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Sect. 1. The Union of Attica

When recorded history begins, the story of Athens is the story of Attica, the inhabitants of Attica are Athenians. But Attica, like its neighbour Boeotia and other countries of Greece, was once occupied by a number of independent states. Some of these little kingdoms are vaguely remembered in legends which tell of the giant Pallas who ruled at Pallene under the north-eastern slopes of Hymettus, of the dreaded Cephalus lord of the southern region of Thoricus, or of Porphyrion of mighty stature whose domain was at Athmonon under Mount Pentelicus. The hill of Munychia was, in the distant past, an island, and was crowned by a stronghold; the name Piraeus has been supposed to preserve the memory of days when the lords of Munychia looked across to the mainland and spoke of the “opposite shore.” At a later stage we find neighbouring villages uniting them­selves together by political or religious bonds. Thus in the north, beyond Pentelicus, Marathon and Oenoe and two other towns formed a tetrapolis. Again Piraeus, adjacent Phaleron, and two other places joined in the common worship of the god Heracles, and were called the Four-Villages. Of all the lordships between Mount Tetra-Cithacron and Cape Sunium the two most important were those of Eleusis and Athens, severed from one another by the hill-chain of Aegaleos

It was upon Athens, the stronghold in the midst of the Cephisian plain, five miles from the sea, that destiny devolved the task of working out the unity of Attica. This Cephisian plain, on the south side open to the Saronic Gulf, is enclosed by hills, on the west by Aegaleos, on the north-west by Pames, on the east by Hymettus, while the gap in the north-east, between Pames and Hymettus, is filled by the gable­shaped mass of Pentelicus. The river Cephisus flows not far from Athens to westward, but the Acropolis was girt by two smaller streams, the Ilisus and the Eridanus. We have seen that it had been occupied as an abode of men in the third millennium, and that in the bronze age it was one of the strong places of Greece. There still remain pieces of the wall of grey-blue limestone with which the Pelasgian lords of the castle secured the edge of their precipitous hill. The old wall was called the Pelargikon, but in later times this name was specially applied to the ground on the north-western slope. The Acropolis is joined to the Areopagus by a high saddle, which forms its natural approach, and on this side walls were so constructed that the main western entrance to the citadel lay through nine successive gates. At the north-western corner a covered staircase led down to the well of Clepsydra, which supplied the fortress with water; and on the north side there were two narrow “postern” descents into the plain, much steeper than that at Tiryns. We may take it that all these constructions were the work of the Pelasgians and were inherited by their Greek successors.

The first Greeks who won the Pelasgic acropolis were probably the Cecropes, and, though their name was forgotten as the name of an independent people, it survived in another form. For the later Athenians were always ready to describe themselves as the sons of Cecrops. This Cecrops was numbered among the imaginary prehistoric kings of Athens; he was nothing more than the fabulous ancestor of the Cecropes. But the time came when other Greek dwellers in Attica won the upper hand over the Cecropes, and brought with them the worship of Athena. It was a momentous day in the history of the land when the goddess, whose cult was already established in many other Attic places, took possession of the hill which was to be pre-eminently, and for all time, associated with her name. The Acropolis became Athenai; the folks—whether Cecropes or Pelasgians—who dwelled in the villages around it, on the banks of the Ilisus and Eridinus, became Athenians. The god whom the Cecropes worshipped on the hill, Poseidon Erechtheus, was forced to give way to the goddess. Legend told that Athena and Poseidon had disputed the possession of the Acropolis, and that each had set a token there, the goddess her sacred olive-tree, the god a salt-spring. The dethroned deity was not banished; there was a conciliation, characteristic of the Greek temper, between the old and the new. Erechtheus in the shape of a snake is permitted still to live on the hill of Athena, and the oldest temple that was built for the goddess, harboured also the god. In later times Athenian “history” transformed Erechtheus into a hero, and regarded him, like Cecrops, as one of the early kings. 

There was another god who was closely associated in Attic legend with Athena, and Athens was distinguished by the high honour Athenian in which she held him. This was Hephaestus, the divine smith, the master and helper of handicraftsmen, the cunning giver of wealth. But we cannot say how far back his worship in Attica goes, or when his special feasts were instituted. It is probable that his honour grew along with the prosperity of the craftsmen. Athenian poet calls his countrymen “sons of Hephaestus,” and, according to one myth, it was from his seed that all the earth-born inhabitants of Attica were sprung. At the feast of Apaturia, in the last days of autumn, when children were admitted into the Phratries by a solemn ceremony, the fathers used to light torches at the hearth and sing a hymn to the lord of fire.

The next great step in Attic history was the union of the land. We cannot be certain at what time this union took place; it recedes beyond the beginnings of recorded history; and we can only dimly discern how it was brought about. When the lords of the Acropolis had subdued their own Cephisian plain, from Mount Parnes to the hill of Munychia, from the slopes of Hymettus to Aegaleos, they were tempted to extend their power eastward into the “ Midlands ” beyond Mount Hymettus, and subdue the southern “acté,” or wedge of land which ends in the lofty cape of Sunium. The completion of this conquest was possibly the first great achievement of Athens, and the second was probably the subjugation of the north-eastern plain of Marathon and the “tetrapolis.” Thus the first stage in the union of Attica is the reduction of the small independent sovereignties throughout all the land, except the Eleusinian plain in the west, under the loose overlordship of Athens.

In the course of time the feeling of unity in Attica became so strong that all the smaller lordships, which formed parts of the large state, but still retained their separate political organisations, could be induced to surrender their home governments and merge themselves in a single community with a government centralised in the city of the Cephisian plain. The man of Thoricus or Aphidnae or Icaria now became a citizen of Athens and his political rights must be exercised there. The memory of this synoecism was preserved in historical times by an annual feast, and it was fitting that it should be so remembered, for it determined the whole history of Athens. From this time forward she is no longer merely the supreme city of Attica. She is neither the head of a league of partly independent states, nor is she a despotic mistress of subject-communities. She is not what Thebes is to become in Boeotia, or what Sparta is in Laconia. If she had been, and she might well have been, either of these things, her history would have been gravely altered. She is the central city of an united state; and to the people of every village in Attica belong the same political rights as to the people of Athens herself. The man of Marathon or the man of Thoricus is no longer an Attic, he is an Athenian. It is generally supposed that the synoecism was the work of one of the kings. It was undoubtedly the work of one man; but it is possible that it belongs to the period immediately succeeding the abolition of the royal power.

