After this (the period 640 (Kylon) it happened that a long period of civil strife took place between the notables (γνοριμοι – gnorimoi) and the multitude (πλεθος – plethos). For their constitution was in all ways oligarchic; moreover, the poor and their children and wives were enslaved by the rich. They were called the pelatai (debtors) and hektemoroi (sixth parters). For, in return, they worked the fields of the rich – the whole land was in the hands of a few – and if they did not pay their rents, they themselves and their children became liable to seizure as slaves (αγογιμoι – agogimoi). All borrowing was based on the debtor’s person as security until the time of Solon – he was the first to become the champion of the people. This slavery, sanctioned under the constitution, was to the people the harshest and most bitter feature of the regime, although they were also discontented about everything else, for they had virtually no share in government.

(Athenaion Politeia (Ath. Pol.)) Chapt 2

THE role of Athens in Hellenic poleis before the era of Solon is very difficult to analyse – the majority of that written about early Athens by Hellenes is based upon legend and myth (eg the mythological Theseus as first king of Athens) and much is found in simple fragments of the Atthidographers. It is known that Athens and Attika remained relatively untouched by the early invasions, hence their claim to autochthony, and that the Athenians played a major role in Ionian expansion in the eighth and seventh centuries. The ninth and eighth centuries had also seen a flourishing in Athenian pottery, evidence of which shows that Athens at least traded far and wide, the key point to note, however, is the absence of Athens amongst the great colonial poleis:

‘…her colonies belong to later times and are different in character from most of those founded in the earlier period.’ (Graham, AJ, Colony and Mother City in Ancient Greece, Man. Uni. Press, 1964, 166)

The Athenians regarded themselves as autokhthons – people born of the land; in other words they were the original inhabitants as opposed to incomers through invasion. Apollodoros states that they referred to themselves in this way, as they were the first to till the soil of Attika (Apollodoros, About the Gods in FGrHist, 244 F106). Hellanikos refers to the Thebans, the Arkadians and the Aiginetans using the same term. Inevitably there were early chroniclers amongst the Atthidographers, such as Pindar, who claimed that this was due to divine intervention and that the term implied the Athenians ‘sprouting from the land’ after ‘Athena had sown the teeth’ [of a legendary dragon]. Whilst there were other poleis which claimed an autochthonous origin,

‘…it was the Athenians who made autochthony and the ancestor-theme into a fundamental feature of their national image and propaganda.’ (Harding, P The Story of Athens: The Fragments of the Local Chronicles of Athens, Routledge, 2007 Kindle Edition, 16)

Why, then, does Athens begin to assume such a pivotal role in the subsequent Classical Era? In order to attempt to answer this question, we must examine what the catalysts were which brought Athens to the point where she could assume the role as the hegemon of a major League and mistress of a powerful Empire.

Paiaro states:

‘…la actuación de Solón suposo un cambio radical en la estructura sociopolitica de la polis. Sus reformas permitieron que los productores directos del mundo rural se integren de forma definitiva y estable en la ciudadanía con plenos derechos a la participación politica, algo que, en última instancia, operó como una protección contra su explotación.’ (Paiaro, D, Las Reformas de Solón y los límites de la extareconómica en la Atenas arcaica, 2011 ‘…what Solon did assumed a radical change in the sociopolitical structure of the polis. His reforms allowed those who directly produced the goods of the rural world to integrate themselves in definitive and stable ways into the citizenship with a plethora of rights to participation in political life, something which, on its most basic level, acted as a protection against their being exploited.’)

Prior to the Solonic reforms, there is little evidence that Athens was in any way significantly at variance with the other Hellenic poleis which occupied the area north of the Isthmus of Corinth. Why and how did Athens develop into the democracy which she did while cities such as Corinth were under a tyranny, a system reflected for a time at Athens under Peisistratos and his sons, and Sparta, south of the Isthmus, was developing her rather unique militaristic diarchy?

