Solon and His Influence on Later Ancient Athenian Democracy

By admin ~ January 16th, 2010 @ 2:40 am

Solon was an Athenian poet and lawgiver who is credited with bringing a certain amount of stability to Athens during the late 7th century BC (c.630-600BC). Athens during the later years of the 7th century BC suffered much instability. Kylon was a great Athenian Olympic victor who believed he had the potential to become the new tyrant of Athens. There was a power vacuum left by the end of Athenian monarchy and the rise of powerful aristocratic families such as the Alkmaeonids. Kylon and a number of his followers tried to take Athens, but failed. Kylon then sat in the acropolis boundary (the sacred area of Athens) and made himself a supplicant to the gods. By doing this, Kylon was ensuring that he would remain safe from any violence from angry Athenian rivals. Kylon was wrong. Ancient sources point to members of the Alkmaeonid family carrying out their own punishment against Kylon, murdering him after the Athenian magistrates had ruled that no punishment should include death.

Solon’s background was as an advisor to king Kroisos of Lydia. Solon would come to Athens as a lawgiver and moral reformer. Solon identified that the power held by a few could cause internal strife, which meant there was a lack of good leadership. Selfish self interests over the needs of the community led to dysnomia (bad laws) rather than eunomia (good laws). The idea of fairness was important to Solon and he believed that everyone should get what they deserve.

Solon was elected as Archon in 594/3 or 592/1. He made laws that would create more equal balance of power between the rich and poor and the powerful and the ordinary people. Solon tightened up laws about property, making it clear that if a man made a will it would be made void if he was senile, drunk, imprisoned or under the influence of a woman. Other laws were made too. A maximum of three items of clothing could be buried with the deceased, an adulterer could be killed on the spot if he was sleeping with the punisher’s daughter, wife, mother, sister or concubine kept for procreating purposes. If an girl became the heiress of a family fortune, the next of kin (normally the girl’s uncle) was by law obliged to marry her so that the property would be kept within the family.

Solon saw the social hierarchy of Athens as based on how much property a man owned. He was however concerned with one particular group of men in the social hierarchy. These men were known as the hektemoiroi, men who rented land and gave one sixth of the produce of that land to the owner. Solon moved away land boundary markers (which were placed to record the sixth of the produce which was to be given to the land owner) and gave these men their masters’ land. Finally a large portion of the Athenian population was free and led to Athens becoming a city of small farmers. The freeing of the hektmoiroi would led to the democratic reforms of the later 5th century and the first ever fully developed democracy.

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