-State -- Sparta

    12  Sparta (Ancient Hiistory Encyclopedia)
    13  Art and Craft in Archaic Sparta
    14  Comparing Spartan and Athenian Constitutions

    15a  How Sparta Became Spartan
    15b  Great Rhetra
    16a  Spartan Constitution
    16b  Syssition   
    16c  Inside the Spartan Syssition (Meal plans)
    17  Sparta Economy
    18  Internet Links

1  The Development of Athenian Democracy 

From Stoa/Demos

C.f. for links to additional information on Athenian Democracy

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of January 24, 2003

· Summary ·

This article was originally written for the online discussion series “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context,” organized by Adriaan Lanni and sponsored by Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies. Its purpose is to introduce, very briefly, the origins and development of Athenian democracy, from the 6th century BCE through the end of the 5th century. This is a companion-piece to the “Overview of Athenian Democracy,” also written for the CHS’s discussion series, which will be present as a component of Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy after the discussion series has taken place.

· Introduction ·

This brief survey of the development and early history of Athenian democracy is a supplement to “Overview of Athenian Democracy,” which appears elsewhere in this series. The first paragraphs of that article describe how the Greek word Demos (δῆμος, pronounced “day-moss”) has several meanings, all of them important for Athenian democracy. Demos is the Greek word for “village” or, as it is often translated, “deme.” The deme was the smallest administrative unit of the Athenian state, like a voting precinct or school district. Young men, who were 18 years old presented themselves to officials of their deme and, having proven that they were not slaves, that their parents were Athenian, and that they were 18 years old, were enrolled in the “Assembly List” (the πίναξ ἐκκλησιαστικός) (see Dem. 44.35; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 42.1).

Another meaning of Demos, to the Athenians, was “People,” as in the People of Athens, the body of citizens collectively. So a young man was enrolled in his “demos” (deme), and thus became a member of the “Demos” (the People). As a member of the Demos, this young man could participate in the Assembly of Citizens that was the central institution of the democracy. The Greek word for “Assembly” is ekklesia (ἐκκλησία), but the Athenians generally referred to it as the “Demos.” Decrees of the Assembly began with the phrase “It seemed best to the Demos,…”, very much like the phrase “We the People…” that introduces the Constitution of the United States. In this context, “Demos” was used to make a distinction between the Assembly of all citizens and the Council of 500 citizens, another institution of the democracy (see below). So some decrees might begin “It seemed best to the Demos…”, others might begin “It seemed best to the Council…”, and still others might begin, “It seemed best to the Demos and the Council….”

So the Athenian Demos was the local village, the population generally, and the assembly of citizens that governed the state. The idea of the Demos was a potent one in Athens of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE.

It had not always been the case. The Iliad—the work of literature that was the shared text for all Greeks—describes a world whose values pre-date those of the Athenian democracy. One passage from it, especially, suggests that the idea of the “demos” changed dramatically in the years leading up to the 5th century. Here, the Greek general Agamemnon has decided, for no particularly good reason, to test the resolve of his army. The test consisted of him suggesting that they abandon their siege of Troy and go home. Evidently the Greeks failed, since with this suggestion they rose to their feet and ran joyously to their ships. The warrior Odysseus, who was party to Agamemnon’s scheme, went about urging the men to return to their places:

“Whenever he encountered some king, or man of influence
he would stand beside him and with soft words try to restrain him:
‘Excellency! It does not become you to be frightened like any
coward. Rather hold fast and check the rest of the people….’
When he saw some man of the People [demos in the Greek — CWB] who was shouting,
he would strike at him with his staff, and reprove him also:
‘Excellency! Sit still and listen to what others tell you,
to those who are better men than you, you skulker and coward
and thing of no account whatever in battle or council.
Surely not all of us Achaians can be as kings here.
Lordship for many is no good thing. Let there be one ruler,
one king, to whom the son of devious-devising Kronos
gives the sceptre and right of judgement, to watch over his people.’”
(Iliad 2.118-206; R. Lattimore, trans.)

The Homeric hero Odysseus did not favor putting rule into the hands of the Demos. What happened, then, to change the status of the Demos from that of a lowly mob, to be beaten down with a stick, to that of the ruling People of classical Athens?

· A Reformer and a Tyrant ·

In the earliest history of the Greek world, as far as anyone can tell, the political landscape consisted of small-time “kings” ruling over their own homes and immediate surroundings. In certain places, individual kings acquired power over larger territories, and influence over neighboring kings. This is what the world depicted in the Homeric epics looks like.

The Athenians thought that the mythological hero Theseus was their first king, and they attributed to him the birth of the Athenian state. Before Theseus, the peninsula of Attica was home to various, independent towns and villages, with Athens being the largest. Theseus, when he had gained power in Athens, abolished the local governments in the towns; the people kept their property, but all were governed from a single political center at Athens. The Greeks called this process of bringing many settlements together into a political unity synoikism (συνοίκισις) (See Thuc. 2.15.1-2). Whether or not Theseus had anything to do with this, the fact remains that, when the Greek world moved from prehistory into historical times, the Attic peninsula was a unified political state with Athens at its center.

During the 8th and 7th centuries BCE (the 700s and 600s), Athens moved from being ruled by a king to being ruled by a small number of wealthy, land-owning aristocrats. Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians, a description of Athenian government, says that the status of “King” (basileus, βασιλεύς) became a political office, one of three “Rulers” or “Archons” under the new system, and Athens came to be governed by the King Archon, the War-Lord, and the Archon (this last sometimes called the Eponymous Archon, because the year was identified by his name). “Appointment to the supreme offices of state went by birth and wealth; and they were held at first for life, and afterwards for a term of ten years.” Later, six other Archons were added to the role. These Nine Archons ruled the Athenians, along with the Council of the Areopagus, which consisted of all former Archons, serving on this board for life (See Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3).

In the latter part of the 7th century, perhaps in the 630s, an Athenian named Cylon won the double foot-race at the Olympic Games and became a celebrity. He used his earned fame to gather a group of supporters, seized the Acropolis, and attempted to make himself tyrant of Athens. The attempt was a complete failure and ended with Cylon and his party hiding by the statue of Athene, surrounded by an angry mob. Lured out by promises of their own safety, Cylon and his men were killed by members of the aristocratic family called the Alcmeonidae (see Paus. 1.40.1; Paus. 1.28.1; Paus. 7.25.3; Hdt. 5.71). This was a political crisis, both because of the attempted coup by an upstart and because of his murder by the arisocrats—he had claimed the goddess’s protection, which ought to have been respected. Whether this crisis brought about subsequent political changes we cannot tell, but it certainly left its mark on Athenian politics. The old families could not longer be confident in ruling at will forever, and the stain on the reputation of the Alcmeonidae lasted for hundreds of years—it would cause trouble for Pericles, an Alcmeonid, in the 5th century.

About ten years later, in 621 or 620 BCE, the Athenians enlisted a certain Draco to make new laws for them. According to Aristotle’s description of these laws, the new Consitution gave political rights to those Athenians “who bore arms,” in other words, those Athenians wealthy enough to afford the bronze armor and weapons of a hoplite (see Aristot. Ath. Pol. 4, although some of the details given there may have been invented during the 4th century BCE). Draco’s laws were most notable for their harshness: there was only one penalty prescribed, death, for every crime from murder down to loitering (see Plut. Sol. 17.1). For this reason, later Athenians would find irony in the lawgiver’s name (“Draco” means “serpent”), and his reforms have given us the English word “draconian”.

Draco’s laws did not avert the next crisis, which pitted the wealthy against the poor. Poor citizens, in years of poor harvests, had to mortgage portions of their land to wealthier citizens in exchange for food and seed to plant. Having lost the use of a portion of their land, they were even more vulnerable to subsequent hardships (see Aristot. Ath. Pol. 2.1-2). Eventually, many of these Athenians lost the use of their land altogether, and became tenant-farmers, virtually (or perhaps actually) slaves to the wealthy. The resulting crisis threatened both the stability and prosperity of Athens. In 594, however, the Athenians selected Solon to revise their laws.

Solon’s laws, even though they did not establish a democracy as radical as what would follow, nevertheless became the template for all future Athenian government. It was common for Athenians, for the next 200 years, to describe subsequent legal innovations in terms of their fidelity to the “Solonian Constitution” (whether or not those innovations remotely resembled the laws of Solon). So, after the brief rule of the “Thirty Tyrants” at the end of the 5th century BCE, when the Athenians were restoring their democracy, the first thing they did was to re-affirm the Laws of Solon, using that as a base to reconstruct their damaged constitution (Andoc. 1.83-84).

Solon took steps to alleviate the crisis of debt that the poor suffered, and to make the constitution of Athens somewhat more equitable. He abolished the practice of giving loans with a citizen’s freedom as collateral, the practice that had made slaves of many Athenians (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 9.1). He gave every Athenian the right to appeal to a jury, thus taking ultimate authority for interpreting the law out of the hands of the Nine Archons and putting it in the hands of a more democratic body, since any citizen could serve on a jury (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 9.1; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 7.3). Otherwise, he divided the population into four classes, based on wealth, and limited the office of Archon to members of the top three classes (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 7.3).

Formerly, the Council of the Areopagus, which consisted of former Archons, chose the Nine Archons each year—a self-perpetuating system that ensured that the office of Archon was held only by aristocrats. Solon had all of the Athenians elect a short-list of candidates for the Archonship, from which the Nine Archons were chosen by lot (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.1); the office was still limited to citizens of a certain class, but it was no longer limited to members of a few families. How, precisely, laws came to be passed under the Constitution of Solon is not entirely clear, but there was an Assembly, in which every citizen could participate (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 7.3), a Council of 400 citizens chosen probably from the top three property classes (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.4), with the Areopagus being charged with “guarding the laws” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.4). Regardless of the details, it does seem that the Archons were still a very important element of Athenian government, since (as Aristotle notes), in subsequent years, much political strife seemed to focus on them (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 13.2).

So Athens under Solon had many elements that would later be a part of the radical democracy—democratic juries, an Assembly and a Council, selection of officials by lot rather than by vote—while retaining many oligarchic elements in the form of property qualifications and a powerful Council of the Areopagus.

According to the Constitution of the Athenians attributed traditionally to Aristotle, Solon himself was from an aristocratic family, while his personal wealth put him in the middle-class of Athenians, and his sympathy for the injustices against the poor made him a champion of the people generally. This combination was a recipe for tyranny—tyrannies were common in the Greek world during the 6th century, as certain individuals made themselves champions of the poor in order to seize power—but Solon was no tyrant. According to Herodotus, after formulating these new laws for a new Athenian Constitution, Solon made the people swear to obey them, unchanged, for ten years, then went abroad from Athens to avoid being badgered into changing anything (Hdt. 1.29.1).

Solon’s constitution did not solve all of Athens’ problems, and the city descended back into a state of strife, with various factions, each with its own interests, vying for power (Hdt. 1.59; Plut. Sol. 29). This state of affairs continued from about 595 BCE down to 546 BCE, when an Athenian named Pisistratus, after several failed attempts, finally established himself as Tyrant over the Athenians.

[His failed attempts are interesting reading; see Hdt. 1.59-64, Aristot. Ath. Pol. 14-16. — CWB]

The reign of the tyrant Pisistratus seems to have been relatively benign. The 5th-century historian Thucydides concluded his brief account of the tyrant’s reign by saying, “the city was left in full enjoyment of its existing laws, except that care was always taken to have the offices in the hands of some one of the family” (Thuc. 6.54.6). Like all tyrants, Pisistratus depended to a certain extent on the goodwill of the people for his position, and by ensuring that both rich and poor Athenians received fair treatment, he was able to rule for almost twenty years and die of natural causes (see Aristot. Ath. Pol. 17.1). After his death, his sons Hippias and Hipparchus continued the tyranny for another seventeen years. Hipparchus was assasinated in 514 BCE, and in 510 BCE the aristocratic Alcmeonidae family with an army from Sparta helping them, expelled Hippias and brought an end to tyranny in Athens (Hdt. 5.62; Thuc. 6.59.4).

· Cleisthenes, Democracy, and Persia ·

After the end of the tyranny, two factions competed for power to reshape the government of Athens. One was led by Isagoras, whom Aristotle calls a “friend of the tyrants” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 20.1). The other was led by Cleisthenes, who was an Alcmeonid aristocrat (Hdt. 5.66.1). Isagoras won a minor victory by getting himself chosen as Archon in 508. But Cleisthenes, taking a page out of the tyrant’s textbook, “took the People [Aristotle says ‘demos’] into his party” and used the support of the lower classes to impose a series of reforms (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 20.1). Isagoras, using the example of recent history, called on the Spartan king Cleomenes to help him evict Cleisthenes from the city. While that had worked well for the Alcmeonidae earlier, it failed this time; when Isagoras and the Spartans occupied the city and tried to disband the government and expel seven hundred families, the Athenians rose up against them and drove them out (Hdt. 5.72).