In after-times the Athenians thought that the hero Theseus, whom they had enrolled in the list of their early kings, was the author of the union of their country. But at the period when that union was brought about Theseus was not a national hero. He was a local god, worshipped in the Marathonian district and in the east coastlands of Attica; he had not yet won the importance which he was to possess hereafter in Athenian myth and history.


Sect. 2. Foundation of the Athenian Commonwealth

The early history of the Athenian constitution resembles that of most other Greek states, in the general fact that a royalty, subjected to various restrictions, passes into an aristocracy. But the details of the transition are peculiar and the beginning of the republic seems to have been exceptionally early. The traditional names of the Attic kings who came after the hero Theseus are certainly in some cases, and, it may be, in most cases, fictitious, the most famous of them being the Neleid Codrus, who was said to have sacrificed himself to save his country on the occasion of an attack of invaders from the Peloponnesus. The Athenians said that they had abolished royalty, on the death of Codrus, because he was too good to have a successor—a curious reversal of the usual causes of such a revolution. But this story is a late invention. The first limitation of the royal power effected by the aristocracy was the institution of a polemarch or military commander. The supreme command of the army, which had belonged to the king, was transferred to him and he was elected from and by the nobles. The next step seems to have been the overthrow of the royal house by the powerful family of the Medontids. The Medontids did not themselves assume the royal title, nor did they abolish it. They instituted the office of archon or regent, and this office usurped the most important functions of the king, Acastus, the Medontid, was the first regent. We know that he was an historical person; the archons of later days always swore that they would be true to their oath even as Acastus. He held the post of Medon, for life, and his successors after him; and thus the Medontids resembled kings, though they did not bear the kingly name. But they fell short of royalty in another way too; for each regent was elected by the community; the community was only bound to elect a member of the Medontid family. The next step in weakening the power of this kingly magistrate was the change of the regency from a life office to an office of ten years. This reform is said to have been effected about the middle of the eighth century. It is uncertain at what time the Medontids were deprived of their prerogative and the regency was thrown open to all the nobles. With the next step we reach firmer ground. The regency became a yearly office, and from this time onward an official list of the archons seems to have been preserved.

But meanwhile there were still kings at Athens. The Medontids had robbed the kings of their royal power, but they had not done away with the kings; there was to be a king at Athens till the latest days of the Athenian democracy. It seems probable that, as some historical analogies might suggest, the Medontids allowed the shadow of royalty to remain in the possession of the old royal house, so that for some time there would have been life-kings existing by the side of the life-regents; it is not likely that from the very first the kingship was degraded to be a yearly office, filled by election. This, however, was what it ultimately became.

The whole course of the constitutional development is uncertain; for it rests upon traditions, of which it is extremely hard to judge the value. But, whatever the details of the growth may have been, two important facts are to be grasped One is that the fall of royalty, which does not imply the abolition of the royal name, happened in Athens at an earlier period than in Greece generally. The other is that the Medontids were not kings, but archons—the chiefs of an aristocracy. The great work of the Medontids was the foundation of the Athenian commonwealth; and perhaps one of their house is to be remembered for another achievement, not less great, which has been already described, the union of Attica.

That union need not be older than the ninth century, and it is possible that the same republican movement which led to the downfall of the old royal house of the Acropolis, led to the synoecism of Attica. The political union of a country demands a system of organisation; and the statesmen who united Attica sought their method of organisation from one of those cities of Ionia, which Athens came to look upon as her own daughters. All the inhabitants were distributed into four tribes, which were borrowed from Miletus. The curious names of these tribes—Geleontes, Argadeis, Aigicoreis, and Hopletes—seem to have been derived from the worship of special deities; for instance, Geleontes from Zeus Geleon. But the original meanings of the names had entirely passed away, and the tribes were affiliated to Apollo Patroos, the paternal Apollo, from whom all Athenians claimed descent. The Brotherhoods seem to have been reorganised and arranged under the tribes—three to each tribe; so that there were twelve brotherhoods in the Attic state. At the head of each tribe was a “tribe-king.”

We can see the clan organisation at Athens better than elsewhere. The families of each clan derived themselves from a common ancestor, and most of the clan names are patronymics. The worship of this ancestor was the chief end of the society. All the clans alike worshipped Zeus Herkeios and Apollo Patroos; many of them had a special connexion with other public cults. Each had a regular administration and officers, at the head of whom was an “archon.” To these clans only members of the noble families belonged; but the other classes, the peasants and the craftsmen, formed similar organisations founded on the worship not of a common The ancestor, for they could point to none, but some deity whom they chose. The members of these were called orgeones. This innovation heralds the advance of the lower classes to political importance.

The brotherhoods, composed of families whose lands adjoined, united their members in the cult of Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria. In early times only clansmen belonged to the brotherhoods, but here again a change takes place in the seventh century, and orgeones are admitted. The organisation was then used for the purposes of census. Every child whose parents were citizens must be admitted into a brotherhood; and, if this rite is neglected, he is regarded as illegitimate. It should be observed that illegitimacy at Athens did not deprive a man of political rights, but he could not lay claim by right of birth to his father’s inheritance.

At a much later time the constitutional historians of Athens made out that the clans were artificial subdivisions of the brotherhoods. They said that each tribe was divided into three brotherhoods, each brotherhood into thirty clans, and it was even added that each clan comprised thirty men. This artificial scheme is true, so far as the relation of the tribe to the brotherhood is concerned; but it is not true in regard to the clan, and is refuted by the circumstance that the tribes consisted of others than clansmen.