It can be intuited from certain later sources that the whole region of Attika and its many poleis were brought under the aegis of Athens fairly early – Thuc. II. 15 states that Theseus was himself responsible for bringing the varied poleis under one bouleuterion (council) and a single prytaneion (seat of Government). Unlike her later rival, Sparta, however, the Athenians appear to have introduced the concept of the citizen body early and as such the land of Attika was citizen owned rather than ‘occupied’ by the citizen body and worked by a slave race (in Sparta the ‘helots’). There were many other city states which had similar systems and, as we have seen, the idea of an Ekklesia (Assembly) as an ultimate civic body with the responsibility to ratify magisterial appointments and make political decisions was far from new. Prior to Solon, ‘the political regime at Athens was in all things oligarchic.’ (Aristotle, Ath. Pol. 2.2) Indeed, this was the era of the patrios politeia, the Ancestral Constitution, which was to be recalled as a golden age by the oligarchs of the fifth century. The economy was not a monetary economy, but one based upon barter and exchange, part of which was based upon labour as a transferable payment good and it seems that there was frequently a combination of goods and labour as offer of payment of a debt.

By 594, however, the gulf which existed in Athens between the notables (γνοριμοι – gnorimoi) and the many (πλεθος – plethos) had reached such a point of impasse that both sides were willing to turn to Solon in order to find a solution. The citation in the introduction to this chapter shows the problematic situation which stood in Solon’s way. The gnorimoi were most certainly in the driving seat of power and land ownership. Some historians state that the fact the poor were referred to as ‘hektemeroi’ (sixth parters) showed their political as well as socio-economic status as an underclass in that they were required to pay one sixth of their produce to the Eupatrid land owner and if they did not, then their debt was to be paid using not only their own person but also those of their family members in debt-slavery; this meant that they could be sold outside of Attika proper in order to repay the sums owed. The debate lies, however, in whether the peletai, the thetes and the hektemoroi were synonyms for the same group of people, or whether there was a division in Athenian eyes. The quote from the Ath. Pol. does seem to suggest, as Buckley has pointed out (Aspects of Greek History: 750-323 BC Routledge, 2010, 85ff), that Aristotle and Plutarch (Solon, 13.2) draw a major distinction between the hektemoroi, who paid rent for the use of land in a tenant capacity and a separate class who used their own person as security on their loans. The question, as so often in Hellenic history, relies on connotations in the original Greek. Huperkhos, the term used by Plutarch, carries the meaning ‘under obligation to’ which combines with the fact that in none of the fragments remaining to us does Solon give debt as a reason for the difficulties faced by the hektemoroi. It is therefore more likely that the

‘…hectemoroi had (not) come into existence through debt, but through hereditary serfdom.’ (ibid, 87)

This would imply that the peasant farmers had accepted the almost feudal system in return for protection and fiscal support for their one sixth payment.

Nevertheless, the disquiet of a poverty stricken peasant class was unlikely to have lead to the stasis of 594. This is only explicable if there were an independent class of land owners which consisted part rich and part poor who moved against the status quo. Solon himself lays the blame firmly amongst the wealthy and their greed:

‘But the citizens themselves are ready to destroy this great city, believing in wealth. The minds of the people’s leaders are unjust and are going to suffer much due to their great arrogance. They are unable to put boundaries on their greed…they grow rich; they believe in unjust deeds; they spare neither the religious nor the common possessions; they steal from everywhere as plunder.’ (Solon, fr. IV 4-13)

Solon’s determination to end the debt-bondage and subsequent slavery is made clear in his own words:

‘I returned to Athens, their god-built homeland, all those many men who had been sold abroad, some illegally, some legally, and those who had been obliged to go into exile through their huge debt (or absolute necessity – the Greek can be translated as either), those who no longer spoke Attik Greek due to having wandered to many places. I further feed all those at home living in shameful slavery and who lived in fear of their owners moods.’ (Ath Pol 12. 4)

This is further evidence of the power which lay in the hands of the eupatridai class, as it was illegal to sell anyone outside of Attika. They were the interpreters of the laws, and as such evidently felt that flouting such was within their demesne where the pursuit of wealth was the centralised driving force. These eupatridai had cornered the membership of the Areopagean Council, the ruling body, and as such the monopoly of these greatest of the aristocratic families left them unfettered in their pursuit of power and wealth. This must have led to major disquiet among the middle classes who formed the powerful hoplite phalanx, the major unit in Greek warfare. They were excluded from political influence, yet were expected to equip themselves at their own cost and do much of the fighting and indeed dying on the battlefield to protect a city dominated by a few families. The fact that the independence and influence of the hoplite classes in other poleis, and principally at Sparta, must have served to rub salt into that open wound of discontent. It was under these circumstances that Solon was given the task of overcoming the stasis and preventing civil war breaking out.