So Cleisthenes was free to impose his reforms, which he did during the last decade of the 6th century. These mark the beginning of classical Athenian democracy, since (with a few brief exceptions) they organized Attica into the political landscape that would last for the next two centuries. His reforms, seen broadly, took two forms: he refined the basic institutions of the Athenian democracy, and he redefined fundamentally how the people of Athens saw themselves in relation to each other and to the state. Since the Introduction to Athenian Democracy is devoted to its various institutions, so for the moment we can focus on the new Athenian identity that Cleisthenes imposed.

Cleisthenes’s reforms aimed at breaking the power of the aristocratic families, replacing regional loyalties (and factionalism) with pan-Athenian solidarity, and preventing the rise of another tyrant.

Cleisthenes made the “deme” or village into the fundamental unit of political organization and managed to convince the Athenians to adopt their deme-name into their own. So, where formerly an Athenian man would have identified himself as “Demochares, son of Demosthenes”, after Cleisthenes’ reforms he would have been more likely to identify himself as “Demochares from Marathon.” Using “demotic” names in place of “patronymic” names de-emphasized any connection (or lack thereof) to the old arisoctratic families and emphasized his place in the new political community of Athens (for demes, see Aristot. Ath. Pol. 21.4).

Each deme had a “demarch”, like a mayor, who was in charge of the deme’s most important functions (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 21.5): keeping track of new citizens, as young men came of age (Dem. 57.60), keeping track of all citizens from the deme eligible to participate in the Assembly (Dem. 44.35), and selecting citizens from the deme each year to serve on the Council (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 21.5).

The peninsula of Attica consisted of three more-or-less distinct geographical areas: the coast, the countryside, and the urban area around the city of Athens itself. Traditionally residents of these areas had their own concerns, and often conducted politics according to regional interests. To counteract this tendency, and to encourage Athenian politics to focus on interests common to all Athenians, Cleisthenes further organized the population. Each of the 139 demes he assigned to one of thirty trittyes (τριττύες), or “Thirds”. Ten of the Thirds were coastal, ten were in the inland, and ten were in and around the city.

These Thirds were then assigned to ten Tribes (phylai, φυλαί), in such a way that each Tribe contained three Thirds, one from the coast, one from the inland, and one from the city. Each of these ten Tribes sent 50 citizens each year to serve on the new Council of 500.

So, while local politics, registration of citizens and selections of candidates for certain offices, happened in the demes, the tribes were the units of organization that figured most prominently in the overall governing of Athens. Citizens from all parts of Attica worked together, within their tribes, to govern the city (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 21.3).

To prevent regionalism from creeping back into the system as people changed their address, Cleisthenes decreed that a citizen, once assigned to a deme, must retain that deme-affiliation even if he moved to another part of Attica (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 42.1). Evidence from the 5th and 4th centuries show many people living in the city of Athens, but identifying themselves with rural demes. In fact, even the rural demes often held their meetings in Athens itself (Dem. 57.10).

So, there was a tendency for deme-level politics to be dominated by people who had not moved into the city, but for national politics—service on juries, in the Council, and the magistracies—to be dominated by Athenians who, although members of demes located all over the peninsula, were full-time residents of the city and its immediate environs.

To help legitimize this new division, to give it the aura of antiquity, Cleisthenes named each tribe after a legendary hero of Athens; the selection of heroes was handled by the Oracle at Delphi, that is, by the god Apollo himself. The ten “eponymous heroes” and their associated tribes were: Ajax (Aiantis), Aegeus (Aigeis), Acamas (Akamantis), Antiochus (Antiochis), Erechtheus (Erechtheis), Hippothoon (Hippothontis), Cecrops (Kekropis), Leos (Leontis), Oeneus (Oineis), Pandion (Pandionis). Their statues stood in downtown Athens, watching over the place where important public documents were published on billboards.

All of these reforms constituted a remarkable re-shaping of Athenian society along new lines. Old associations, by region or according to families, were broken. Citizenship and the ability to enjoy the rights of citizens were in the hands of immediate neighbors, but the governing of Athens was in the hands of the Athenian Demos as a whole, organized across boundaries of territory and clan. The new order was sealed as citizens adopted their deme-names into their own names, and as the god Apollo, speaking from Delphi, endorsed the new tribes.

But, with the Demos newly unified and the authority of the older, more arisocratic system undermined, the danger of tyranny remained. Some relatives of Pisistratus survived, wealthy and still influential, in Athens, and (a new threat) the Great King of Persia was increasingly interested in bringing the Greek world into his empire. What was to stop a prominent citizen from gaining support with promises of power, and then either assuming tyrannical rule or inviting Persia to set him up as a client king?

Cleisthenes sought to avert this danger by means of his most famous innovation: ostracism. Every year the Assembly of Athenian citizens voted, by show of hands, on whether or not to hold an ostracism. If the Demos voted to hold one, the ostracism took place a few months later, at another meeting of the Assembly. Then, each citizen present scratched a name on a broken piece of pottery; these, the scrap paper of the ancient world, were called ostraka (ὄστρακα) in Greek, which gives us the word for the institution. If at least 6000 citizens voted with their ostraka, the names on the pot shards were tallied, and the “winner” was obliged to leave Athens for a period of ten years. He did not lose his property or his rights as an Athenian citizens, but he had to go (see Aristot. Ath. Pol. 22.6; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 43.6).

The earliest subjects of ostracism were associates of Pisistratus and his sons (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 22.6), but in later years the Athenian used the process to remove the leaders of various factions, both men who were regarded as champions of the democracy, such as Themistocles—ostracized sometime around 470 BCE (Thuc. 1.135)—and those who tended to favor more aristocratic controls on the power of the people, such as Cimon—ostracized around 461 (Andoc. 4.33). The most famous ostracism was that of Aristides, an aristocrat known for being fair-minded. The story goes that an illiterate farmer, not recognizing Aristides, asked the prominant man to write “Aristides” on his ostrakon for him; Aristides complied, advancing his own ostracism by helping a fellow citizen. For the full story, which contains even more ironies that I have given here, see Plut. Arist. 7; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 22.7.

To be the subject of an ostracism was actually something of an honor, if an inconvenient one. It meant that a man was deemed too influential, too capable of persuading his fellow citizens, to be allowed to participate in the democratic processes of governing Athens. The list of ostracized Athenians constitutes a “Who’s Who” of the early history of the democracy. In fact, the institution fell into disuse after 416 BCE, perhaps because of the ostracism of Hyperbolus; this man, according to the historian Thucydides, was ostracized “not because anyone feared his power or influence, but because he was a useless wretch and a disgrace to the city” (Thuc. 8.73). The law of ostracism seems never to have been repealed, but it was never used again.

Cleisthenes reformed Athens at the very end of the 6th century. The reforms were radical and, it seems, thoughtful. That this new social order and political system took hold may have been largely due to what happened in the first decades of the 5th century. In 490, an expeditionary army from Persia landed in Attica, intending to repay the Athenians for helping the Greeks of Asia resist Persian rule. The Athenians, led by Miltiades, defeated the Persians against steep numerical odds (for the battle of Marathon, see Hdt. 6.102, Hdt. 6.107-117; Paus. 1.25.2; Paus. 1.32.3).

The victory for the newly democratized state was doubly significant, since the Persian expedition had brought Hippias, the son of Pisistratus, intending to install him as tyrant over the Athenians (Hdt. 6.107). This victory, and the even more unlikely victory against a larger Persian expedition ten years later, established democratic Athens as a leading power in the Greek world.

· One Last Step to Democracy ·

One final major reform to the Athenian constitution remained before the government of Athens took the shape it would hold, more or less, for the next 150 years. In 462, an Athenian named Ephialtes led a movement to limit the power of the Council of the Areopagus. The role of this Council, sometimes called simply the “Areopagus”, in the fully-formed democracy is discussed below, but to understand Ephialtes’ reforms we need to see, briefly, its place in Athenian government before Ephialtes.

The Court of the Areopagus, named after the Hill of Ares in Athens, was an ancient institution. It features in the mythological history of Athens, as portrayed in Aeschylus’ tragedy Eumenides, in which the goddess Athene puts the Eumenides, or Furies, on trial on this Hill of Ares at Athens (Aesch. Eum.). Aristotle says that in the time of Draco, the legendary first lawgiver of Athens, “The Council of the Areopagus was guardian of the laws, and kept a watch on the magistrates to make them govern in accordance with the laws. A person unjustly treated might lay a complaint before the Council of the Areopagites [the members of the Areopagus], stating the law in contravention of which he was treated unjustly” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 4.4). The Areopagus was an aristocratic institution, composed of men who were of noble birth (Isoc. 7.37). It was composed of men who had held the office of archon (Plut. Sol. 19.1; Plut. Per. 9.3). Members of the Court of the Areopagus, the Areopagites (Areopagitai) held office for life (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6). According to Aristotle, before the time of the lawgiver Solon—the middle of the 6th century BCE—the Areopagus itself chose the men who would be archons, and thus future members of the Areopagus (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.1). Selection of archons was by wealth and birth (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3.6), and so the Court of the Areopagus preserved itself as a body of the aristocrats of Athens

Solon changed the method by which Athenians became archons—forty candidates were elected, and from these forty, nine archons were picked by lot (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.1). Under the laws of Solon, the Court of the Areopagus retained its role as overseer of the constitution; it could punish citizens, fine them, and spend money itself without answering to any other governing body; and it oversaw cases of impeachment (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.4). Aristotle describes the government of Athens under Solon as a blend of elements—the courts were democratic, the elected archons were aristocratic, and the Court of the Areopagus was oligarchic (Aristot. Pol. 1273b).

The Court of the Areopagus seems to have enjoyed a return to its former glory immediately after the Persian Wars. Aristotle tells the story of how, during the chaos of the Persian invasion in 480 BCE, the Council of the Areopagus took a leading role in organizing, and financing, the evacuation of all Athenians to Salamis and the Peloponnese, which raised the body’s status considerably (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 23.1). He goes on to say that the Council of the Areopagus enjoyed preeminence in Athens for almost two decades, until the time when Conon was archon, and Ephialtes brought about his reforms in 462 BCE (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 25.1).

According to Aristotle, Ephialtes brought about a reform of the Court of the Areopagus by denouncing the Court before the Council and the Assembly (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 25.4). So the reform was not, finally, the work of Ephialtes alone, but an act of legislation by two of the more democratic institutions in Athens. Aristotle connects this event to a newfound feeling of power among the common people of Athens following the Persian Wars, when the less wealthy citizens by serving in the navy had saved the city. He makes the connection between naval victories and the reform of the Court of the Areopagus explicitly in his Politics (Aristot. Pol. 1274a), and the Constitution of the Athenians that survives under Aristotle’s name strongly suggests the connection as well (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 27.1).

By 462 BCE, when Ephialtes made his reforms, the archons (the future members of the Court of the Areopagus) were chosen by lot, not by vote (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 22.5). It is possible that this change made the institution seem less prestigious, and thus worthy of holding fewer powers. This interesting suggestion is from P.J. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia (Oxford, 1993).

By means of Ephialtes’ reforms, according to Aristotle, the Council of the Areopagus was “deprived of the superintendence of affairs” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 26.1). When Aristotle describes the Council of the Areopagus as it was in the 4th century, over a hundred years after Ephialtes, he says that it had authority over trials of murder, wounding, death by poison, and arson, but that other similar crimes—involuntary manslaughter, murder of slaves or foreigners, accidental killings, or killings in self-defense—come before other courts, the Court of the Palladium or the Court of the Delphinium (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 57.3). The Areopagus also conducted investigations of political corruption, presenting its findings to the Council and Assembly for any further action (see Aeschin. 1.83, Aeschin. 1.81, Din. 1.4). From this, then, we can perhaps get a sense of how Ephialtes diminished the role of the Areopagus; the aristocratic body that once had the power to nullify laws and remove candidates from office was reduced to a murder court and investigative body, albeit a highly respected one.

· The Fifth Century: Democracy stumbles twice ·

The 5th century BCE was marked by the extended conflict—sometimes “cold” and often overt—between Athens and Sparta, but involving most of the Greek world and the Persian Empire as well. That history is readily available elsewhere. For our purposes, there are three things especially worth mentioning from the period.

First was the generalship of Pericles. The office of “General”, or Strategos (στρατηγός), was one of the few in the Athenian democracy that was elected, rather than chosen randomly by lot; the reasons for this should be obvious (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 44.4). It was also the only office which an Athenian could hold for multiple successive terms. And, the Generals—there were ten in each year—enjoyed certain powers that made this office (at least potentially) a platform from which an Athenian could wield extraordinary influence over the affairs and policies of the city. A general could introduce business for discussion in a meeting of the Assembly on his own authority, without going through normal channels (the evidence for this comes from inscriptions: SEG 10 86.47; IG II2 27; the “normal channels” are discussed below).