Sect. 3. The Aristocracy in the Seventh Century

Early in the seventh century, then, the Athenian republic was an aristocracy, and the executive was in the hands of three annually elected officers, the archon, the king, and the polemarch. The archon was the supreme judge in all  civil suits. When he entered on office, he published a declaration that he would, throughout the term of his archonship, preserve the property of every citizen intact. At a later time this sphere of judicial power was limited and he judged mainly cases in which injured parents, orphans, heiresses were involved. He held the chief place among the magistrates, having his official residence in the Prytaneum where was the public hearth, and his name appeared at the head of official lists, whence he was called eponymus; though the archonship was a later institution than that of polemarch, as is shown by the fact that no old religious ceremonies were performed by the archon, such as devolved upon the polemarch as well as upon the king. But the conduct of festivals instituted at later times was entrusted to him. Such were the Thargelia, the late-May feast of the first-fruits, the chief Athenian feast of Apollo, introduced from Delos probably in the seventh century; such were the great Dionysia, which, as we shall see, were founded in the sixth. The polemarch had judicial duties, besides being commander-in-chief of the army. He held a court in the Epilykeion on the banks of the Ilisus, and judged there all cases in which non-citizens were involved. Thus what the archon was for citizens, the polemarch was for the class of foreign settlers who were called “metics.” The king had his residence in the royal Stoa in the Agora. His functions were confined to the management of the state-religion, and the conduct of certain judicial cases con­nected with religion. He was president of the Council, and thus had considerable power and responsibility in the conduct of the judicial functions of that body.

The Bulé or Council was the political organisation through which the nobles carried out, at Athens as elsewhere, the gradual abolition of monarchy. This Council of Elders — a part as we saw of the Aryan inheritance of the Greeks—came afterwards to be called at Athens the Council of the Areopagus, to distinguish it from other councils of later growth. This name was derived from one of the Council’s most important functions. According to early custom, which we find reflected in Homer, murder and manslaughter were not regarded as crimes against the state, but concerned exclusively the family of the slain man, which might either slay the slayer or accept a compensation. But gradually, as the worship of the souls of the dead and the deities of the underworld developed, the belief gained ground that he who shed blood was impure and needed cleansing. Accordingly when a murderer satisfied the kinsfolk of the murdered by paying a fine, he had also to submit to a process of purification, and satisfy the Chthonian gods and the Erinyes or Furies, who were, in the original conception, the souls of the dead clamouring for vengeance. This notion of manslaughter as a religious offence necessarily led to the interference of the state. For when the member of a community was impure, the stain drew down the anger of the gods upon the whole community, if the unclean were not driven out. Hence it came about that the state undertook the conduct of criminal justice. The Council itself formed the court, and the proceedings were closely associated with the worship of the Semnai. These Chthonian goddesses had a sanctuary, which served as a refuge for him whose hand was stained with bloodshed, on the north­east side of the Areopagus, outside the city wall. It is possible that the association of this hill with the god Ares is merely due to a popular etymology, for he had no shrine here; but the correct explanation of the name Areiospagos is not known. On this  rugged spot, apart from but within sight of the dwellings of men, the Council held its sittings for cases of murder, violence with murderous intent, poisoning, and incendiarism. The accuser stood on the stone of Insolence, the accused on the stone of Recklessness, each a huge unhewn block. This function of the Council, which continued to belong to it after it had lost its other powers, procured it the name of the Areopagus.

During the period of the aristocracy, the Council was the governing body of Athens. We may be certain that the magistrates were always members; but otherwise we do not know how it was composed, and therefore can form no clear idea how the constitution worked. The Council doubtless exercised direct control over the election of the chief magistrates; but we need have small doubt that the king, the archon, and the polemarch were either elected by the Ecclesia consisting of the whole body of citizens entitled to vote, or at all events were chosen by the Council out of a limited number nominated by the Assembly.

As an achievement of the aristocracy we may regard the annexation of Eleusis. The Eleusinian kingdom bound in by Athens on one side and Megara on the other—its little bay locked by Megarian Salamis—did not play any part in any portion of Greek history of which we have the faintest record. But of its independent existence we have a clear echo in a hymn which tells the Eleusinian story of Demeter. That goddess, wandering in quest of her lost daughter Persephone, came to Eleusis, where she was hospitably entertained by the king, and would have made his infant son immortal but for the queen’s want of faith. This poem is thought to have been composed in the seventh century, and, if so, the days when Eleusis was independent had not yet passed out of men’s memories then.

The middle of the seventh century is marked by a further constitutional change, which is the result of various social changes. The aristocracy of birth is forced to widen into an aristocracy of wealth. The general causes of this change are to be found in the new economical conditions which have been already pointed out as affecting the whole Greek world in the seventh century. But to understand their operation and political consequences at Athens, we must look more closely into the classes of the Attic population and the social structure.

Under the rule of the kings and the aristocracies, the free population fell into three classes: the Eupatridae or nobles; the Georgi or peasants who cultivated their own farms; and the Demiurgi (public workers), those who lived by trade or commerce. The Eupatrids originally lived in the country, and many Attic places were called from their families, such as Paeonidae or Butadae. After the synoecism, many of them came to live in the city. The Demiurgi had their settlements in the neighbourhood of the city—for example, there was the quarter of the “potters” north of the Areopagus—and also villages in the country, such as Pelekes or Daedalidae. But besides these classes of citizens, who had the right of attending the Assembly, there was a mass of freemen who were not citizens. Among these we can distinguish the agricultural labourers, who, having no land of their own, cultivated the estates of the nobles. In return for their labour they retained one-sixth of the produce and were hence called “Sixth-parters” (Hektemoroi). There were also the craftsmen who were employed and paid by the Demiurgi, and doubtless small retail dealers and others.