The question then arises, why Solon? From what we know of him, he was born of the aristocracy, but he was also a member of the merchant class. He presumably had a reputation for fair dealing as he was evidently trusted by both sides to solve these problems, to the extent that they gave him the guarantee that any reforms he introduced would be accepted and remain unchallenged for a period of ten years.

The primary problems lay in the tense economic crisis and the social situation of the lower classes. Solon resolved this by the seisakhtheia – the ‘throwing off of burdens’. Aristotle:

‘Solon, after he had gained full control over Athenian affairs, freed the people for both the present and the future through rendering it illegal to allow loans on that person as security, further passing laws and carrying out a cancellation of all debts, both public and private, termed the seisakhtheia as the people shook off their heavy burden.’ (Ath Pol. 6.1)

What did this mean in practical terms? The boundary stones (horoi), often moved at the whim of the wealthy, were removed, thus freeing the hektemoroi and putting the land in their hands, creating a large class of independent small land owners. Those who owed private khreos (debt) as well as public khreos were released from their obligations – the Greek term implies under obligation, therefore presumably debt to the state was also wiped out, again benefitting the hektemoroi. There is also the claim that any man who had been sold into slavery outside of Attika as well as those who lived in exile, having fled their obligations so as not to be sold into slavery, were purchased back and allowed to return to their ancestral homeland. In a society where there were no state records of births and the fact that the selling of an Athenian abroad was illegal does, however, make this reform difficult to swallow. Presumably word of mouth was a way of allowing the agogimoi (those liable to seizure) to know they could return, though again whether these were truly Athenian must be a question as even Solon states that some of them no longer spoke the Attik dialect. The major reform, though, would appear to be the removal of a loan being made on the security of the recipient’s body – after this, no Athenian could be sold into slavery again due to debt and the idea of being under a debt-bond became an alien concept in Athens.

There still remains the question of the political situation. Solon fr. 5 gives a vague idea of what he did on the political front:

‘I gave to the people as much privilege as was sufficient; I neither removed nor increased what was their right. I made sure to inflict nothing unfair on the powerful and those admired for their wealth. I stood and held my mighty shield over both groups, allowing neither to be victor unjustly.’ (My emphasis.) (Ath Pol. 12.1)

These reforms were actually much more radical than might appear at first glance. Political power had rested simply upon birth and had been a closed monopoly of the Eupatrid families. This now transferred to wealth rather than birth, something which involved a complete restructuring of the Athenian system of social class, though the key word to notice is ‘sufficient’ – this was in no way designed to be a complete and radical reformation of the social structure similar to a revolution, but rather a way to appease both sides in the prospective stasis.

Solon introduced a reformed, or perhaps better reorganised, system of four wealth based social classes, (though whether they existed beforehand and were adapted by Solon or whether he invented them remains a debate,) each with limitations to its power and membership of each based upon how many medimnoi (bushels) an individual produced in a year, be that in wheat, wine or oil. At the top were the pentekosiomedimnoi who produced 500+ bushels per annum. Next came the hippeis (horse men) who produced 300+ and would be expected to provide the cavalry in the army; third were the zeugitai (the Yoke Men) who produced 200+ and would make up the hoplite phalanx and those who produced less than 200 bushels were the thetes (Commoners) who were below military classification, although who were later to serve as rowers and as such the backbone of the nascent Athenian thalassocracy. Aristotle does claim that Solon had not invented these classes, though even if this were the case, Solon evidently changed the meaning of each class to be based upon wealth. Solon then went on to stipulate the political rights and responsibilities of each of these classes.

The Ath. Pol (7.3) tells us that the offices of state were only open to the top three classes. The Treasurers of Athena had to come from the pentekosiomedimnoi as they were likely the only ones wealthy enough not to be tempted to defraud the state. They and the hippeis were the classes who gave the nine annual arkhontes (the Governing Magistrates, and hence the most important of the offices). The three principle arkhontes were the Eponymous Arkhon, after whom a year would be named and was the most important civic official, the Polemarkh who was in charge of the armed forces and the Basileus (King) who ran the religious functions of the State. The six State judges (Thesmothetai) also had to come from these classes. The Poletai, who ran the day to day functions of the State, the Eleven, who ran the prisons and public executions and the Kolakretai, who had fiscal duties could come from any of the top classes. The thetes were deprived of any political office.