Pericles was elected repeatedly to the office of Strategos during the period from 454 to 429 BCE (though not for every year during that period, which is interesting). From within this office, he was able to address the Athenians meeting in their Assembly on matters he deemed important, and to persuade them toward policies of his own devising. The two most noteworthy results were the so-called “Periclean Building Program”, which produced the monumental architecture we see today on the Athenian Acropolis, and the expansion of Athenian imperialism. The latter, eventually, brought about a war between Athens and Sparta that, in one form or another, lasted (at least) from 431 BCE until Athens’ defeat in 404 BCE.

The historian Thucydides, himself an Athenian General who helped pursue the war against Sparta, offers this characterization of Pericles’ leadership: “Pericles indeed, by his rank, ability, and known integrity, was enabled to exercise an independent control over the Demos—in short, to lead them instead of being led by them; for as he never sought power by improper means, he was never compelled to flatter them, but, on the contrary, enjoyed so high an estimation that he could afford to anger them by contradiction. Whenever he saw them unseasonably and insolently elated, he would with a word reduce them to alarm; on the other hand, if they fell victims to a panic, he could at once restore them to confidence. In short, what was nominally a democracy became in his hands government by the first citizen.” (Thuc. 2.65.8-9). What is most important to remember, though, is that Pericles was merely one of ten elected Generals. His “policies” came into effect merely because his office afforded him a platform from which to address the Demos, and his evident talents as a speaker allowed him to persuade the Demos to adopt his ideas as their own.

In 415, after an interlude of relative peace in the war between Athens and Sparta, the Demos of Athens undertook an invasion of Sicily. This adventure was an utter disaster, resulting in the destruction of an Athenian fleet and an army of Athenian citizens either killed outright or doomed to work to death in the quarries of Syracuse. In the aftermath, certain citizens took steps to move the government of the city away from the radical democracy that—they thought—was leading the city to ruin. Their first step was to work, through constitutional channels, to establish a small body of “Preliminary Councilors”, who would limit the topics that could be addressed by the more democratic Council and Assembly (Thuc. 8.1.3-4).

Shortly thereafter, in 411 BCE, the Athenians brought an end to their democracy and instituted an oligarchy by, first, appointing ten “Commissioners” who were charged with re-writing the constitution of Athens (Thuc. 8.67.1). Aristotle says that there were twenty of these, and that they were in addition to the ten Preliminary Councilors already in office (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 29.2).

These Commissioners proposed a new Council, consisting of 400 men, with service limited to the wealthier citizens. Five men would be selected as “Presidents”, and these would choose 100 men for the new Council, and each of those 100 would choose three others, thus creating the Council of “400”, or 405 in reality (Thuc. 8.67.3; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 29.5). This new government claimed that a Council of 400 was “according to the ancestral constitution” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 31.1). This Council of 400 would have the power to choose 5000 Athenians who would be the only citizens eligible to participate in assemblies (Thuc. 8.67.3; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 29.5).

Thucydides describes how this new Council of 400 collected an armed gang, confronted the democratic Council, paid them their stipends, and sent them home (Thuc. 8.69.4; Aristot. Ath. Pol. 32.1).

This oligarchic government lasted only four months before it was replaced by another government in which the power was in the hands of 5000 Athenians — more democratic, but still a far cry from the radical democracy defined by Cleisthenes (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 33.1). That government, in turn, lasted only a short time before “the People quickly seized control of the constitution from them” (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 34.1).

The democracy was restored, but only briefly. In 404 BCE, the Spartans caught the Athenian fleet on the beach at Aegospotamoi (“Goat Islands”) and destroyed it. After a period of seige, while the Spartans blockaded the harbors of Athens, the city surrendered, and its fortunes fell into the hands of the so-called Thirty Tyrants. These were Athenians selected by the Spartans to form a puppet government by the Spartans. (For the end of the Peloponnesian War, see Plut. Alc. 36.4-37.3; Plut. Lys. 9.4-11; for the establishment of the Tyrants, see Plut. Lys. 15.5; Paus. 1.2.2; Paus. 3.5.1; Paus. 9.11.6; Xen. Hell. 2.3.11)

Like the Oligarchy of 411, the tyranny of the Thirty lasted only one year before pro-democracy forces regained control of the city’s affairs (Plut. Lys. 21; Xen. Hell. 2.4.2). After the tyrants were overthrown and the city returned to democratic rule, Athens once again compiled and codified its old laws with this decree, which summarizes the accumulated law and tradition of the first century of the Athenian democratic experiment: “On the motion of Teisamenus the People decreed that Athens be governed as of old, in accordance with the laws of Solon, his weights and his measures, and in accordance with the statutes of Draco, which we used in times past. Such further laws as may be necessary shall be inscribed upon tables by the Law-Givers elected by the Council and named hereafter, exposed before the Tribal Statutes for all to see, and handed over to the magistrates during the present month. The laws thus handed over, however, shall be submitted beforehand to the scrutiny of the Council and the five hundred Law-Givers elected by the Demes, when they have taken their oath. Further, any private citizen who so desires may come before the Council and suggest improvements in the laws. When the laws have been ratified, they shall be placed under the guardianship of the Council of the Areopagus, to the end that only such laws as have been ratified may be applied by magistrates. Those laws which are approved shall be inscribed upon the wall, where they were inscribed aforetime, for all to see” (Andoc. 1.83-84). The Athenians also passed a law of general amnesty, to prevent an endless cycle of retribution for wrongs committed on both sides of the recent civil strife (see Xen. Hell. 2.4.43).

An inscription (IG I3 105) survives that records a law limiting the Council’s authority. After two anti-democratic revolutions, this law says that in matters of war and peace, death sentences, large fines, disenfranchisement (that is, loss of citizenship), the administration of public finances, and foreign policy the Council cannot act without the approval of the Assembly of the People.

With this restoration, Athens reestablished a radically democratic government. The following description of the institutions of Athens will focus on the democracy as it was in the 4th century, in its fully developed form, attested by the best evidence.

(The story of the end of Athenian democracy is told, briefly, at the end of the“Overview of Athenian Democracy.”)

· Secondary Works Cited ·
  1. P.J. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia (Oxford, 1993).

Archaic Greece Timeline


In the Archaic Period there were vast changes in Greek language, society, art, architecture, and politics. These changes occurred due to the increasing population of Greece and its increasing amount trade, which in turn led to colonization and a new age of intellectual ideas, the most important of which (at least to the modern Western World) was Democracy. This would then fuel, in a rather circular way, more cultural changes.


·      800 BCE - 500 BCEGreek colonization of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. 

·      c. 800 BCE - 500 BCEArchaic period of Greece. 

·      733 BCECorinth founds the colony of Syracuse in Sicily.

·      c. 733 BCETraditional date when Corinth founds a colony on Corcyra. 

·      683 BCE - 682 BCEList of annual archons at Athens begins. 

·      c. 650 BCESparta crushes Messenian revolt. 

·      650 BCEEarliest large scale Greek marble sculpture. 

·      650 BCE - 600 BCEAge of law-givers in Greece. 

·      594 BCE - 593 BCEIn Athens the archon Solon lays the foundations for democracy. 

·      c. 580 BCEThe Kouroi of Argos are sculpted and dedicated at Delphi. 

·      546 BCE - 545 BCEPersian conquest of Ionian Greek city-states. 

·      539 BCEEtruscan & Carthaginian alliance expels the Greeks from Corsica. 

·      514 BCEFall of the Peisistratid tyranny in Athens. 

·      507 BCECleisthenes establishes new form of government, Democracy, in Athens. 

·      499 BCE - 494 BCEIonian cities rebel against Persian rule. 

·      c. 498 BCEIonians and Greek allies invade and burn Sardis (capital of Lydia). 

·      c. 495 BCEBirth of Pericles. 

·      492 BCEDarius I of Persia invades Greece. 

·      11 Sep 490 BCEA combined force of Greek hoplites defeat the Persians at Marathon. 

·      487 BCE - 486 BCEArchons begin to be appointed by lot in Athens. 

·      482 BCEThemistocles persuades the Athenians to build a fleet, which saves them at Salamis and becomes their source of power. 

·      480 BCEThebes sides with Persia during Xerxes invasion of Greece. 

·      King Leonidas and other Greek allies hold back the Persians led by Xerxes I for three days but are defeated. 

·      Sep 480 BCEBattle of Salamis where the Greek naval fleet defeats the invading armada of Xerxes I of Persia.

2  Draco (lawgiver)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Draco (fl. c. 7th century BCE) was the first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court. Draco's written law became known for its harshness, with the adjective "draconian" referring to similarly unforgiving rules or laws.

Carving of Draco
                              Lawgiver in US Supreme Court library.jpg
A representation of Draco at the library of the Supreme Court of the United States
Born c. 650 BCE
Died c. 600 BCE (aged c. 50)
Residence Athens, Ancient Greece
Occupation Legislator
Known for Draconian constitution


            1 Life

            2 Draconian constitution

            3 Law of Homicide

            4 Council of Four Hundred

            5 See also

            6 Notes

            7 References

            8 Further reading

            9 External links



During the 39th Olympiad, in 622 or 621 BCE, Draco established the legal code with which he is identified.


Little is known about his life. He may have belonged to the Greek nobility of the Attica, with which the 10th-century Suda text records him as contemporaneous, prior to the period of the Seven Sages of Greece. It also relates a folkloric story of his death in the Aeginetan theatre.[1] In a traditional ancient Greek show of approval, his supporters "threw so many hats and shirts and cloaks on his head that he suffocated, and was buried in that same theatre".[2]


Draconian constitution

Main article: Draconian constitution

The laws (θεσμοί - thesmoi) he laid down were the first written constitution of Athens. So that no one would be unaware of them, they were posted on wooden tablets (ἄξονες - axones), where they were preserved for almost two centuries, on steles of the shape of three-sided pyramids (κύρβεις - kyrbeis).[citation needed] The tablets were called axones, perhaps because they could be pivoted along the pyramid's axis, to read any side. The constitution featured several major innovations:

·      Instead of oral laws known to a special class, arbitrarily applied and interpreted, all laws were written, thus made known to all literate citizens (who could make appeal to the Areopagus for injustices): "... the constitution formed under Draco, when the first code of laws was drawn up." (Aristotle: Athenian Constitution, Part 5, Section 41)

·      The laws distinguish between murder and involuntary homicide


The laws, however, were particularly harsh. For example, any debtor whose status was lower than that of his creditor was forced into slavery.[3] The punishment was more lenient for those owing debt to a member of a lower class. The death penalty was the punishment for even minor offences, such as "stealing a cabbage".[4] Concerning the liberal use of the death penalty in the Draconic code, Plutarch states: "It was a lot for himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones."[5]


All his laws were repealed by Solon in the early 6th century BC, with the exception of the homicide law.[6]


Law of Homicide

After much debate from the Athenians, it was decided to revise the laws, including the homicide law, in 409 B.C. The homicide law is a highly fragmented inscription, but it does state that it is up to the victim’s relatives to prosecute a killer. According to the preserved part of the inscription, unintentional homicides receive a sentence of exile. It is not clear whether Draco's law specified the punishment for intentional homicide. In 409 B.C., intentional homicide was punished by death, but Draco's law begins καὶ ἐὰμ μὲ ‘κ [π]ρονοί[α]ς [κ]τ[ένει τίς τινα, φεύγ]ε[ν], which is ambiguous and difficult to translate. One possible translation offers 'Even if a man not intentionally kills another, he is exiled',[7] which leads to the presumption that exile must have been the normal penalty for intentional homicide at the time Draco wrote his law.


Council of Four Hundred

Draco introduced the lot-chosen Council of Four Hundred [8]—distinct from the Areopagus—which evolved in later constitutions to play a large role in Athenian democracy. Aristotle notes that Draco, while having the laws written, merely legislated for an existing unwritten Athenian constitution,[9] such as setting exact qualifications for eligibility for office.


Draco extended the franchise to all free men who could furnish themselves with a set of military equipment. They elected the Council of Four Hundred from among their number; nine Archons and the Treasurers were drawn from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas, the generals (strategoi) and commanders of cavalry (hipparchoi) from those who could show an unencumbered property of not less than a hundred minas, and had children born in lawful wedlock over ten years of age. Thus, in the event of their death, their estate could pass to a competent heir. These officers were required to hold to account the prytanes (councillors), strategoi (generals) and hipparchoi (cavalry officers) of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited. "The Council of Areopagus was guardian of the laws, and kept watch over the magistrates to see that they executed their offices in accordance with the laws. Any person who felt himself wronged might lay an information before the Council of Areopagus, on declaring what law was broken by the wrong done to him. But, as has been said before, loans were secured upon the persons of the debtors, and the land was in the hands of a few."[10]


See also

·      Ancient Greek law

·      Hammurabi, a Babylonian who wrote some of the earliest codes of law

·      List of Ancient Greeks

·      List of eponymous laws (those named after their inventor)



1.    Cobham, Ebenezer. The Reader's Handbook of Allusions, References, Plots and Stories, p. 451.

2.    Suidas. "Δράκων". Suda On Line. Adler number delta, 1495.

3.    Morris Silver. "Economic Structures of Antiquity". Ed. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 9780313293801. P. 117

4.    J. David Hirschel, William O. Wakefield. "Criminal Justice in England and the United States". Ed. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 9780275941338. P. 160

5.    Plutarch (translation by Stewart; Long, George). Life of Solon, XVII.

6.    Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 7.1.