Although Attica seems to have taken no part in the colonising movements of the eighth and seventh centuries, the Athenians shared in the trading activities of the period and were profoundly affected by the economical revolution in the Greek world. The cultivation of the olive was becoming a feature of Attica, and its oil a profitable article of exportation. At the same time Attic potters were actively developing their industry on lines of their own, and Attic pottery was in the course of another century to become disseminated throughout the Mediterranean countries from Tuscany to Cyprus. Jars of this age have been found in tombs near the Dipylon gate on the north-west side of Athens, and these Dipylon vases, as they are called, give us a glimpse of the Attic civilisation of the period. We not only see a new style of vase-painting, with geometrical ornament and a symmetrical arrangement of the space at the painter’s disposal; but in the pictures of funeral processions we can observe with what pomp and cost the Attic nobles buried their dead. In the graves where these vases were found, offerings were laid beside the dead, pottery and sometimes gold ornaments; and the sepulchral pit was surmounted not by a mound but by a tall clay jar with an opening below, through which drink offerings could be poured. But it must be noticed that soon after this epoch, the influence of Ionia made itself felt in Attica, and the custom was intro­duced of burning the dead; burial, however, was not discontinued; the two customs subsisted side by side. Ionia also affected Athenian dress. The woollen peplos fastened with a pin was given up and the Ionian sleeved tunic or chiton, of linen, took its place.

It would be interesting if we might see in the rude representations of ships on some of the Dipylon vases an illustration of the beginnings of Attic seamanship. The sea traffic of Athens must have been rapidly growing in the first half of the seventh century. It is easy to see how the active participation of Athens in trade began to undermine the foundations of the aristocracy of birth, by introducing a new standard of social distinction. The nobles engaged in mercantile ventures with various success, some becoming richer, and others poorer; and the industrial folk increased in wealth and importance. The result would ultimately be that wealth would assert itself as well as birth, both socially and politically ; and in the second half of the seventh century we find that, though the aristocracy has not been fully replaced by a timocracy or constitution, in which political rights depend entirely on wealth, all the conditions are present for such a transformation. For we find the people divided into three classes according to their wealth. The principle of division was the annual yield of landed property, in corn, oil, or wine. The highest class was the Pentacosiomedimni. Before this name had any official meaning it was perhaps in popular use to designate those large proprietors whose income reached five hundred medimni of corn, at a time when oil and wine had not been much cultivated. When it acquired an official sense, it was defined to include those whose land produced at least so many measures (medimni) of com and so many measures (metretae) of oil or wine as together amounted to five hundred measures. The second class included those whose property produced more than three hundred but less than five hundred such measures. These were called Knights, and so represented roughly those who could maintain a horse and take their part in war as mounted soldiers. The minimum income of the third class was two hundred measures, and their name, Teamsters, shows that they were well-to-do peasants who could till their land with a pair of oxen. The chief magistracies of archon, king, and polemarch were confined to the first class, but the principle was admitted that a successful man, although not a Eupatrid, was eligible for the highest offices if his income amounted to 500 medimni. It was natural that the rating should be expressed in terms of wealth derived from land; but it is not a necessary inference that the handi­craftsmen were entirely excluded, or that in order to win political rights they were forced to purchase estates.

At first this concession of the Eupatrids to their fellow-citizens did not practically amount to much. Most of the richest men in the state still belonged to the old clans; but the recognition of wealth as a political test could not fail to undermine ultimately the privileges of birth. The organisation of the lower classes into bodies resembling the Clans of the nobles, and their admission into the Brotherhoods, have been mentioned. It is probable that the institution of the Thesmothetae also marks a step in the self-assertion of these classes. The Thesmothetae were a college of six judges, who managed the whole judicial system of Athens. It was their duty to examine, and call attention to defects in, the laws, and to keep a record of judicial decisions; and they seem to have taken cognisance of all cases which belonged to the scope of the Council of Areopagus, except trials for murder. In fact, it looks as if they were practically a committee of that Council. They were elected annually, and it has been plausibly supposed that the number of six was determined by the fact that they originated in a compromise between the orders, three being Eupatrids, two Georgi, and one a Demiurgos. They were soon associated with the three chief magistrates, the archon, basileus, and polemarch; and the nine came to form a sort of college and were called the Nine Archons. Each of the Nine when he entered on his office took an oath that he would act in accordance with the laws, and vowed that if he committed any injustice he would dedicate in gold a man’s statue of life-size. It was a penalty which no archon could have discharged.

Outside these classes were the smaller peasants who had land of their own, of which, however, the produce did not amount to two hundred measures of com or oil, and the humbler handicraftsmen. These were called Thêtes, the name being perverted from its proper meaning of “labourers.” The Thêtes were citizens, but had no political rights. Yet they were beginning to win a certain public importance. The conditions of a growing maritime trade led to the development of a navy. As the sea power grew, a new organisation was found necessary, and there can be little doubt that the duty of serving as marines in the penteconters mainly devolved upon the ThGtes. This gave them a new significance in the state, a significance which would strengthen their claim to political rights when the time for pressing that claim should come. We shall hereafter how closely connected was the democracy of Athens with her sea power; and we can hardly be wrong in surmising the faint foreshadowings of that connexion at the very beginning of her naval history. Each of the four tribes was divided, for this purpose, into twelve districts called Naucrariae; each naucraria was probably bound to supply a ship. Thus the fleet consisted of forty-eight ships. The administration was directed by a body of naucrari, at the head of which were presidents; and the organisation might be found convenient for other than naval purposes. Thus the naucrari formed an important administrative council. 

We see then that, in the middle of the seventh century, society in Attica is undergoing the change which is transforming the face of all the progressive parts of Hellas; wealth is competing with descent as a political test; and the aristocracy of birth seems to be passing into a timocracy. The power is in the hands of the three chief archons, who always belong to the class of wealthy nobles, and the Council of Areopagus, which is certainly composed of Eupatridae. But the classes outside the noble Clans, the smaller proprietors and the merchants, are beginning to assert themselves and make their weight felt; possibly the institution of the thesmothetae is due to their pressure. They also obtain admission into the Brotherhoods, which had been hitherto exclusive. Attic trade is rapidly growing. The commercial development promotes these democratic tendencies, and has also entailed the creation of a fleet, which, since the poorest class of citizens are required to man it, renders that class important and prepares the way for its political recognition.