Opening up the arkhonship, based now upon wealth rather than birth, broke the Eupatrid monopoly and appeased the wealthy non noble families. As all former arkhontes were automatically members of the Council of the Areopagos, this further diluted the power of the Eupatridai. Whether the nine arkhontes were directly elected or were drawn by lot from ten men proposed by each of the four tribes is debatable – our only source, Aristotle claims the former in the Politics (1237b 40) and the latter in Ath. Pol. 8.

Whilst scholarly debate continues over this point, it need not concern us here, as both direct elections were a part of Athenian democracy as well as ‘trusting the gods’ in choosing by lot, therefore neither would have been an alien concept to the Athenian citizen body.

Osborne (Greece in The Making 1200-479 BC, 2009) does state:

‘…the basis for believing that Athens or any other archaic city was ever in the grip of an exclusive hereditary aristocracy is fragile.’ (209)

This quote does appear to question the often-held view that the Athens of the Archaic Period was a society totally under the dominance of the eupatridai, despite the ideas put forward by Aristotle and Thucydides. Archaeological evidence is most certainly lacking for the absolute hereditary dominance.

The greatest question that arises is the success of these reforms, or indeed lack thereof. Aristotle states clearly that there were most certainly successes:

‘…first and most important, the ban on loans on the security of the person; next, permission for all who wished it to seek retribution for those who were wronged; and third, the one which is said particularly to have contributed to the power of the masses, the right of appeal to the jury courts – because when the people are masters of the vote, they are the masters of the state. (2) Further to this, due to his laws not being written simply and clearly, but rather like the laws of inheritance and heiresses, it was an inevitability that many disputes should arise and that the jury-courts should decide all things both public and private.’ (Ath Pol. 9.1-2)

This was a major step forward in the judicial life of Athenians. Prior to this, the concept of justice was something that lay in the hands of families, and as such the eupatrid clans were doubtless the winners, as they would presumably close ranks against those who were outside of their class. Furthermore, there were inevitable family feuds, probably similar to the Italian concept of the vendetta, which would have serious consequences for those families and as such the state in general. Solon’s new and radical reforms showed:

‘…his insistence that any male citizen – not just the victim or the victim’s relatives – could bring an indictment if he believed a crime had been committed. Once the concern of families, justice was now the business of the community of male citizens as a whole.’ (Pomeroy, Ancient Greece: A Political, Social and Cultural History, 2012, 195)

The one section of the legislature unaffected by this reform was the Council of the Areopagos. This was still a body of former arkhontes, and by definition an aristocratic body which would have had very little interest in the plight of the poor. Whilst in office, the various magistrates had a duty of responsibility to the people and prosecutions for the breaking of laws were not apparently that uncommon; however, when moved to the Council of the Areopagos, these same individuals were no longer subject to prosecution – to all intents and purposes, they were above the law. In the longer term, however, there would be a change in the make up of this as more former arkhontes who had held the office through their wealth class rather than birth class would compose an ever greater number of the Areopagites. Whilst this may still seem a decidedly unfair and plutocratic base for one of the major instruments of government, it did signal a radical alteration in the power base in sixth century Athens.

The one set of laws which remained more or less untouched, and as such extremely rigid from the time of Drako, was that relating to a charge of murder. The punishments for all other charges were either reduced or, as in the example of those exiled for anything besides murder and attempted tyranny, removed completely and all charges dropped as it was now illegal to have sold an Athenian into slavery due to fiscal difficulties, though more on this below.

Whilst such reforms most certainly did help average Athenians, there were questionable outcomes regarding certain families; the most notorious of these were the Alkmaeonidai, a massively influential family who must have taken advantage of the amnesty to return to Athens and begin their subversive actions in the politics of their mother polis.