7.    Gagarin, Michael (1981). Drakon and early Athenian homicide law. New York: Yale U.P. ISBN 0300026277.

8.    Aristotle. The Athenian Constitution, 4.3.

9.    Aristotle. Politics, 1274a.

10. Aristotle, Constitution, §4.



·      Roisman, Joseph, and translated by J.C. Yardley, Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2011) ISBN 1-4051-2776-7


Further reading

·      Carawan, Edwin (1998). Rhetoric and the Law of Draco. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York City: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-815086-2.

·      Gagarin, Michael (1981). Drakon and Early Athenian Homicide Law. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-02627-6.

·      Gagarin, Michael; Cohen, David (editors) (2005). The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81840-7.

·      Maine, Sir Henry Sumner (1963). Ancient Law – Its Connection with the Early History of Society and Its Relation to Modern Ideas. Boston: Beacon Press. OCLC 1310967.

·      Phillips, David (2008). Avengers of Blood: Homicide in Athenian Law and Custom from Draco to Demosthenes. Stuttgart: Steiner. ISBN 978-3-515-09123-7.

·      Stroud, Ronald S. (1968). Drakon's Law on Homicide. Berkeley: University of California Press. OCLC 463502977.

External links

1.     The dictionary definition of draconian at Wiktionary



3  Draconian constitution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



c.  620 BC [1]




Authorized by Athenian aristocracy [2]


To resolve unequal accessibility to the acquirement of legal knowledge of oral law by replacing such with a written constitution.[3]


The Draconian constitution, or Draco's code, was a written law code created by Draco near the end of 7th century BC in response to unjust interpretation and modification of oral law by Athenian aristocrats.[4] With most societies of Greece establishing official primitive laws during the middle of seventh century BC,[5] advantageous ascendancy by the Athenian aristocracy [6] over the concept of willfully manipulating the set of oral laws in Athens transpired through time until the emerging of Draco's code. Being a prominent prejudicial activity to the people of Athens that segregated both parties from their perception of acquirement of legal knowledge, the people commissioned a man named Draco around 620 BC to devise a written law code and constitution; thus, bequeathing him the title of the first legislator of Athens. Those literate could read the script at a centralized location that could be accessed by anyone.[a]

This enactment of an attempt of a rule of law is one of the first features of Athenian democracy in its infant stages of development.



           1 Background

            2 Suffrage

            3 The Council and the Assembly

            4 Controversial matters of Aristotle's description of the Draconian constitution in Constitution of the Athenians

                                            4.1 Setting of the development of the Draconian constitution

                                            4.2 Prytanes

                                            4.3 Grammatical ambiguity of relation between concurrent Athenian officials and preceding officials

                                            4.4 Grammatical contradiction of the sex of Council members

                                            4.5 Draco's position

            5 Effects and reform

            6 Notes

            7 Reference list



The need for a codified text of written laws commences with unequal access to legal knowledge between the aristocracy and the people. This was so because the established laws of Athens were inefficiently formulated via spoken language and often modified and re-evaluated. Lucrative and aristocratic use of this system began during the middle seventh century BC. The laws were often amended when willful seizes happened to the aristocracy.[7] As a consequence, initiations of blood feuds and vendettas between families uneducated of the law instinctively occurred to substitute as an adequate scheme of justice and tool of avenging.[8] Due to subsequent and seemingly obscure manipulations to the oral law, it is inferred that the Athenians were prone to legal violation and personal infliction of punishment.


Due to the inhibition of equal legal knowledge, the governing aristocratic families of Athens decided to abandon the concealed system of legal proposals and amendments and promulgate them to all of Athenian society through the medium of written language. This was done by authorizing an individual to construct the written constitution, who was an aristocratic legislator[9] named Draco and was prompted to concoct the governing text around 621 BC. To circulate the equal acquirement of knowledge of the new Draconian constitution, the text was inscribed on a surface of a displaying device, in which is negotiated in specificity.[10] As a result, the Draconian constitution was informatively and directly attainable to those literate.


Under the Draconian constitution, the freedom of a person could be used as a collateral for debt, virtually becoming a slave, but, in point of fact, this law only applied to constituent members of lower socio-economic classes.[11] Draco also introduced the concept of intentional and unintentional homicide[12] with both torts being administered by the Council of Areopagus.[13] With murder cases being tried by the state, the practice of blood feuds and vendettas as regimes of justice were subsequently illegal. The homicide laws were the only laws that were retained in the movement to the formation of the Solonian Constitution.[14]


And Draco himself, they say, being asked why he made death the penalty for most offences, replied that in his opinion the lesser ones deserved it, and for the greater ones no heavier penalty could be found. 

                                                                                      Plutarch, Life of Solon


Although a specific codified script of the complete Draconian constitution is absent, legends claim consequential severe punishments were issued to convicts of whom executed offenses as inferior as stealing an apple.[15] There may have been only one penalty for all convicted offenders of the Draconian constitution, in which was execution.[16] Eccentrically, they were described to be written present with blood rather than ink.[17] These legends of repression and cruelty of a past legal world have incorporated themselves into the linguistic apparatus of the English language, with the adjective "draconian" referring to similarly unforgiving rules or laws.[18]



The authorized franchise to whom were given permission to gain political position consisted of anyone who could outfit themselves with military equipment,[19] more specifically, with that of a hoplite.[20] This formality that was administered was the minimum condition in terms of possessing a quantity of valuable physical and abstract properties for suffrage, correspondingly being eligible for relatively less important state official positions.[21] Alternatively to acquire higher positions, such prerequisite could only be executed in conjunction with other statuses possessed by the individual, ranging from pecuniary to marital personal properties. From the body of persons capable of appending military equipment, those who could present a property free of financial debt or liability and of value of not less than ten minas could serve along the nine Archons and the Treasurers.[22] The Strategi, or the generals, and the Hipparchi, or the commanders, of the cavalry of Athens were chosen from the equivalent body of persons but of those who contrarily possessed an unencumbered property of value not less than one hundred minas as well as offspring of over 10 years of age and of being born from parents in a state of wedlock.[23] Four hundred one integral members of the Council were chosen from the body of persons who possessed the basic authorized franchise of holding capability of appending equipment of that of a hoplite as well as holding a chronological age of over 30 years.[24] No individual from this body of people could be elected by lot more than once to serve in the Council until the Council were to "cast the lot afresh," meaning the lot was resuscitated in terms of including every eligible individual into the next sortition of the next Council as everyone eligible in the previous Council already acquired a position in the magistracy.[25]


The election of political positions of the state of Athens from these bodies of persons was dependent on sortition,[26] except for the Council of Areopagus, which consisted of retired Archons.[27]


The Council and the Assembly

Transcribed within the framework of the Draconian constitution, the Council was another concept Draco introduced to Athenian government.[28] In Aristotle's historical disquisition Constitution of the Athenians, the Council is not portrayed its duties or authority other than vaguely being characterized as no more than a magistracy.[29]


The Assembly is another magistracy of the Athenian state that is minutely described in Aristotle's text in terms of its general duties and authority. Even its eligibility of acquiring a position of the magistracy lacks.[30]


Fines were issued as penalties to members of the Council and the Assembly who were absent to a sitting or meeting.[31] Fines varied proportionally with the rank of each social class of Athens, with constituency of higher classes resulting in higher penalty fees and vice verca. If the absent Council or Assembly member was of the Pentacosiomedimnus class, the individual was penalized with a mandatory fee of three drachmas.[32] Knight social class members were penalized with 2 drachmas,[33] and Zeugites social class members were punished with 1 drachma.[34]


Controversial matters of Aristotle's description of the Draconian constitution in Constitution of the Athenians


Setting of the development of the Draconian constitution

Having supplied literary description, Aristotle's illustration of the fixture of time of the establishment of the Draconian constitution is rather obscure and precarious with the use of the transitioning words "not very long after" that corresponds in relation to a preceding event that must have transpired for a relatively prolonged period of time. This preceding event, which appears to constitute as the framework and political development of the first constitution of Athens, exists as the following:

Such, then, is the relative chronological precedence of these offices. At that time the nine Archons did not all live together. The King occupied the building now known as the Boculium, near the Prytaneum, as may be seen from the fact that even to the present day the marriage of the King's wife to Dionysus takes place there. The Archon lived in the Prytaneum, the Polemarch in the Epilyceum. The latter building was formerly called the Polemarcheum, but after Epilycus, during his term of office as Polemarch, had rebuilt it and fitted it up, it was called the Epilyceum. The Thesmothetae occupied the Thesmotheteum. In the time of Solon, however, they all came together into the Thesmotheteum. They had power to decide cases finally on their own authority, not, as now, merely to hold a preliminary hearing. Such then was the arrangement of the magistracies. The Council of Areopagus had as its constitutionally assigned duty the protection of the laws; but in point of fact it administered the greater and most important part of the government of the state, and inflicted personal punishments and fines summarily upon all who misbehaved themselves. This was the natural consequence of the facts that the Archons were elected under qualifications of birth and wealth, and that the Areopagus was composed of those who had served as Archons; for which latter reason the membership of the Areopagus is the only office which has continued to be a life-magistracy to the present day.


Such was, in outline, the first constitution, but not very long after the events above recorded, in the archonship of Aristaichmus, Draco enacted his ordinances.

Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator),

Constitution of the Athenians,

Chapter 3 - Chapter 4


With the presumed founding of the city of Athens by king Cecrops I and the consequential establishment of the first ancient Athenian constitution in 1556 BC, this infrastructure of the ancient Athenian constitution would have functioned for virtually 900 years before Draco would have codified the Athenian laws and drafted the Draconian constitution around 620 BC. This factual premise defies the use of the words "not very long after." Subsequently, commentators pose the problem with assuming that these transitioning words refer to the Cylonian affair, which occurred much closer to the political development of Draconian constitution than that of the ancient Athenian constitution.



Aristotle's undefined use of the word "Prytanes" refers to a multitude of Athenian state positions during and after the development of the Draconian constitution. This is transcribed and evident in the following text.

Such was, in outline, the first constitution, but not very long after the events above recorded, in the archonship of Aristaichmus, Draco enacted his ordinances. Now his constitution had the following form. The franchise was given to all who could furnish themselves with a military equipment. The nine Archons and the Treasurers were elected by this body from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas, the less important officials from those who could furnish themselves with a military equipment, and the generals [Strategi] and commanders of the cavalry [Hipparchi] from those who could show an unencumbered property of not less than a hundred minas, and had children born in lawful wedlock over ten years of age. These officers were required to hold to bail the Prytanes, the Strategi, and the Hipparchi of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited, taking four securities of the same class as that to which the Strategi and the Hipparchi belonged.

Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator),

Constitution of the Athenians, Chapter 4


In subsequent times, the term "Prytanes" attributed to the fifty presiding members of the Council. The only supplementary mention of the term in historical context that is placed within the fixture of time of the development of the Draconian constitution is in Herodotus' account of the Cylonian affair, in which the "Prytanes of Naucrari" are mentioned. This may have occurred due to Herodotus', a Dorian himself, habit of referring to the first magistrates of Dorian cities as "Prytanes of Naucrari" and consequently merging it with the superior or first magistrates of Athens, who were the Archons at the time. In further approbation of this possible argument, Thucydides' more detailed version of the event refers to the same persons Herodotus refers to as "Prytanes of Naucrari." "Those," the historian says, "to whom the people had confided the keeping of the citadel, seeing the partisans of Cylon perish at the feet of the statue of Minerva, caused them to go out of the citadel, promising them that no harm would be done to them." As Thucydides had mentioned before in his personal account of the Cylonian affair, the nine Archons were the people that had entrusted the care of the citadel.


Therefore, it may be possible that Herodotus' "Prytanes of Naucrari" were equivalent to the nine Archons if its referral was in fact an influence of a habit of the historian's. Other possibilities may account for the "Prytanes" of Aristotle's text being chairmen of the important office of the "Naucrari" that saliently existed. [35]


Grammatical ambiguity of relation between concurrent Athenian officials and preceding officials

One correlation between the concurrent officials and the Prytanes, Strategi, and Hipparchi of the preceding year concerning financial securities partakes as one of the most controversial texts of Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians in the Oxford Classical Text edition by translator Frederic G. Kenyon. The translated text constitutes an ambiguous syntactical metalinguistic structure, and any inferred assumptions are naturally precarious due to the text's indefinite grammatical structure.


These officers were required to hold to bail the Prytanes, the Strategi, and the Hipparchi of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited, taking four securities of the same class as that to which the Strategi and the Hipparchi belonged.

Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator),

Constitution of the Athenians, Chapter 4


Grammatical contradiction of the sex of Council members

A grammatical contradiction with an antecedent exists in the Oxford Classical Texts edition of Frederic G. Kenyon's translation of Constitution of the Athenians concerning the sex of the subsidiary members of the Council. The following quote establishes information that the sex of the members of the Council is indefinite, being that the authorized franchise did not include any member of any specific sex.