As yet, however, the naval establishment of Athens was but small compared with her neighbours Chalcis and Corinth, or her worship of daughter cities of Ionia. And Aegina, which had come for a while under the influence of Argos, outstripped her. It is interesting to find these two cities, Athens and Aegina, which were in later times to be bitter rivals for the supremacy in their gulf, in the seventh century taking part in an association for maintaining the worship of Poseidon in the little island of Calauria, over against Troezen. Other coast towns of the Saronic and Argolic bays—Epidaurus, Troezen, Hermione, Nauplia, Prasiae—belonged to this sacred union; and the Boeotian Orchomenus, by virtue of the authority which she still possessed over the sailors of Anthedon, was also a member. There was no political significance in the joint Calaurian worship of these maritime towns; their seamen propitiated Poseidon at Calauria, just as they sacrificed to Panhellenic Zeus on the far-seen Mountain of Aegina. And they were not grudging votaries. They built a house for the sea-god in his island; its foundations have been recently uncovered, and it is one of the earliest stone temples whose ruins have been found in Greece.

Attica, like the rest of the Greek world, was disturbed in her economic development by the invention of money. She had naturally been brought into close commercial relations with her neighbour Aegina, which at this time began to take a leading part in maritime enterprise. Accordingly we find Athens adopting the Aeginetan coinage, and using a system of weights and measures which was almost, if not quite, identical with the Aeginetan. The introduction of money, which was at first very scarce, and led to the accumulation of capital in the chests of successful speculators, was followed by a period of transition between the old system of the direct exchange of commodities and the new system of a metallic medium; and this transitional period was trying to all men of small means. But the inevitable economic crisis did not come at once, though all conditions of social distress were present, and a conflict between the rich and the poor was drawing steadily near. An event happened thirty years before the end of the century which shows that the peasants were still loyal to the existing constitution.

The example of tyranny was infectious, and, as it flourished at the very door of Athens—in Megara and Corinth,—it was unlikely that some attempt should not be made at Athens too. A certain Cylon, of noble family, married the daughter of Theagenes, tyrant ot Megara; and, under Megarian influence and with Megarian help, he tried to make himself master of the city. Consulting the Delphic oracle, he was advised to seize the Acropolis on the greatest festival of Zeus. Cylon, an Olympic victor himself, had no doubt that the feast of Olympia was meant; but when his plot failed, it was explained that the oracle referred to the Athenian feast of the Diasia in March, which was celebrated outside the city. Cylon enlisted in his enterprise a number of noble youths, and a band of Megarian soldiers were sent by Theagenes; he had no support among the people. He succeeded in seizing the Acropolis, but the sight of foreign soldiers effectually quenched any lurking sympathy that any of the Athenians might have felt for an effort to overthrow the government The Council of the naucraries summoned the husbandmen from the country, and the summons was readily obeyed. Cylon was blockaded in the citadel, and, after a long siege, when food and water began to fail, he escaped with his brother from the fortress. The rest were soon constrained to capitulate. They sought refuge in the temple of Athena Polias, and left it when the archons promised to spare their lives. But Megacles, of the Alcmaeonid family, was archon this year; and of his instigation the pledge was disregarded, and the conspirators were put to death. Some feud among the clans may have been at work here. The city was saved from a tyrant, but it had incurred a grave pollution. Such a violation of a solemn pledge to the suppliants who had trusted in the protection of the gods was an insult to the gods themselves; and the city was under a curse till the pollution should be removed. This view was urged by the secret friends of Cylon and those who hated the Alcmaeonids. And so it came to pass that while Cylon, his brother, and their descendants were condemned to disfranchisement and perpetual banishment, the Alcmaeonids and those who had acted with them were also tried on the charge of sacrilege and condemned to a perpetual exile, with confiscation of their property. And the bodies of those of the clan who had died between the deed of sacrilege and the passing of this sentence were exhumed and cast beyond the boundary of Attica. The banishment of the Alcmaeonids had consequences in the distant future, and we shall see how it comes into the practical politics of Athens two hundred years later. The tale is also told that the city required a further purification, and that a priest named Epimenides came from Crete and cleansed it. But it has been thought doubtful. whether Epimenides is more than a mythical name like Orpheus, since another story brings him to Athens again, for similar purposes of atonement, more than a century afterwards ; and then both tales are conciliated by ascribing to the seer a miraculous sleep of a hundred years.

In the course of the next ten years, the state of the peasants seems to have changed considerably for the worse. The outbreak of a war with Megara, in consequence of the plot of Cylon, aggravated the distress of the rural population; for the Attic coasts suffered from the depredations of the enemy, and the Megarian market was closed to the oil-trade. Whether the peasants, who groaned under the existing system, found leaders and extorted concessions from the government, or whether the ruling classes themselves saw the danger, and tried to prevent it by a timely concession, it was at all events decided that a code of law should be drawn up and written down. Probably men had been clamouring long to obtain this security for life and property; and what the thesmothetae may have already done by recording judicial decisions in writing was not enough. Dracon was appointed an extraordinary legislator (Thesmothetes), and empowered to codify and rectify the existing law. We know only the provisions of that part of his criminal law which dealt with the shedding of blood; for these provisions were not altered by subsequent legislation. In later times it was thought that Dracon revealed to the Athenians how harsh their laws were, and his name became proverbial for a severe lawgiver. An Athenian orator won credit for his epigram that Dracon’s laws were written not in ink but in blood. This idea arose from the fact that certain small offences, such as stealing cabbage, were punished by death. A broader view, however, of Dracon’s code will modify this view. He drew careful distinctions between murder and various kinds of accidental or justifiable manslaughter. In Dracon’s laws we meet a body of fifty-one judges, called the Ephetae. They were chosen from the Eupatrids, but it is not clear whether they formed a part of the Council of the Areopagus or were a wholly distinct body. Those cases of bloodshed which did not come before the court of the Areopagus were tried by the Ephetae, in case the shedder of blood was known. According to the nature of the deed the Ephetae held their court in different places: in the temple of the Delphinian Apollo, in the Palladion at Phaleron, or at Phreatto, a tongue of land on the Munychian peninsula. This last court was used in the case of those who were tried for manslaughter committed abroad, and as they might not set foot on the soil of their country, they had to answer the charge standing in a boat drawn up near the shore. When the shedder of blood was not known, the case came before the King in the Prytaneum.