With regards to the problems of inheritance, always a serious thorn in the side of the Athenian economy and political life, Solon, who himself had no children, made it that those who were childless had the right to leave their goods and property as they chose. This overturned the previous reality where the family of the deceased could seize the properties, thus ensuring that money and land, and therefore power, remained in the same small group of families. Despite this, the juries are known usually to have awarded the property of a deceased to the remaining family when they contested the wills in the courts. (cf Pomeroy, ibid, 195)

What perhaps seem most unusual to the modern day mind were Solon’s sumptuary laws, which were principally aimed at women, and the laws regarding funerary customs:

‘The prothesis (laying out of the body) must be held indoors;

The ekphora (transportation of the corpse to the burial place) must be held before sunrise on the succeeding day, with men walking in front of the cart and women behind.

Only women over the age of sixty or related to the deceased within a degree of second cousin are permitted to participate;

Women must not wear more than three himatia (cloaks), nor must the dead be interred in more than three;

Food and drink brought in the procession must not be worth more than one obol [this was a small amount, especially for a funeral wake].’

These laws were to curb the ostentatious display of wealth by the rich, both in life and death, in order that the discrepancy between the social classes was not as easily seen as would have been shown before. He also made one exception to the selling of children as slaves by their fathers – if a father discovered that his daughter was not a virgin when she married.

Solon was in a unique position (Lykourgos was supposedly the same in Sparta, though it is questionable whether he actually existed,) in that he was more or less given carte blanche to consider what society was and what it involved. His aim was that of eunomia (governance by law and order), but this was according to the contemporary standards – whilst we would find it unacceptable that a woman’s place was in the familial, private sphere with certain specific religious exceptions (eg the High Priestess of Dionysos) this was a perfectly natural assumption for an Athenian at the time – women, whilst not slaves, were most certainly never to be true citizens. In order to do this, he can be seen to have interpreted and set the boundaries of citizenship itself with the intention of rejecting, or at least avoiding dusnomia, bearing the implication from his poetry that the hierarchical structure of ‘hoi kaloi k’agathoi’ holding sway over ‘hoi polloi’ was still a prerequisite, but that this rule MUST be balanced in order that the rule be successful. This was an intrinsically new concept in the democratic system on Athens, isonomia:

‘…understood as a balance of forces created specifically through the establishment of political equality…’ (Lombardini, J, Isonomia and the Public Sphere in Democratic Athens, Imprint Academic, 2011, 393)

Isonomia was the final consequence of the Kleisthenic reforms and Herodotus often uses it as a near synonym for demokratia, but the foundations were laid by Solon’s reforms and the use of eunomia to balance dusnomia.

In order that Solon’s laws be accessible to all, they were displayed on axones (wooden tablets) in the agora. He made the arkhontes swear to dedicate a gold statue at Delphi as punishment, in order that they would follow his reforms, and the Athenians swear to follow his laws for a period of ten years, after which he left Athens for a self-imposed exile.

Whilst Solon cannot be said to have been a democrat by any stretch of the imagination, he did instigate changes in class relationships which would inexorably lead to the radical participatory democracy for which Athens was to become renowned. This can principally be laid at his seisakhtheia and the removal of debt slavery – a free peasantry was to become the foundation stone of that democracy, though there were to be certain catalysts which either directly or indirectly were to bring about the required radical reforms.

This freedom from the debt bondage did cause one major economic problem for Athens, however – prior to the seisakhtheia, the aristocracy had been able to access all the labour which they required through that bondage and accepting the work in part payment of the debt. Now that Solon had released the citizenship of Athens from that as well as the prospect of being sold into slavery, the lack of an accessible labour force to produce the surplus for a developed trading economy came to the fore. (Paiaro, D, op cit ‘Queda claro que quienes son llamados pelátai kai hektémoroi en el texto aristotélico eran aquellos atenienses que trabajaban las tierras de los ricos (hoi ploúsioi) a cambio de una sexta parte.’) The solution was, in an archaic society obvious, though with a somewhat different interpretation to that which had traditionally been held – chattel slavery. This had, until the Solonic reform programmes, been an area limited mainly to body slaves and attendance and service on a purely personal basis. The increase in the importation of slaves who were there to provide the eupatridai with their work force and surplus were of inestimable importance, as Vlassopoulos has pointed out,

‘…the political gains of the lower classes and the creation of an egalitarian political field could be safeguarded through the exploitation of thousands of chattel slaves. In truth freedom and slavery had progressed hand to hand through the expansion of the citizenship.’ (Slavery, Freedom and Citizenship in classical Athens: beyond a legalistic approach in European Review of History, XVI, No3, June 2009, 348)

Though, as Vlassopoulos has further pointed out, the distinction between a citizen and a chattel slave in Athens is a somewhat more complex picture to evaluate than in many ancient societies, especially, for example, at Rome. The legalistic interpretation was clear, but the social differences are rather blurred and even the Athenians themselves seemed to struggle with a consistent and coherent analysis of the problem, though more on this later.