There was also to be a Council, consisting of four hundred and one members, elected by lot from among those who possessed the franchise.

—Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator),

Constitution of the Athenians, Chapter 4


The following quote contrarily refers to the Council members as accommodating male gender.

Both for this and for the other magistracies the lot was cast among those who were over thirty years of age; and no one might hold office twice until every one else had had his turn, after which they were to cast the lot afresh.

—Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator),

Constitution of the Athenians, Chapter 4


Due to the contradiction of sex referral in the antecedents of the texts, it is unknown surely if Draco's conceptualization of the Council segregated the sexes of the Athenians.


Draco's position

Until the discovery of Aristotle's disquisition Constitution of the Athenians, the opinion that Draco's position a political reformer of the ancient Athenian constitution was absent. Being contemplated along with other historical texts of the development of Athenian democracy, an abundance of the features of the Draconian constitution appear spasmodic with Draco's duties of employment of crafting the Draconian constitution, in which most reforms constituent of Draco's code, as described by Aristotle, are prevailed in the concluding portion of the fifth century BC. The Draconian constitution is not mentioned by other historian writers of Draco's time, and Draco's position as a political and constitutional reformer is intermittent with Aristotle's emphasized description.


What is definitively known is Draco's position as a lawgiver, despite the fact that most laws of the Draconian constitution were all repealed except for the homicide law. With the assumption of a special Archon appointed by the Athenian aristocracy, Draco's autocratic position seemed absolute, unconfined to revising and introducing laws.



  1. ·      
^ Also note that illiterate individuals were conscious of the laws indirectly as they probably were informed by literate persons of knowledge of the Athenian law through different media of communication.


Reference list

^   "Around 620 BC Draco, the lawgiver, wrote the first known written law of  

                     ancient Greece." - [1], "Early Laws"

^ "Such was, in outline, the first constitution, but not very long after the events above recorded, in the archonship of Aristaichmus, Draco enacted his ordinances." -, "Part 4"

^ The result of the institution of the Draconian constitution resulted as such, becoming its essential, consequential purpose of existence and incorporation: "The rulers decided that all the cruel laws they had passed whenever the impulse seized them should be arranged in a single plainly stated system; thus, at least, the nobles could no longer twist the laws as they willed; and a poor man might know what the law really was, and so avoid breaking it unconsciously." -, an excerpt of The Story of the Greatest Nations and the World's Famous Events by Edward S. Ellis and Charles F. Home, PhD

^ "...the nobles could no longer twist the laws as they willed..." -, an excerpt of The Story of the Greatest Nations and the World's Famous Events by Edward S. Ellis and Charles F. Home, PhD

^ "It was not until the middle of the seventh century BC that the Greeks first began to establish official laws." -, "Early Laws"

^ "Not only do the aristocratic families of Attica hold nearly all political power..." - (The text is set in context during the time of aristocracy of the state of Athens before the establishment of the Draconian constitution, so before circa 620 BC)

^ "The distinctive privilege which the nobles had always enjoyed was the exclusive knowledge and administration of the laws. They were, then, open to the charge of exercising this privilege in their own favor." - Athenian Political Commissions by Frederick Danesbury Smith

^ "Murders were settled by members of the victim's family, who would then go and kill the murderer. This often began endless blood feuds." -

^ "He was elected as one of the nine archons, but was not the archon eponymous." - Athenian Political Commissions, page 12, by Frederick Danesbury Smith

^ "'Axones' and 'kyrbeis' are names given to structures that contained the law codes of Draco and Solon in ancient Athens during the Archaic Age." -; These two terms are debated in specificity to their materialistic structure and functionality. The following quote describes both terms: "Robertson says [describes such information in Solon's Axones and Kyrbeis, and the Sixth-Century Background (Figs. 1-2), Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, (2nd Qtr., 1986), pp. 147-176] axones and kyrbeis were not names for the same thing: the axones were revolving wooden beams, while kyrbeis were standing pillars in the Royal Stoa." -; The following describes the term "axone" particularly: "These beams were called axones, a word meaning 'axles,' because the ends of each beam were pivoted and placed within a frame in such a way that they could be rotated." - James Sickinger, Literacy, Documents, and Archives in the Ancient Athenian Democracy, The American Archivist, (Fall, 1999), pp. 229-246

^ "Through the laws of Draco, those in debt could be made slaves -- but only if they were members of the lower class. This means members of a genos (the gennetai) could not be sold as slaves, yet their hangers-on (orgeones) could." -

^ "Another result of the codification of laws by Draco -- and the only part that remained part of the legal code -- was the introduction of the concept of 'intention to murder.'" -

^ "Any person who felt himself wronged might lay an information before the Council of Areopagus, on declaring what law was broken by the wrong done to him." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "We know nothing about what Drakon's [Draco's] nomoi were. Solon repealed all of the nomoi of Drakon except for one about Homicide, and the Athenians quickly forgot them." - Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens, Page 25 by Bernard Randall

^ "The Draconian laws were most noteworthy for their harshness..." -

^ "Athenians later said that Drakon [Draco] gave the death penalty for most crimes, even for stealing fruit." - Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens, Page 25 by Bernard Randall

^ "...they were said to be written in blood, rather than ink." -

^ "The English word 'draconian,' meaning very harsh, comes from his [Draco's] name." - Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens, Page 25 by Bernard Randall

^ "The franchise was given to all who could furnish themselves with a military equipment." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "According to Aristotle’s description of these laws, the new Constitution gave political rights to those Athenians 'who bore arms,' in other words, those Athenians wealthy enough to afford the bronze armor and weapons of a hoplite." -

^ "...the less important officials from those who could furnish themselves with a military equipment..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "The nine Archons and the Treasurers were elected by this body from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "...and the generals [Strategi] and commanders of the cavalry [Hipparchi] from those who could show an unencumbered property of not less than a hundred minas, and had children born in lawful wedlock over ten years of age." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "Both for this [the Council] and for the other magistracies the lot was cast among those who were over thirty years of age..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "...and no one might hold office twice until every one else had had his turn, after which they were to cast the lot afresh." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "Both for this and for the other magistracies the lot was cast..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 3 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "...and that the Areopagus was composed of those who had served as Archons; for which latter reason the membership of the Areopagus is the only office which has continued to be a life-magistracy to the present day. " -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 3 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "There was also to be a Council, consisting of four hundred and one members, elected by lot from among those who possessed the franchise." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 3 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "Both for this [the Council] and for the other magistracies the lot was cast among those who were over thirty years of age;" -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ The mere mention of description of the Assembly is contributed towards a statement outlining the penalization of dismissing a sitting of the Council or the Assembly: "If any member of the Council failed to attend when there was a sitting of the Council or of the Assembly, he paid a fine..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "If any member of the Council failed to attend when there was a sitting of the Council or of the Assembly, he paid a fine..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "...he [absent Council or Assembly member] paid a fine, to the amount of three drachmas if he was a Pentacosiomedimnus" -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "...two [two drachmas] if he [absent Council or Assembly member] was a Knight..." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "...and One [one drachma] if he [absent Council or Assembly member] was a Zeugites" -, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

^ "Each tribe was divided into three Trittyes [=Thirds], with twelve Naucraries in each; and the Naucraries had officers of their own, called Naucrari, whose duty it was to superintend the current receipts and expenditure." -, Constitution of the Athenians, Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)

4  Solon's Reforms

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bas-relief of Solon from the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Solon (Greek: Σόλων; c. 638 – c. 558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens.[1] His reforms failed in the short term, yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.[2][3][4] He wrote poetry for pleasure, as patriotic propaganda, and in defense of his constitutional reforms.

Our knowledge of Solon is limited by the fact that his works only survive in fragments and appear to feature interpolations by later authors, and by the general paucity of documentary and archaeological evidence covering Athens in the early 6th century BC.[5] Ancient authors such as Herodotus and Plutarch are the main source of information, yet they wrote about Solon long after his death, at a time when history was by no means an academic discipline. Fourth century orators, such as Aeschines, tended to attribute to Solon all the laws of their own, much later times.[6][1]


Bust of Solon from the National Museum, Naples.

Solon was born in Athens around 638 B.C.[7] His family was distinguished in Attica as they belonged to a noble or Eupatrid clan although only possessing moderate wealth.[8] Solon's father probably was Execestides. Solon's lineage, therefore, could be traced back to Codrus, the last King of Athens.[9] According to Diogenes Laërtius, he had a brother named Dropides who was an ancestor (six generations removed) of Plato.[10] According to Plutarch, Solon was related to the tyrant Peisistratos for their mothers were cousins.[11] Solon was eventually drawn into the unaristocratic pursuit of commerce.[12]

When Athens and Megara were contesting for the possession of the Salamis Island, Solon was given leadership of the Athenian forces. After repeated disasters, Solon was able to increase the morale and spirits of his body of troops on the strength of a poem he wrote about the islands.[7] Supported by Peisistratos, he defeated the Megarians either by means of a cunning trick[13] or more directly through heroic battle around 595 B.C.[7][14] The Megarians however refused to give up their claim to the island. The dispute was referred to the Spartans, who eventually awarded possession of the island to Athens on the strength of the case that Solon put to them.[15]

According to Diogenes Laertius, in 594 B.C. Solon was chosen archon or chief magistrate.[7][16] As archon, Solon discussed his intended reforms with some friends. Knowing that he was about to cancel all debts, these friends took out loans and promptly bought some land. Suspected of complicity, Solon complied with his own law and released his own debtors, amounting to 5 talents (or 15 according to some sources). His friends never repaid their debts.[17]

After he had finished his reforms, he travelled abroad for ten years, so that the Athenians could not induce him to repeal any of his laws.[18] His first stop was Egypt. There, according to Herodotus he visited the Pharaoh of Egypt Amasis II.[19] According to Plutarch, he spent some time and discussed philosophy with two Egyptian priests, Psenophis of Heliopolis and Sonchis of Sais.[20] According to Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, he visited Neith's temple at Sais and received from the priests there an account of the history of Atlantis. Next Solon sailed to Cyprus, where he oversaw the construction of a new capital for a local king, in gratitude for which the king named it Soloi.[20]

Croesus awaits fiery execution (Attic red-figure amphora, 500–490 BC, Louvre G 197)

Solon's travels finally brought him to Sardis, capital of Lydia. According to Herodotus and Plutarch, he met with Croesus and gave the Lydian king advice, which however Croesus failed to appreciate until it was too late. Croesus had considered himself to be the happiest man alive and Solon had advised him, "Count no man happy until he be dead." The reasoning was that at any minute, fortune might turn on even the happiest man and make his life miserable. It was only after he had lost his kingdom to the Persian king Cyrus, while awaiting execution, that Croesus acknowledged the wisdom of Solon's advice.[21][22]

After his return to Athens, Solon became a staunch opponent of Peisistratos. In protest and as an example to others, Solon stood outside his own home in full armour, urging all who passed to resist the machinations of the would-be tyrant. His efforts were in vain. Solon died shortly after Pisistratus usurped by force the autocratic power that Athens had once freely bestowed upon him.[23] He died in Cyprus at the age of 80[7] and, in accordance with his will, his ashes were scattered around Salamis, the island where he was born.[24][25]

The travel writer, Pausanias, listed Solon among the seven sages whose aphorisms adorned Apollo's temple in Delphi.[26] Stobaeus in the Florilegium relates a story about a symposium, where Solon's young nephew was singing a poem of Sappho's; Solon, upon hearing the song, asked the boy to teach him to sing it. When someone asked, "Why should you waste your time on it?" Solon replied ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω, "So that I may learn it then die."[27] Ammianus Marcellinus however told a similar story about Socrates and the poet Stesichorus, quoting the philosopher's rapture in almost identical terms: "ut aliquid sciens amplius e vita discedam",[28] meaning "in order to go away knowing more out of life".

Background to Solon's reforms

Solon, the wise lawgiver of Athens

During Solon's time, many Greek city-states had seen the emergence of tyrants, opportunistic noblemen who had taken power on behalf of sectional interests. In Sicyon, Cleisthenes had usurped power on behalf of an Ionian minority. In Megara, Theagenes had come to power as an enemy of the local oligarchs. The son-in-law of Theagenes, an Athenian nobleman named Cylon, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Athens in 632 BC. Solon was described by Plutarch as having been temporarily awarded autocratic powers by Athenian citizens on the grounds that he had the "wisdom" to sort out their differences for them in a peaceful and equitable manner.[29] According to ancient sources,[30][31] he obtained these powers when he was elected eponymous archon (594/3 BC). Some modern scholars believe these powers were in fact granted some years after Solon had been archon, when he would have been a member of the Areopagus and probably a more respected statesman by his (aristocratic) peers.[32][33][34]

The social and political upheavals that characterised Athens in Solon's time have been variously interpreted by historians from ancient times to the present day. Two contemporary historians have identified three distinct historical accounts of Solon's Athens, emphasizing quite different rivalries: economic and ideological rivalry, regional rivalry and rivalry between aristocratic clans.[35][36] These different accounts provide a convenient basis for an overview of the issues involved.