It is unfortunate that we are not informed of Dracon’s other legislation. We know that the laws relating to debtors were stringent; the creditor could claim the person of the insolvent debtor. In general, he was bound to provide for the interests of the rich power­holding class; but it was at all events an enormous gain for the poor that those interests should be defined in writing.


Sect. 4. The Legislation of Solon and the Foundation of Democracy

Dracon’s code was something, but it did not touch the root of the evil. Every year the oppressiveness of the rich few and the im­poverishment of the small farmer were increasing. Without capital, and obliged to borrow money, the small proprietors mortgaged their lands, which fell into the hands of capitalists, who lent money at ruinous interest. It must be remembered that money was still very scarce, and that the peasants had now to purchase all their needs in coin. Even in Attica the small peasant could not cope with the larger proprietor. Thus the little farms of Attica were covered with stones, on which the mortgage bonds were written; the large estates grew apace; the black earth, as Solon said, was enslaved.

The condition of the free labourers was even more deplorable. The sixth part of the produce, which was their wage, no longer sufficed, under the new economical conditions, to support life, and they were forced into borrowing from their masters. The interest was high, the laws of debt were ruthless, and the person of the borrower was the pledge of repayment and forfeited to the lender in reduced, to case of inability to pay. The result was that the class of free labourers was being gradually transformed into a class of slaves, whom their lords could sell when they chose.

Thus while the wealthy few were becoming wealthier and greedier, the small proprietors were becoming landless, and the landless freemen were becoming slaves. And the evil was aggravated by unjust judgments, and the perversion of law in favour of the rich and powerful. The social disease seemed likely to culminate in a political revolution. The people were bitter against their remorseless oppressors, and only wanted a leader to rebel. To any student of contemporary politics, observing the development in other states, a tyranny would have seemed the most probable solution. A tyranny had already, once at least, and probably more than once, been averted; and now, as it happened, the masses obtained a mediator, not a demagogue, a reform, not a revolution. The tyranny, though it was ultimately to come, was postponed for more than thirty years. The mediator in the civil strife was Solon, the son of Execestides, a noble connected with the house of the Medontids. He was a merchant, and belonged to the wealthiest class in the state. But he was very different from the Attic Eupatrids, rustic squires, of old fashions and narrow vision. We may guess that he had not been a home-keeping youth, but had visited the eastern coasts of the Aegean, whither mercantile concerns might have taken him. At all events, he had learned much from progressive Ionia. He had imbued himself with Ionic literature, and had mastered the art of writing verse in the Ionic idiom; so that he could himself take part in the intellectual movement of the day and become one of the sages of Greece. He was a poet, not because he was poetically inspired, like the Parian Archilochus of an earlier, or the Lesbian Sappho of his own, generation; but because at that time every man of letters was a poet; there was no prose literature. A hundred years later Solon would have used prose as the vehicle of his thoughts. His moderate temper made him generally popular; his knowledge gave him authority; and his countrymen called upon him, at last, to set their house in order. We are fortunate enough to possess portions of poems—political pamphlets—which he published for the purpose of guiding public opinion; and thus we have his view of the situation in his own words. He did not scruple to speak plainly. The social abuses and the sad state of the masses were clear to everybody, but Solon saw another side of the question; and he had no sympathy with the extreme revolutionary agitators who demanded a redistribution of lands. The more moderate of the nobles seem to have seen the danger and the urgent need of a new order of things; and thus it came to pass that Solon was solicited to undertake the work of reform. He definitely undertook the task and was elected archon, with extraordinary legislative powers, for the purpose of healing the evils of the state, and conciliating the classes.

Instead of making the usual declaration of the chief magistrate, that he would protect the property of all men undiminished, he made proclamation that all mortgages and debts by which the debtor’s person was pledged were annulled, and that all those who had become slaves for debt were free. By this proclamation in that summer, memorable for the rescue of hundreds of poor wretches into liberty and hope, the Athenians “shook off their burdens,” and this first act of Solon’s social reform was called the Seisachtheia. The great deliverance was celebrated by a public feast.

The character of the remedial measures of Solon is imperfectly known. After the cancelling of old debts he passed a law which forbade debtors to be enslaved. He fixed a limit for the measure of land which could be owned by a single person, so as to prevent the growth of dangerously large estates. And he forbade the exportations of Attic products, except oil. For it had been found that so much corn was carried to foreign markets, where the prices were higher, that an insufficient supply remained for the population of Attica. It is to be observed that at this time the Athenians had not yet begun to import Pontic corn.

All these measures hit the rich hard, and created discontent with the reformer; while, on the other hand, he was far from satisfy­ing the desires and hopes of the masses. He would not confiscate and redistribute the estates of the wealthy, as many wished. And, though he rescued the free labourer from bondage, he made no change in the Sixth-part system, so that the condition of these landless freemen was improved only in so far as they could not be enslaved, and in so far as the law limiting exportation affected prices. And Solon was too discreet to attempt to interfere seriously with the conditions of the money market by artificial restrictions. He fixed no maximum rate of interest, and his monetary reform must be kept strictly apart from his social reforms. He replaces the Aeginetan scale of weights and measures by a scale which was very close to the Euboeic, and he made a corresponding change in the coinage. The weight of the mina was increased in such a way that 70 of the new drachmae were equivalent in value to 100 Aeginetan drachmae. This change was brought into connexion, not with the domestic reform. Nut with the foreign policy of Athens, to which new propsects were opening. The old coinage attached her to Aegina, with which her relations were strained, and to her foe Megara the new system seemed to invite her into the distant fields beyond the sea, where Chalcis and Corinth had led the way in opening up a new world. For the scale of the Corinthian money was the same as the Euboeic.