This new found freedom for the lower social classes amongst the citizen group did raise further questions, however. If the success of a democratic system rested on potential incentives which were now open to the entire citizen body, what should those incentives be? The ancient authors found difficulty in answering this question: Lykourgos, Aristophanes and Pseudo-Xenophon all point out this problem. Herodotus, when describing the results of Solon’s reforms gives us certain insights. (Herodotus, 1.30.4-5

‘[Tellus of Athens] was from a prosperous city, and his children were both good and noble. He saw children born to them all, and all of these survived. His life was prosperous by our standards and his death was most glorious: when the Athenians were fighting their neighbours in Eleusis, he came to help, routed the enemy and died very finely. The Athenians buried him at public expense on the spot where he fell and gave him much honour.’ (trans. Godley, 1920))

The personal interest and that of the communal good posed no dichotomy. Tellus, prosperous in both wealth and in the survival of his offspring, has lived a long life, comparatively speaking, as he has witnessed not only his children surviving to adulthood, but the births of healthy grandchildren. He had aided his polis in battle and had died a ‘most glorious’ death, giving his life in defeating Athens’ enemies. The community buries him and honours his name, showing the gathered will and gratitude of the whole demos, Tellus’ offspring have guaranteed his posterity of family, his actions his posterity of name. As Ober points out,

‘Herodotus’ fifth century readers learned that in the past, a life of optimum utility had been defined by kinship (children and grandchildren), duty (fighting the community’s enemies), and moderation (adequate prosperity, rather than great riches).’ (Public Action and Rational Choice in Greek Theory in Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought, Blackwell, 2013, 74)

These were the fruits of the early democratic reforms which Herodotus’ Solon describes for Croesus of Lydia. The regal decisions of the king, and by association those of all powerful aristocrats, must by definition rest on their own advantage and perhaps in the hope that such will coincide with the good of their people, whereas the knowledge which the likes of Tellus as a participating citizen who is satisfied with a limited level of horizon and a ‘glorious death’ for the good of both himself in posthumous glory as well as that of the community render Tellus happy and secure but deprive Croesus of that same security and happiness.

Whilst such could be held up as the first fruits of the nascent democracy, it still leaves the question of how this apparently content, prosperous and successfully settled society developed into the Athens which dominated a powerful thalassocracy through the complex radical democracy as did happen. The Athens of Tellus is evidently incomparable with that of Perikles. This, Herodotus argues came through isēgoria – the equality of all citizens to speak publicly (Hdt. 5.78). It was the collective will which came through the debates in the ekklesia and potentially expressed by all citizens as well as the necessity to give all requisite knowledge to the whole assembled citizen body in order to come to a meaningful and considered collective decision which made the Athenian democracy the success it experienced in the 5th and 4th centuries, emphasised by Perikles in the Funeral Oration (Thuc. 2.35-46).

How, then, did such a situation arise where all had the right to speak, though evidently few did, and where the common will became the highest form of legislature available for the Athenian polis? This is a question to which I shall return. Solon’s reforms could evidently only be the first step on this road and would need to evolve as the population, wealth and power of the Athenians grew, requiring a much more complex social structure.

Aristotle gives an insight in Politics:

‘What is the polis? …the polis is a body of citizens, so we must investigate who ought to be called a citizen and what a citizen is.’ (3.1274b-1275a)

The 6th century definition of a citizen in the polis was most likely restricted to those who had the funds to form and fight in the hoplite phalanx and therefore would have the right and duty to participate in the Assembly, whatever that gathering of the citizen body termed itself in the individual poleis. The question must be asked as to why Athens expanded that citizen body outside of the ‘hoplite class’. The answer is most likely to be found in the Athenian growth as a naval power, something which required the poorer members of the adult male body to man the oars in the ships. Though the offices of power were not open to these poorer citizens, it did mean that the necessity to take these citizens seriously had to be faced and citizenship required simply an Athenian father, (though in the 5th century that was to become an Athenian born father and mother) which proved the right to membership of a phratry. This meant that foreigners resident at Athens (metics) were deprived of citizen status (Aristotle ibid 3.1275a ‘The citizen is not defined by residence in a place (for metics and slaves share in residence)’). Women were, as in all societies until 1893 AD, deprived of citizen rights on a political level, though, through the simple fact that being born of a legal marriage between an Athenian man and woman was a prerequisite for being an Athenian, they bore a great responsibility to the state to produce the subsequent generations who would compose the future citizen body.