The historical account of Solon's Athens has evolved over many centuries into a set of contradictory stories or a complex story that might be interpreted in a variety of ways. As further evidence accumulates, and as historians continue to debate the issues, Solon's motivations and the intentions behind his reforms will continue to attract speculation.[52]

Solon's reforms

Solon, depicted with pupils in an Islamic miniature

Solon's laws were inscribed on large wooden slabs or cylinders attached to a series of axles that stood upright in the Prytaneion.[53][54] These axones appear to have operated on the same principle as a Lazy Susan, allowing both convenient storage and ease of access. Originally the axones recorded laws enacted by Draco in the late 7th Century (traditionally 621 BC). Nothing of Draco's codification has survived except for a law relating to homicide, yet there is consensus among scholars that it did not amount to anything like a constitution.[55][56] Solon repealed all Draco's laws except those relating to homicide.[57] During his visit to Athens, Pausanias, the 2nd century AD geographer reported that the inscribed laws of Solon were still displayed by the Prytaneion.[58] Fragments of the axones were still visible in Plutarch's time[59] but today the only records we have of Solon's laws are fragmentary quotes and comments in literary sources such as those written by Plutarch himself. Moreover, the language of his laws was archaic even by the standards of the fifth century and this caused interpretational problems for ancient commentators.[60] Modern scholars doubt the reliability of these sources and our knowledge of Solon's legislation is therefore actually very limited in its details.

Generally, Solon's reforms appear to have been constitutional, economic and moral in their scope. This distinction, though somewhat artificial, does at least provide a convenient framework within which to consider the laws that have been attributed to Solon. Some short-term consequences of his reforms are considered at the end of the section.

Constitutional reform

Main article: Solonian Constitution

Before Solon's reforms, the Athenian state was administered by nine archons appointed or elected annually by the Areopagus on the basis of noble birth and wealth.[61][62] The Areopagus comprised former archons and it therefore had, in addition to the power of appointment, extraordinary influence as a consultative body. The nine archons took the oath of office while ceremonially standing on a stone in the agora, declaring their readiness to dedicate a golden statue if they should ever be found to have violated the laws.[63][64] There was an assembly of Athenian citizens (the Ekklesia) but the lowest class (the Thetes) was not admitted and its deliberative procedures were controlled by the nobles.[65] There therefore seemed to be no means by which an archon could be called to account for breach of oath unless the Areopagus favoured his prosecution.

According to the Athenian Constitution, Solon legislated for all citizens to be admitted into the Ekklesia[66] and for a court (the Heliaia) to be formed from all the citizens.[67] The Heliaia appears to have been the Ekklesia, or some representative portion of it, sitting as a jury.[68][69] By giving common people the power not only to elect officials but also to call them to account, Solon appears to have established the foundations of a true republic. However some scholars have doubted whether Solon actually included the Thetes in the Ekklesia, this being considered too bold a move for any aristocrat in the archaic period.[70] Ancient sources[71][72] credit Solon with the creation of a Council of Four Hundred, drawn from the four Athenian tribes to serve as a steering committee for the enlarged Ekklesia. However, many modern scholars have doubted this also.[73][74]

There is consensus among scholars that Solon lowered the requirements—those that existed in terms of financial and social qualifications—which applied to election to public office. The Solonian constitution divided citizens into four political classes defined according to assessable property[66][75] a classification that might previously have served the state for military or taxation purposes only.[76] The standard unit for this assessment was one medimnos (approximately 12 gallons) of cereals and yet the kind of classification set out below might be considered too simplistic to be historically accurate.[77]

The Areopagus, as viewed from the Acropolis, is a monolith where Athenian aristocrats decided important matters of state during Solon's time.

According to the Athenian Constitution, only the pentakosiomedimnoi were eligible for election to high office as archons and therefore only they gained admission into the Areopagus.[78] A modern view affords the same privilege to the hippeis.[79] The top three classes were eligible for a variety of lesser posts and only the thetes were excluded from all public office.

Depending on how we interpret the historical facts known to us, Solon's constitutional reforms were either a radical anticipation of democratic government, or they merely provided a plutocratic flavour to a stubbornly aristocratic regime, or else the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.[nb 1]

Economic reform

Solon's economic reforms need to be understood in the context of the primitive, subsistence economy that prevailed both before and after his time. Most Athenians were still living in rural settlements right up to the Peloponnesian War.[80] Opportunities for trade even within the Athenian borders were limited. The typical farming family, even in classical times, barely produced enough to satisfy its own needs.[81] Opportunities for international trade were minimal. It has been estimated that, even in Roman times, goods rose 40% in value for every 100 miles they were carried over land, but only 1.3% for the same distance were they carried by ship[82] and yet there is no evidence that Athens possessed any merchant ships until around 525 BC.[83] Until then, the narrow warship doubled as a cargo vessel. Athens, like other Greek city states in the 7th Century BC, was faced with increasing population pressures[84] and by about 525 BC it was able to feed itself only in 'good years'.[85]

Solon's reforms can thus be seen to have taken place at a crucial period of economic transition, when a subsistence rural economy increasingly required the support of a nascent commercial sector. The specific economic reforms credited to Solon are these:

This is one of the earliest known coins. It was minted in the early 6th century BC in Lydia, one of the world's then 'superpowers'. Coins such as this might have made their way to Athens in Solon's time but it is unlikely that Athens had its own coinage at this period.

It is generally assumed, on the authority of ancient commentators[91][92] that Solon also reformed the Athenian coinage. However, recent numismatic studies now lead to the conclusion that Athens probably had no coinage until around 560 BC, well after Solon's reforms.[93] Nevertheless, there are now reasons to suggest[94] that monetization had already begun before Solon's reforms. By early sixth century the Athenians were using silver in the form of a variety of bullion silver pieces for monetary payments.[95] Drachma and obol as a term of bullion value had already been adopted, although the corresponding standard weights were probably unstable.[96]

Solon's economic reforms succeeded in stimulating foreign trade. Athenian black-figure pottery was exported in increasing quantities and good quality throughout the Aegean between 600 BC and 560 BC, a success story that coincided with a decline in trade in Corinthian pottery.[97] The ban on the export of grain might be understood as a relief measure for the benefit of the poor. However, the encouragement of olive production for export could actually have led to increased hardship for many Athenians to the extent that it led to a reduction in the amount of land dedicated to grain. Moreover, an olive produces no fruit for the first six years[98] (but farmers' difficulty of lasting until payback may also give rise to a mercantilist argument in favour of supporting them through that, since the British case illustrates that 'One domestic policy that had a lasting impact was the conversion of "waste lands" to agricultural use. Mercantilists felt that to maximize a nation's power all land and resources had to be used to their utmost...'). The real motives behind Solon's economic reforms are therefore as questionable as his real motives for constitutional reform. Were the poor being forced to serve the needs of a changing economy, was the economy being reformed to serve the needs of the poor, or were Solon's policies the manifestation of a struggle taking place between poorer citizens and the aristocrats?

Moral reform

In his poems, Solon portrays Athens as being under threat from the unrestrained greed and arrogance of its citizens.[99] Even the earth (Gaia), the mighty mother of the gods, had been enslaved.[100] The visible symbol of this perversion of the natural and social order was a boundary marker called a horos, a wooden or stone pillar indicating that a farmer was in debt or under contractual obligation to someone else, either a noble patron or a creditor.[101] Up until Solon's time, land was the inalienable property of a family or clan[102] and it could not be sold or mortgaged. This was no disadvantage to a clan with large landholdings since it could always rent out farms in a sharecropping system. A family struggling on a small farm however could not use the farm as security for a loan even if it owned the farm. Instead the farmer would have to offer himself and his family as security, providing some form of slave labour in lieu of repayment. Equally, a family might voluntarily pledge part of its farm income or labour to a powerful clan in return for its protection. Farmers subject to these sorts of arrangements were loosely known as hektemoroi[103] indicating that they either paid or kept a sixth of a farm's annual yield.[104][105][106] In the event of 'bankruptcy', or failure to honour the contract stipulated by the horoi, farmers and their families could in fact be sold into slavery.

This 6th Century Athenian black-figure urn, in the British Museum, depicts the olive harvest. Many farmers, enslaved for debt, would have worked on large estates for their creditors.

Solon's reform of these injustices was later known and celebrated among Athenians as the Seisachtheia (shaking off of burdens).[107][108] As with all his reforms, there is considerable scholarly debate about its real significance. Many scholars are content to accept the account given by the ancient sources, interpreting it as a cancellation of debts, while others interpret it as the abolition of a type of feudal relationship, and some prefer to explore new possibilities for interpretation.[4] The reforms included:

The removal of the horoi clearly provided immediate economic relief for the most oppressed group in Attica, and it also brought an immediate end to the enslavement of Athenians by their countrymen. Some Athenians had already been sold into slavery abroad and some had fled abroad to escape enslavement – Solon proudly records in verse the return of this diaspora.[110] It has been cynically observed, however, that few of these unfortunates were likely to have been recovered.[111] It has been observed also that the seisachtheia not only removed slavery and accumulated debt, it also removed the ordinary farmer's only means of obtaining further credit.[112]

The seisachtheia however was merely one set of reforms within a broader agenda of moral reformation. Other reforms included:

Demosthenes claimed that the city's subsequent golden age included "personal modesty and frugality" among the Athenian aristocracy.[122] Perhap Solon, by both personal example and legislated reform, established a precedent for this decorum. A heroic sense of civic duty later united Athenians against the might of the Persians. Perhaps this public spirit was instilled in them by Solon and his reforms. Also see Solon and Athenian sexuality.

Aftermath of Solon's reforms

After completing his work of reform, Solon surrendered his extraordinary authority and left the country. According to Herodotus[123] the country was bound by Solon to maintain his reforms for 10 years, whereas according to Plutarch[59] and the author of the Athenian Constitution[124] (reputedly Aristotle) the contracted period was instead 100 years. A modern scholar[125] considers the time-span given by Herodotus to be historically accurate because it fits the 10 years that Solon was said to have been absent from the country.[126] Within 4 years of Solon's departure, the old social rifts re-appeared, but with some new complications. There were irregularities in the new governmental procedures, elected officials sometimes refused to stand down from their posts and occasionally important posts were left vacant. It has even been said that some people blamed Solon for their troubles.[127] Eventually one of Solon's relatives, Peisistratos, ended the factionalism by force, thus instituting an unconstitutionally gained tyranny. In Plutarch's account, Solon accused Athenians of stupidity and cowardice for allowing this to happen.[128]


Solon, depicted as a medieval scholar in the Nuremberg Chronicle

Solon was the first of the Athenian poets whose work has survived to the present day. His verses have come down to us in fragmentary quotations by ancient authors such as Plutarch and Demosthenes[129] who used them to illustrate their own arguments. It is possible that some fragments have been wrongly attributed to him[130] and some scholars have detected interpolations by later authors.[131] He was also the first citizen of Athens to reference the goddess Athena (fr. 4.1-4).[132]

The literary merit of Solon's verse is generally considered unexceptional. Solon's poetry can be said to appear 'self-righteous' and 'pompous' at times[133] and he once composed an elegy with moral advice for a more gifted elegiac poet, Mimnermus. Most of the extant verses show him writing in the role of a political activist determined to assert personal authority and leadership and they have been described by the German classicist Wilamowitz as a "versified harangue" (Eine Volksrede in Versen).[134] According to Plutarch[135] however, Solon originally wrote poetry for amusement, discussing pleasure in a popular rather than philosophical way. Solon's elegiac style is said to have been influenced by the example of Tyrtaeus.[136] He also wrote iambic and trochaic verses which, according to one modern scholar,[137] are more lively and direct than his elegies and possibly paved the way for the iambics of Athenian drama.

Solon's verses are mainly significant for historical rather than aesthetic reasons, as a personal record of his reforms and attitudes. However, poetry is not an ideal genre for communicating facts and very little detailed information can be derived from the surviving fragments.[138] According to Solon the poet, Solon the reformer was a voice for political moderation in Athens at a time when his fellow citizens were increasingly polarized by social and economic differences:

πολλοὶ γὰρ πλουτεῦσι κακοί, ἀγαθοὶ δὲ πένονται:
ἀλλ' ἡμεῖς αὐτοῖς οὐ διαμειψόμεθα
τῆς ἀρετῆς τὸν πλοῦτον: ἐπεὶ τὸ μὲν ἔμπεδον αἰεί,
χρήματα δ' ἀνθρώπων ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἔχει.
Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor;
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue's a thing that none can take away,
But money changes owners all the day.[8]

Here translated by the English poet John Dryden, Solon's words define a 'moral high ground' where differences between rich and poor can be reconciled or maybe just ignored. His poetry indicates that he attempted to use his extraordinary legislative powers to establish a peaceful settlement between the country's rival factions:

ἔστην δ' ἀμφιβαλὼν κρατερὸν σάκος ἀμφοτέροισι:
νικᾶν δ' οὐκ εἴασ' οὐδετέρους ἀδίκως.