What Solon did to heal the social sores of his country entitled him to the most fervent gratitude, but it was no more than might have been done by any able and honest statesman who possessed men’s confidence. His title to fame as one of the great statesmen of Europe rests upon his reform of the constitution. He discovered a secret of democracy, and he used his discovery to build up the constitution on democratic foundations. The Athenian commonwealth did not actually become a democracy till many years later; but Solon not only laid the foundations, he shaped the framework. At first sight, indeed, the state as he reformed it might seem little more than an aristocracy of wealth—a timocracy—with certain democratic tendencies. He retained the old graduation of the people in classes according to property. But he added the Thêtes as a fourth class, and gave it certain political rights. On the three higher classes devolved the public burdens, and they served as cavalry or as hoplites. The Thêtes were employed as light-armed troops or as marines. It is probable that Solon made little or no change in regard to the offices which were open to each class. Pentacosiomedimni were alone eligible to the archonship, and for them alone was reserved the financial office of Treasurer of Athena. Other offices were open to the Hippês and the Zeugitae, but the distinction in privilege between them is unknown. The Thêtes were not eligible to any of the offices of state, but they were admitted to take part in the meetings of the Ecclesia, and this gave them a voice in the election of the magistrates.

The opening of the Assembly to the lowest class was indeed an important step in the democratic direction; but it may have been only the end of a gradual process of widening, which had been going on under the aristocracy. The radical measure of Solon, which was the very corner-stone of the Athenian democracy, was his constitution of the courts of justice. He composed the law-courts out of all the citizens, including the Thêtes; and as the panels of judges were enrolled by lot, the poorest burgher might have his turn. Any magistrate on laying down his office could be accused before the people in these courts; and thus the institution of the popular courts invested the people with a supreme control over the administration. The people, sitting in sections as sworn judges, were called the Heliaea—as distinguished from the Ecclesia, in which they gathered to pass laws or choose magistrates, but were required to take no oath. Having in its hands both the appointment of the magistrates and the control of their conduct, the people possessed theoretically the sovereignty of the state; and the meting out of more privileges to the less wealthy classes could be merely a matter of time. At first the archons were not deprived of their judicial powers, and the heliaea acted as a court of appeal; but by degrees the competence of the archons was reduced to the conduct of the proceedings preliminary to a trial, and the heliaea became both the first and the final court.

The constitution of the judicial courts out of the whole people was the secret of democracy which Solon discovered. It is his title to fame in the history of the growth of popular government in Europe. Without ignoring the tendencies to a democratic development which existed before him, and without, on the other hand, disguising the privileges which he reserved to the upper classes, we can hardly hesitate to regard Solon as the founder of the Athenian democracy. It must indeed be confessed that there is much in the scope and intention of his constitution which it is difficult to appreciate, because we know so little of the older constitution which he reformed. Thus we have no definite record touching the composition of the Council of the Areopagus, touching its functions as a deliberate body and its relations to the Assembly, or touching the composition of the Assembly itself. We can, however, have little doubt that under the older commonwealth the Council of Elders exerted a preponderant influence over the Assembly, and that the business submitted to the Assembly, whether by the magistrates or in whatever way introduced, was previously discussed and settled by the Council. The founder of popular government could not leave this hinge of the aristocratic republic as it was. He must either totally change the character of the Council and transform it into a popular body, or he must deprive it of its deliberative functions in regard to the Assembly. Solon deprived the Council of Elders of these deliberative functions, so that it could no longer take any direct part in administration and legislation. But on the other hand he assigned to it a new and lofty rôle. He constituted it the protector of the constitution, and the guardian of the laws, giving it wide and undefined powers of control over the magistrates, and a censorial authority over the citizens. Its judicial and religious functions it retained. In order to bring it into harmony with the rest of his constitution, Solon seems to have altered the composition of the Council. Henceforward, at least, the nine archons at the end of their year of office became life-members of the Council of the Areopagus; and this was the manner in which the Council was recruited. Thus the Areopagites were virtually appointed by the people in the Assembly.

Having removed the Council of the Areopagus to this place of dignity, above and almost outside the constitution, Solon was obliged to create a new body to prepare the business for the Assembly. Such a body was indispensable, as the Greeks always recognised; and it is clear that in its absence enormous powers would have been placed in the hands of the magistrates, on whom the manipulation of the Assembly would have entirely devolved. The “probuleutic” Council which Solon instituted consisted of four hundred members; a hundred being taken from each of the four tribes, either chosen by the tribe itself or, more probably, picked by lot. All citizens of the three higher classes were eligible; the Thêtes alone were excluded. In later days this Council—or rather a new Council which took its place—gained a large number of important powers, which made it to all intents an independent body in the state, but at first its functions seem to have been purely “probuleutic,” and it has therefore rather the aspect of being merely a part of the organisation of the Assembly. It must always be remembered that it does not represent the Council of Elders of the Aryan foreworld; it does not correspond to the Gerusia of Sparta or the Senate of Rome. But it takes over certain functions which had before formed part of the duty of the Council of elders; it discusses beforehand the public matters which are to be submitted to the Assembly.

The use of lot for the purpose of appointing public officers was a feature of Solon’s reforms. According to men’s ideas in those days, lot committed the decision to the gods, and was thus a serious method of procedure—not a sign of political levity, as we should regard it now. But a device which superstition suggested was approved by the reflexions of philosophical statesmen; and lot was recognised as a valuable political engine for security against undue influence and for the protection of minorities. It was doubtless as a security against the undue influence of clans and parties that Solon used it. He applied it to the appointment of the chief magistrates themselves. But, religious though he was, he could not be blind to the danger of taking no human precautions against the falling of the lot upon an incompetent candidate. He therefore mixed the two devices of lot and election. Forty candidates were elected, ten from each tribe, by the voice of their tribesmen; and out of these the nine archons were picked by lot. It is probable that a similar mixed method was employed in the choice of the Four Hundred Councillors.