Ath. Pol. defines this citizen body as consisting of those who ‘have a share’ in the constitution or as ‘being a partner’ in the citizenship.

‘The city was its citizens. The citizens were thought of as men who had a stake in the city, and that is why the ideal citizen was a man who owned some land in the city’s territory and who had sons to continue his family’s commitment to the city and why metics unless specially privileged were not allowed to own land.’ (Rhodes, Civic Ideology and Citizenship in Greek and Roman Political Thought, 61)

The politeia was, as Ober (The Polis as a society in Hanse, The Ancient Greek City State, Copenhagen, 1993, 129-160) has stated, ergo not simply the defined constitution, but also encompassed the whole citizen community; it was a term which had come to mean society in its broadest sense, not simply a political construct.

For the foundations of this ultimate pan-citizen participation in rule, we must return to the second reform attributed to Solon: The Boulē – The Council of the Four Hundred. Solon’s creation of the Boulē was most likely as a balance on the legal front to the Areopagean Council. Its composition is particularly interesting, consisting of one hundred men of citizen age from each of the four phyle. It is the probouleutic function which was the novelty, in that it now prepared the agenda to be presented to the Ekklesia. Again, one of the principle arms of direct government had been placed in the hands of the Demos rather than the Eupatridai alone. Whilst there is little if any evidence for the existence of the Council at the time of Solon, we know that a Council certainly existed shortly thereafter and may well date from the Solonic reforms, though there are certain questions which should be at least borne in mind. Solon himself makes no reference to any Council in his works which, as it would have been such a radical change in placing the right to political restraint in the hands of those outside the older oligarchy, does seem highly unusual, particularly as he mentions and justifies his other social and political reforms. In addition, although the credit is given to Solon in the Ath Pol, and Plutarch refers to the Council (Ath Pol, P, 8.4, Plutarch, Solon, 19.1 – Plutarch also gives Solon credit for the Council of the Areopagos which is most certainly incorrect), there is no further information regarding it. No other sources from earlier periods mention the Council of the Four Hundred, and it is highly likely that the term ‘Council’ on its own would more likely refer to the dominant Council of the Areopagos. The Council of the Four Hundred, if it existed, was relatively short-lived, however, soon to be replaced by the Council of Five Hundred under the reforms of Kleisthenes. Whether the council of the Four Hundred at Athens was what the traditional viewpoint accepts it to be, or is treated with scepticism is a question which each must decide through individual study of the evidence; such councils did evidently exist, such as at Khios at some point between 600 and 550 where the bolē dēmosiē was almost certainly the central pivot in Khian government (cf Robinson, E, The First Democracies: Early Popular Government outside Athens Historia Enzelschriften, 1997, 99).  The last point to note under Solon is the law of amnesty cited by Plutarch:

‘Concerning outlaws who were outlawed before Solon was archon, let their rights be restored, except for those who, when this law was promulgated, were in exile because they had been condemned in the Areopagos or among the ephetai or in the Prytaneion by the kings on charges of murder or massacre or tyranny.’ (Solon, 19.4)

This is key in that it would permit the Alkmaeonid clan to return from exile, as they had been expelled on charges of breaking a sacred law of sanctuary as opposed to murder after the attempted coup by Kylon – a clan who were to be key at Athens. Solon’s reforms brought a period of peace in Attika which lasted for almost two decades, only being slightly upset by a first attempt to seize power by Peisistratos:

‘…Solon’s work contributed enormously to the long-term development of Attica. It was due in part to the seisachtheia that wealth in classical Athens was well spread; Solon’s codification of the law stated rules that were easy to understand and taught men from all parts of Attica to respect the law of Athens. Solon deserved his traditional place among the Seven Wise Men of Greece…’ (Sealey, R, A History of the Greek City States 700-338 BC, California, 1976, 123)


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