Before them both I held my shield of might
And let not either touch the other's right.[75]

His attempts evidently were misunderstood:

χαῦνα μὲν τότ' ἐφράσαντο, νῦν δέ μοι χολούμενοι
λοξὸν ὀφθαλμοῖς ὁρῶσι πάντες ὥστε δήϊον.
Formerly they boasted of me vainly; with averted eyes
Now they look askance upon me; friends no more but enemies.[139]

Solon gave voice to Athenian 'nationalism', particularly in the city state's struggle with Megara, its neighbour and rival in the Saronic Gulf. Plutarch professes admiration of Solon's elegy urging Athenians to recapture the island of Salamis from Megarian control.[13] The same poem was said by Diogenes Laërtius to have stirred Athenians more than any other verses that Solon wrote:

Let us go to Salamis to fight for the island
We desire, and drive away our bitter shame![140]

It is possible that Solon backed up this poetic bravado with true valour on the battlefield.[15]

Solon and Athenian sexuality

As a regulator of Athenian society, Solon, according to some authors, also formalized its sexual mores. According to a surviving fragment from a work ("Brothers") by the comic playwright Philemon,[141] Solon established publicly funded brothels at Athens in order to "democratize" the availability of sexual pleasure.[142] While the veracity of this comic account is open to doubt, at least one modern author considers it significant that in Classical Athens, three hundred or so years after the death of Solon, there existed a discourse that associated his reforms with an increased availability of heterosexual pleasure.[143]

Ancient authors also say that Solon regulated pederastic relationships in Athens; this has been presented as an adaptation of custom to the new structure of the polis.[144][145] According to various authors, ancient lawgivers (and therefore Solon by implication) drew up a set of laws that were intended to promote and safeguard the institution of pederasty and to control abuses against freeborn boys. In particular, the orator Aeschines cites laws excluding slaves from wrestling halls and forbidding them to enter pederastic relationships with the sons of citizens.[146] Accounts of Solon's laws by 4th century orators like Aeschines, however, are considered unreliable for a number of reasons;[6][147][148]

Attic pleaders did not hesitate to attribute to him (Solon) any law which suited their case, and later writers had no criterion by which to distinguish earlier from later works. Nor can any complete and authentic collection of his statutes have survived for ancient scholars to consult.[149]

Besides the alleged legislative aspect of Solon's involvement with pederasty, there were also suggestions of personal involvement. According to some ancient authors Solon had taken the future tyrant Peisistratos as his eromenos. Aristotle, writing around 330 BC, attempted to refute that belief, claiming that "those are manifestly talking nonsense who pretend that Solon was the lover of Peisistratos, for their ages do not admit of it," as Solon was about thirty years older than Peisistratos.[150] Nevertheless, the tradition persisted. Four centuries later Plutarch ignored Aristotle's skepticism[151] and recorded the following anecdote, supplemented with his own conjectures:

And they say Solon loved [Peisistratos]; and that is the reason, I suppose, that when afterwards they differed about the government, their enmity never produced any hot and violent passion, they remembered their old kindnesses, and retained "Still in its embers living the strong fire" of their love and dear affection.[152]

A century after Plutarch, Aelian also said that Peisistratos had been Solon's eromenos. Despite its persistence, however, it is not known whether the account is historical or fabricated. It has been suggested that the tradition presenting a peaceful and happy coexistence between Solon and Peisistratos was cultivated during the latter's dominion, in order to legitimize his own rule, as well as that of his sons. Whatever its source, later generations lent credence to the narrative.[153] Solon's presumed pederastic desire was thought in antiquity to have found expression also in his poetry, which is today represented only in a few surviving fragments.[154][155] The authenticity of all the poetic fragments attributed to Solon is however uncertain – in particular, pederastic aphorisms ascribed by some ancient sources to Solon have been ascribed by other sources to Theognis instead.[130]

See also


  1. "In all areas then it was the work of Solon which was decisive in establishing the foundations for the development of a full democracy."—Marylin B. Arthur, 'The Origins of the Western Attitude Toward Women', in Women in the Ancient World: The Arethusa Papers, John Patrick Sullivan (ed.), State University of New York (1984), page 30.
  2. "In making their own evaluation of Solon, the ancient sources concentrated on what were perceived to be the democratic features of the constitution. But...Solon was given his extraordinary commission by the nobles, who wanted him to eliminate the threat that the position of the nobles as a whole would be overthrown."—Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 76.


1.     ·  ·   Aristotle Politics 1273b 35–1274a 21

2.     ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 76.

3.     ·  ·  Andrews, A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 197

4.     ·  ·  E. Harris, A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia, in 'The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece', eds. L. Mitchell and P. Rhodes (Routledge 1997) 103

5.     ·  ·  Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), pp. 1–5.

6.     ·  ·  V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71

7.     ·  ·  Solon: Biography of Solon

8.     ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1

9.     ·  ·  "Solon" in Magill, Frank N. (ed)., The Ancient World: Dictionary of World Biography (Salem Press/Routledge, 1998), p. 1057.

10.   ·  ·  Diogenes Laërtius, The Lives and Opinions of Famous Philosophers, Book 3 "Plato", chapter 1.

11.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1.

12.   ·  ·  Plutarch, Life of Solon, ch.2

13.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 8 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#8

14.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives/Solon#9

15.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#9

16.   ·  ·  SOLON of Athens

17.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 15 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15

18.   ·  ·  Herodotus, The Histories, Hdt. 1.29

19.   ·  ·  Herodotus, The Histories, Hdt. 1.30

20.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 26 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#26

21.   ·  ·  Herodotus 1.30.

22.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 28 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#28

23.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 32 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#32

24.   ·  ·  Diogenes Laertius 1.62

25.   ·  ·  I. M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian, University of California press (1919), p.308, Google Books link

26.   ·  ·  Pausanias 10.24.1 (e.g. Jones and Omerod trans. [1]).

27.   ·  ·  Stobaeus, III, 29, 58, taken from a lost work of Aelian.

28.   ·  ·  Ammianus Marcellinus 38.4

29.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 14 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#14

30.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 14.3 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#14

31.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 1.5 (e.g. Kenyon's translation s:Athenian Constitution#5)

32.   ·  ·  Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 36.

33.   ·  ·  Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford University Press 1952).

34.   ·  ·  Miller, M. Arethusa 4 (1971) 25–47.

35.   ·  ·  Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pp. 3–4.

36.   ·  ·  Walters, K.R., Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [2]

37.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 2.1–2.3 s:Athenian Constitution#2.

38.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 13 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#13

39.   ·  ·  B. Sealey, "Regionalism in Archaic Athens," Historia 9 (1960) 155-180.

40.   ·  ·  D.Lewis, "Cleisthenes and Attica," Historia 12 (1963) 22-40.

41.   ·  ·  P. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenian Politeia, Oxford University Press (1981) 186.

42.   ·  ·  P. Rhodes, A History of the Greek City States, Berkeley (1976).

43.   ·  ·  Walters K.R. Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [3]

44.   ·  ·  Thucydides 2.14 - 2.16.

45.   ·  ·  Andrews, A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 118.

46.   ·  ·  Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pages 3-4.

47.   ·  ·  Frost, "Tribal Politics and the Civic State," AJAH (1976) 66-75.

48.   ·  ·  Connor, The New Politicians of Fifth Century Athens, Princeton (1971) 11-14.

49.   ·  ·  Cary, Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge Univ. Press (1925) 3:582-586.

50.   ·  ·  Ellis, J. and Stanton, G., Phoenix 22 (1968) 95-99.

51.   ·  ·  Walters, K.R., Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [4].

52.   ·  ·  See, for example, J. Bintliff, "Solon's Reforms: an archeological perspective", in Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches, eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)[5], and other essays published with it.

53.   ·  ·  V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71–72

54.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 52

55.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 26

56.   ·  ·  Oxford Classical Dictionary (1964), 'Draco'

57.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 17 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#17

58.   ·  ·  Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.18.3

59.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 25.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25

60.   ·  ·  Andrews A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 114, 201

61.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 3.6 s:Athenian Constitution#3

62.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 8.2 s:Athenian Constitution#8

63.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 7.1, 55.5 s:Athenian Constitution#7

64.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 25.3 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25

65.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 35, note 2

66.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 7.3 s:Athenian Constitution#7

67.   ·  ·  Aristotle Politics 1274a 3, 1274a 15

68.   ·  ·  Ostwald M. From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of the Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth Century Athens (Berkeley 1986) 9–12, 35.

69.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 67 note 2

70.   ·  ·  Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford University Press 1952) pages 117–118

71.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 8.4 s:Athenian Constitution#8

72.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 19 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#19

73.   ·  ·  Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford University Press 1952) 92–96

74.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 72 note 14

75.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 18 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#18

76.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 71 note 6

77.   ·  ·  V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973)

78.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 7–8 s:Athenian Constitution#7

79.   ·  ·  Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd edition 1996) Solon

80.   ·  ·  Thucydides 2.14–2.16

81.   ·  ·  Gallant T. Risk and Survival in Ancient Greece (Stanford, 1991), cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) page 7 [6]

82.   ·  ·  Laurence R. Land Transport in Rural Italy (Parkins and Smith, 1998), cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) [7]

83.   ·  ·  Morris I. The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) page 12 [8]

84.   ·  ·  Snodgrass A. Archaic Greece (London, 1980) cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) page 11 [9]

85.   ·  ·  Garnsey P. Famine and Food Supply in Graeco-Roman World (Cambridge, 1988) page 104, cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) [10]

86.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 22.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#22

87.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 24.4 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#24

88.   ·  ·  Plutarch Solon 24.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#24

89.   ·  ·  V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 73–74

90.   ·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 60–63

91.   ·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 10 s:Athenian Constitution#10

92.   ·  ·  Plutarch (quoting Androtion) Solon 15.2–5 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15

93.   ·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 61 note 4

94.   ·  ·  Eberhard Ruschenbusch 1966, Solonos Nomoi (Solon's laws)

95.   ·  ·  Kroll, 1998, 2001, 2008

96.   ·  ·  The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage by William Metcalf, page 88

97.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 76

98.   ·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 65 note 1

99.   ·  ·  Demosthenes 19 (On the Embassy) 254–5

100.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 12.4 (quoting Solon) s:Athenian Constitution#12

101.·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pages 55–6 notes 3 and 4

102.·  ·  Innis H. Empire and Communications (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) pages 91–92

103.·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 38 note 3

104.·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 35 note 3

105.·  ·  Kirk. G, Historia Vol. 26 (1977) 369–370

106.·  ·  Woodhouse W. Solon the Liberator: A Study of the Agrarian Problem in Attika in the Seventh Century (Oxford University Press 1938)

107.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 6 s:Athenian Constitution#6

108.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 15.2 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15

109.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 12.4, quoting Solon s:Athenian Constitution#12

110.·  ·  Solon quoted in Athenaion Politeia 12.4 s:Athenian Constitution#12

111.·  ·  Forrest G. The Oxford History of the Classical World ed Griffin J. and Murray O. (Oxford University Press, 1995) page 32

112.·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC; a Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) page 57 note 1

113.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 20.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#20

114.·  ·  Grant, Michael. The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988 p. 49

115.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 9 s:Athenian Constitution#9

116.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 18.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#18

117.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 8.5 s:Athenian Constitution#8

118.·  ·  Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c800–500BC; a Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) page 72 note 17

119.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 20.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#20

120.·  ·  Goldstein J. Historia Vol. 21 (1972) 538–545.

121.·  ·  Develin R. Historia Vol. 26 (1977) 507–508.

122.·  ·  Demosthenes On Organization

123.·  ·  Herodotus 1.29 (e.g. Campbell's translation 2707)

124.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 7.2 s:Athenian Constitution#7

125.·  ·  Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c800–55BC; a Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) page 84

126.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 25.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25

127.·  ·  Athenaion Politeia 13 s:Athenian Constitution#13

128.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 30 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#30

129.·  ·  Demosthenes 19 (On the Embassy) 254-5

130.·  ·  K.Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents, Uni. California Press, 2003; p.36

131.·  ·  A.Lardinois, Have we Solon's verses? and E.Stehle, Solon's self-reflexive political persona and its audience, in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J.Blok and A.Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)

132.·  ·  Susan Deacy, Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World: Athena (2008) pg. 77

133.·  ·  Forrest G., The Oxford History of the Classical World, ed. Boardman J., Griffin J. and Murray O., Oxford University Press (New York, 1995), page 31

134.·  ·  Wilamowitz, Arist. u. Athen, ii 304, cited by Eduard Fraenkel, Horace, Oxford University Press (1957), page 38

135.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 3.1-4 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#3

136.·  ·  Oxford Classical Dictionary (1964) Solon

137.·  ·  David. A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press 1982, Intro. xxix

138.·  ·  Andrews A. Greek Society (Penguin 1981) 114

139.·  ·  Plutarch Solon 16 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#16

140.·  ·  Solon, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius 1.47

141.·  ·  Fr. 4

142.·  ·  Rachel Adams, David Savran, The Masculinity Studies Reader; Blackwell, 2002; p.74

143.·  ·  One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love, p.101

144.·  ·  Bernard Sergent, "Paederasty and Political Life in Archaic Greek Cities" in Gay Studies from the French Culture; Harrington Park Press, Binghamton, NY 1993; pp.153–154

145.·  ·  Eros and Greek Athletics By Thomas Francis Scanlon, p.213 "So it is clear that Solon was responsible for institutionalizing pederasty to some extent at Athens in the early sixth century."