Solon sought to keep the political balance steady by securing that each of the four tribes should have an equal share in the government. He could hardly have done otherwise, and yet here we touch on the weak point in the fabric of his constitution. The gravest danger ahead was in truth not the strife of poor and rich, of noble lord and man of the people, but the deep-rooted and bitter jealousies which existed between many of the clans. While the clan had the tribe behind it and the tribe possessed political weight, such feuds might at any moment cause a civil war or a revolution. But it was reserved for a future lawgiver to grapple with this problem. Solon assuredly saw it, but he had no solution ready to hand; and the evil was closely connected with another evil, the local parties which divided Attica. For these dangers Solon offered no remedy, and therefore his work, though abiding in the highest sense, did not supply a final or even a brief pacification of the warring elements in the state. He is said to have passed a law—so clumsy, so difficult to render effective, that it is hard to believe that such an enactment was ever made—that in the case of a party struggle every burgher must take a side under pain of losing his civic rights. Solon, if he was indeed the author of such a measure, sought to avert the possible issues of political strife by forcing the best citizens to intervene; it was a safeguard, a clumsy safeguard, against the danger of a tyranny.

It is interesting to observe that in some directions Solon extended and in others restricted the freedom of the individual. He restricted it by sumptuary laws and severe penalties for idleness ; he extended it by an enactment allowing a man who had no heirs of his body to will his property as he liked, instead of its going to the next of kin. One of Solon’s first acts was to repeal all the legislation of Dracon, except the laws relating to manslaughter. His own laws were inscribed on wooden tables set in revolving frames called axones, which were numbered, and the laws were quoted by the number of the axon. These tablets were kept in the Public hall. But copies were made on stone pillars, called in the old Attic tongue kyrbeis, and kept in the Portico of the King. Every citizen was required to take an oath that he would obey these laws; and it was ordered that the laws were to remain in force for a hundred years.

Solon had done his work boldly, but he had done it constitutionally. He had not made himself a tyrant, as he might easily have done, and as many expected him to do. On the contrary, one purpose of his reform was to forestall the necessity, and prevent the possibility, of a tyranny. He had not even become an aesymnetes—a legislator (like Pittacus) who for a number of years supersedes the constitution in order to reform it, and rules for that time with the absolute power of a tyrant. He had simply held the office of archon, invested, indeed, with extraordinary powers. To a superficial observer caution seemed the note of his reforms, and men were surprised, and many disgusted, by his cautiousness. His caution consisted in reserving the highest offices for men of property, and. the truth probably is that in his time no others would have been fitted to perform the duties. But Solon has stated his own principle that the privileges of each class should be proportional to the public burdens which it can bear. This was the conservative feature of his legislation; and, seizing on it, democrats could make out a plausible case for regarding his constitution as simply a timocracy. When he laid down his office he was assailed by complaints, and he wrote elegies in which he explains his middle course and professes that he performed the things which he undertook without favour or fear. “I threw my stout shield,” he says, “over both parties.” He re­fused to entertain the idea of any modifications in his measures, and thinking that the reforms would work better in the absence of the reformer, he left Athens soon after his archonship and travelled for ten years, partly for mercantile ends, but perhaps chiefly from curiosity, to see strange places and strange men.

Though the remnants of his poems are fragmentary, though the Character recorded events of his life are meagre, and though the details of his legislation are dimly known and variously interpreted, the personality of Solon leaves a distinct impression on our minds. We know enough to see in him an embodiment of the ideal of intellectual and moral excellence of the early Greeks, and the greatest of their wise men. For him the first of the virtues was moderation, and his motto was “Avoid excess.” He was in no vulgar sense a man of the world, for he was many-sided—poet and legislator, traveller and trader, noble and friend of the people. He had the insight to discern some of the yet undeveloped tendencies of the age, and could sympathise with other than the power-holding classes. He had meditated too deeply on the circumstances of humanity to find power a temptation; he never forgot that he was a traveller between life and death. It was a promising and characteristic act for a Greek state to commit the task of its reformation to such a man, and empower him to translate into definite legislative measures the views which he expressed in his poems.

Solon’s social reforms inaugurated a permanent improvement. But his political measures, which he intended as a compromise, displeased many. Party strife broke out again bitterly soon after his archonship, and only to end, after thirty years, in the tyranny which it had been his dearest object to prevent. Of this strife we know little. It took the form of a struggle for the archonship, and two years are noted in which, in consequence of this struggle, no archons were elected, hence called years of anarchy. Then a certain archon, Damasias, attempted to convert his office into a permanent tyranny and actually held it for over two years. This attempt frightened the political parties into making a compromise of some D, sort. Probably it was agreed that four of the nine archons should be Eupatrids, three Georgi, and two Demiurgi, all of course, possessing the requisite minimum of wealth. It is unknown whether this arrangement was repeated after the year of its first trial, but it certainly did not lead to a permanent reconciliation.

The two great parties were those who were in the main satisfied with the new constitution of Solon, and those who disliked its democratic side and desired to return to the aristocratic government which he had subverted. The latter consisted chiefly of Eupatrids and were known as the men of the Plain. They were led by Lycurgus, and numbered among them the clan of the Philaidae—distinguished as the clan of Hippoclides, the wooer of Agarista, and destined to become more distinguished still as that of more than one Cimon and Miltiades. The opposite party of the Coast included not only the population of the coast, but the bulk of the middle classes, the peasants as well as the Demiurgi, who were bettered by the changes of Solon. They were led by Megacles, son of Alcmaeon, the same Megacles who married Agarista. For one of Solon’s measures was an act of amnesty which was couched in such terms that, while it did not benefit the descendants of Cylon, it permitted the return of the Alcmaeonidae. Their position severed them from the rest of the Eupatrids and associated them with the party which represented Solon’s views.