146.·  ·  Aeschines, Against Timarchus 6, 25, 26 [11]; compare also Plutarch, Solon 1.3.

147.·  ·  Kevin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Ox. Uni. Press, 1994; p. 128,

148.·  ·  P. J. Rhodes, The Reforms and Laws of Solon: an Optimistic View, in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)

149.·  ·  Kevin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Ox. Uni. Press 1994; p. 128 (quoting F. E. Adcock)

150.·  ·  Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, 2.17

151.·  ·  Homosexuality & Civilization By Louis Crompton, p. 25

152.·  ·  Plutarch, The Lives "Solon" Tr. John Dryden s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon

153.·  ·  Solon and Early Greek Poetry By Elizabeth Irwin p. 272 n. 24

154.·  ·  Ancient Greece By Matthew Dillon, Lynda Garland, p. 475

155.·  ·  Nick Fisher, Against Timarchos, Oxford University Press 2001, p. 37


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  • P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in Graeco-Roman World, Cambridge Uni. Press, 1988
  • J. Goldstein, Historia, Vol. 21, 1972
  • M. Grant, The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988
  • E. Harris, 'A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia', in The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece, eds. L. Mitchell and P. Rhodes, Routledge, 1997
  • C. Hignett, A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C., Oxford University Press, 1952
  • K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents, Uni. California Press, 2003
  • H. Innis, Empire and Communications, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007
  • G. Kirk, Historia, Vol. 26, 1977
  • D. Lewis, 'Cleisthenes and Attica', Historia, 12, 1963
  • M. Miller, Arethusa, Vol. 4, 1971
  • I. Morris, The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC, Stanford, 2005
  • C. Mosse, 'Comment s'elabore un mythe politique: Solon', Annales, ESC XXXIV, 1979
  • M. Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of the Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth-Century Athens, Berkeley, 1986
  • P. Rhodes, A History of the Greek City States, Berkeley, 1976
  • P. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenian Politeia, Oxford University Press, 1981
  • K. Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Oxford University Press, 1994
  • B. Sealey, 'Regionalism in Archaic Athens', Historia, 9, 1960
  • G. R. Stanton, Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, London, Routledge, 1990
  • M. L. West (ed.), Iambi et elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati2: Callinus. Mimnermus. Semonides. Solon. Tyrtaeus. Minora adespota, Oxford University Press: Clarendon Press, 1972, revised edition, 1992
  • W. Woodhouse, 'Solon the Liberator: A Study of the Agrarian Problem', in Attika in the Seventh Century, Oxford University Press, 1938

Collections of Solon's surviving verses

  • Martin Litchfield West, Iambi et elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati2 : Callinus. Mimnermus. Semonides. Solon. Tyrtaeus. Minora adespota,, Oxonii: e typographeo Clarendoniano 1972, revised edition 1992 x + 246 pp.
  • T. Hudaon-Williams, Early Greek Elegy: Ekegiac Fragments of Callinus, Archilochus, Mimmermus, Tyrtaeus, Solon, Xenophanes, and Others, # Taylor and Francis (1926), ISBN 0-8240-7773-3.
  • Christoph Mülke, Solons politische Elegien und Iamben : (Fr. 1 - 13, 32 - 37 West), Munich (2002), ISBN 3-598-77726-4.
  • Eberhard Ruschenbusch Nomoi : Die Fragmente d. Solon. Gesetzeswerkes, Wiesbaden : F. Steiner (1966).
  • H. Miltner Fragmente / Solon, Vienna (1955)
  • Eberhard Preime, Dichtungen : Sämtliche Fragmente / Solon Munich (1940).

External links

5  The Reforms of Solon

From Perseus --


In desperation, the Athenians in 594 B.C. gave Solon special authority to revise their laws1 to deal with the economic crisis and its dire social consequences that had brought their society to the brink of internecine war. As he explains in his autobiographical poetry, Solon tried to steer a middle course2 between the demands of the rich to preserve their financial advantages and the call of the poor for a redistribution of land to themselves from the holdings of the large landowners. His famous “shaking off of obligations”3 somehow freed those farms whose ownership had become formally encumbered without, however, actually redistributing any land. He also forbade the selling of Athenians into slavery for debt and secured the liberation of citizens who had become slaves4 in this way, commemorating his success in the verses he wrote about his reforms: “To Athens, their home established by the gods, I brought back many who had been sold into slavery, some justly, some not ...”5


Attempting to balance political power between rich and poor, , Solon ranked male citizens into four classes according to their income6: “five-hundred-measure men” (pentakosiomedimnoi , those with an annual income equivalent to that much agricultural produce), “horsemen” (hippeis , income of three hundred measures), “yoked men” (zeugitai , two hundred measures), and “laborers” (thetes, less than two hundred measures). The higher a man's class, the higher the governmental office for which he was eligible, with the laborer class barred from all posts. Solon did reaffirm the right of this class to participate in the assembly (ekklesia ), however. Solon probably created a council (boule) of four hundred7 men to prepare an agenda for the discussions in the assembly, although some scholars place this innovation later than Solon's time.

Aristocrats could not dominate the council's deliberations because its members were chosen by lot, probably only from the top three income classes. Solon may also have initiated a schedule of regular meetings for the assembly. These reforms gave added impetus to the assembly's legislative role and thus indirectly laid a foundation for the political influence that the “laborer” (thete ) class would gradually acquire over the next century and a half.


1 Aristot. Ath. Pol. 5-12, Plut. Sol. 15-25

2 Plut. Sol. 15.1

3 Aristot. Ath. Pol. 6.1, Plut. Sol. 15.3

4 Plut. Sol. 15.5

5 Aristot. Ath. Pol. 12.4

6 Aristot. Ath. Pol. .3-4, Plut. Sol. 18.1-2

7 Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8.4, Plut. Sol. 19.1

6  Peisistratos

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Peisistratos (/pˈsɪstrətəs/; Greek: Πεισίστρατος; died 528/7 BCE), latinized Pisistratus, the son of Hippocrates, was a ruler of ancient Athens during most of the period between 561 and 527 BCE. His legacy lies primarily in his institution of the Panathenaic Festival and the consequent first attempt at producing a definitive version of the Homeric epics. Peisistratos' championing of the lower class of Athens, the Hyperakrioi, (see below) is an early example of populism. While in power, Peisistratos did not hesitate to confront the aristocracy, and he greatly reduced their privileges, confiscated their lands and gave them to the poor, and funded many religious and artistic programs.[1]

Peisistratids is the common term for the three tyrants who ruled in Athens from 546 to 510 BC, namely Peisistratos and his two sons, Hipparchus and Hippias.


Pisistratus was a distant relative of Solon from northern Attica. He had made a name for himself by capturing the port of Nisaea in nearby Megara by creating a successful coup in 564 BC. Pisistratus was backed by the Men of the Hill, the poorer and majority of the population. This victory opened up the unofficial trade blockage that had been contributing to food shortage in Athens during the past several decades.[2]

In the period after the Megaran defeat, several political factions competed for control in the government of Athens. These groups were both economically and geographically partitioned.[3]

His role in the Megaran conflict gained Peisistratos popularity in Athens, but he did not have the political clout to seize power. Herodotus tells us how he intentionally wounded himself and his mules in order to demand from the Athenian people bodyguards for protection, which he received. By obtaining support from the vast number of the poorer population as well as bodyguards, he was able to seize the Acropolis and the reins of government. The Athenians were open to a tyranny similar to that under Solon -- and possible stability and internal peace --and Pisistratus' ruse won him further prominence.[4] With this in his possession, and the collusion of Megacles and his party, he declared himself tyrant.[5]

Periods of power

Peisistratos was ousted from political office and exiled twice during his reign. The first occurrence was circa 555 BC after the two original parties, normally at odds with each other, joined forces and removed Peisistratos from power. Actual dates after this point become unclear. Peisistratos was exiled for 3 to 6 years during which the agreement between the Pedieis and the Paralioi fell apart. Peisistratos returned to Athens and rode into the city in a golden chariot accompanied by a tall woman appearing to be Athena. Many returned to his side, believing he had the favour of the goddess.[6] Differing sources state that he held the tyranny for one to six years before he was exiled again. During his second exile, he gathered support from local cities and resources from the Laurion silver mines near Athens. After 10 years he returned in force, regained his tyranny, and held power until his death in 527 BC.

Popular tyrant

Didrachm of Athens, 545-510 BC
Obv: Four-spoked wheel Rev: Incuse square, divided diagonally
Silver didrachm of Athens of heraldic type from the time of Peisistratos, 545-510 BC
Obol of Athens, 545-525 BC
Obv: An archaic Gorgoneion Rev: Square incuse
An archaic silver obol of Athens of heraldic type from the time of Peisistratus, 545-525 BC

As opposed to the contemporary definition of a tyrant, which is a single ruler, often violent and oppressive, Peisistratos' career was a model example of tyranny, a non-heritable position taken by purely personal ability, often in violation of tradition or constitutional norms. We see this in remarks by both Herodotus and Aristotle. Herodotus, in his Histories, wrote that Peisistratos, "not having disturbed the existing magistrates nor changed the ancient laws… administered the State under that constitution of things which was already established, ordering it fairly and well",[7] while Aristotle wrote that "his administration was temperate…and more like constitutional government than a tyranny".[8] Peisistratos often tried to distribute power and benefits rather than hoard them, with the intent of easing stress between the economic classes. The elites who had held power in the Areopagus Council were allowed to retain their archonships. For the lower classes, he cut taxes and created a band of traveling judges to provide justice for the citizens. Peisistratos enacted a popular program to beautify Athens and promote the arts. He minted coins with Athena's symbol (the owl), although this was only one type on the so-called Wappenmünzen (heraldic coins) and not a regular device as on the later, standard silver currency. Under his rule were introduced two new forms of poetry, the dithyramb and tragic drama, and the era also saw growth in theater, arts, and sculpture. He commissioned the permanent copying and archiving of Homer's two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the canon of Homeric works is said to derive from this particular archiving.

Three Attempts at Tyranny

With Peisistratus' successful invasion and capture of Nisaea, he attained great political standing in the assembly. He initially met with resistance from nobles like Megacles, the son of Alcmaeon, and Lycurgus, the son of Aristolaïdes, who had shared power between them. Megacles came over to Peisistratus' side and, with his help, Peisistratus was accepted as tyrant by the Athenian assembly in 561, and, according to Herodotus, he "administered the state constitutionally and organized the state's affairs properly and well."[9] However, he was soon thereafter ousted. Herodotus explains his exile “Not much later, however, the supporters of Megacles and those of Lycurgus came to an understanding and expelled him”.

He soon had a second chance. Megacles invited him back in 556 on condition that he marry Megacles' daughter. Peisistratus returned in triumph accompanied by a tall, local woman named Phye, whom he passed off as Athena. The awestruck Athenians thus accepted his second tyranny. Peisistratus, however, refused to impregnate Megacles' daughter, which ended their coalition. Peisistratus was forced to leave Attica entirely. During his nearly ten-year exile, he created an alliance with powerful allies and accumulated great wealth. With his powerful personal army, he marched to Marathon and from there to Athens. His popularity soared and many locals supported him. Thus, in 546 BC, he began his third and final tyranny.[10]

Policies of Peisistratus

Pisistratus's main policies were aimed at strengthening the economy, and similar to Solon, he was concerned about both agriculture and commerce. He offered land and loans to the needy. He encouraged the cultivation of olives and the growth of Athenian trade, finding a way to the Black Sea and even Italy and France. Under Peisistratus, fine Attic pottery traveled to Ionia, Cyprus, and Syria. In Athens, Pisistratus' public building projects provided jobs to people in need while simultaneously making the city a cultural center. He replaced the private wells of the aristocrats with public fountain houses. Pisistratos also built the first aqueduct in Athens, opening a reliable water supply to sustain the large population.[11]


Peisistratos died in 527 or 528 BC. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Hippias. Hippias and his brother, Hipparchus, ruled the city much as their father did. After a successful murder plot against Hipparchus conceived by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Hippias became paranoid and oppressive. This change caused the people of Athens to hold Hippias in much lower regard. The Alcmaeonid family helped depose the tyranny by bribing the Delphic oracle to tell the Spartans to liberate Athens, which they did in 508 BC. The Peisistratids were not executed, but rather were mostly forced into exile. Afterwards, the surviving Peisistratid, Hippias went on to aid the Persians with their attack on Marathon acting as a guide. [12]

See also