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Who was Solon?What did he set out to achieve in Athenian Democracy and how successful was he?

Updated on August 11, 2016

Who was Solon?

Solon was an Athenian politician, poet, aristocrat, and a legislator. When came to power he proceeded to reform the Law radically. He called Champion of people in the” Athenian constitution” with a lot of affection. He remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against a political, economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens. He credited with having laid the foundation for Athenian democracy. His vision was that the people of Athens would have democratic government run by intelligent high-class people who were able to look after the progress of the state in the near future.

Intorduction

During Solon’s time, many Greek states had seen the emergence of tyrants and they were trying to grab power for their personal interest rather than for the people. This led to an increase in corruption and resulted in wars between various states. The greed of rich grew alongside the increase in the number of tyrants. These factors affected the poor and middle class, overall leading to lots of debt , which mentioned in much more detail in the upcoming paragraph.

Before Solon took power, the state had many poor people. They were lot wars, which led the rise of debtors in the state. There was no proper international and internal trade. The poor could not pay up the debt and they were inflation with agriculture goods, which the poor could not afford. As Solon says in his works, “Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor; we will not change our virtue for their store: Virtue’s a thing that none can take away, but money changes owners all the day'' which describes the situation that time.

What was his reforms and how did he achieve it ?

Therefore, when Solon took power as an archon, he had a huge task. He banned all loans on the security of the debtor's person. He also cleared all the debt of the people publicly and private. With this reform, he brought sharp criticism but also won the hearts of poor. He created currency for the people of Athens. He called the law as a Draconian law. The people of Athens minted their own coin, which survived for thousands of years and more preferred by the neighbours rather than their native coins. He introduced a new system of measurement and weights, preferred by many. There was encouragement to help people to settle in Athens with family and them gave citizenship. This led to increasing in population. Another reform, which Solon introduced, was the land reform. Land reform is a purposive change in the way in which agricultural land is held or owned, the methods of cultivation that are employed, or the relation of agriculture to the rest of the economy. Reforms such as these changed the mindset of the people. People found new crops to grow which in turn needed a lot of investment, such as the olives, cash crops etc. Solon tried to help the poor by rotating the crops during every season to increase fertility in the soil and to gain extra revenue. Those who could not survive with farming, Solon encouraged new trades and profession such as exporting and producing olive oil, pottery etc. He also banned the export of grain that led to relief to the poor.

These set of reforms created increase trade both internal and international. This also led to increases in wealth among the people and the number of rich citizens also increased. The rise in the economy also brought competition among the neighbors.

Prior to The Solon rule, the Athens state run by nine Archons appointed or elected annually by the Areopagus based on noble birth and wealth. The Areopagus had the power to appoint people and make extraordinary influence as the consultative body. The nine Archons vested with powers to deal with the lawbreakers. The lower classes of people were not able to make any influence in the archons or the Aeropagus. Solon introduced government who are run by the wealthy citizens. He divided the population according to property they own into four classes, mainly, Pentacosiomedimni, Knights, Zeugitae, and Thetes. The various magistracies, mainly, the nine Archons, the Treasurers, (the Commissioners for Public Contracts) Poletae, (the Eleven, and Clerks) Colacretae were assigned to the Pentacosiomedimni. The Knights and the Zeugitae given the offices to each class in proportion to the value of their liability of property. Those who ranked among the Thetas given nothing but a place in the Assembly and in the juries. For a man had to be rank as a Pentacosiomedimnus; he has to own land, five hundred measures, whether liquid or solid. Those who ranked as Knights were made to own three hundred measures, or they were able to maintain a horse. Those ranked as Zeugitae made two hundred measures, liquid or solid and the rest of those ranked, as Thetes were not eligible for any office. The elections to the various offices, which Solon enacted, were to be by lot, out of the candidates selected by each of the tribes. Each tribe selected ten candidates for the nine archonships, and among these, the lot cast. Hence, it is still the custom for each tribe to choose ten candidates by lot, and then the lot again cast among these.

Solon modified the assembly body called the ekklesia (the assembly). The ekklesia was a meeting place where the citizens could speak their minds and try to influence one another in the political process. Any member of the tribe allowed entering the ecclesia. The main essential was the freedom of speech. Solon introduced the Council of 400 or called the boule. One hundred men from each of the four tribes are picked by the lot to form the council of 400. They determine to find out what discussed in the ekklesia. They get involved in the public finances and have the certain power in arresting Athenians before trial.

Solon had other reforms other than the political and economic reform. He introduced some ideas to improve the morality of state. In his poems, one can see how he portrays greed and arrogance among the people of Athens. Solon introduced his famous laws for injustice called the Seisachtheia (shaking off burdens).The Athenians lauded this reform and remembered for many years. Some of the other reforms he made include the abolition of Feudal system, the release of all Athenians who had enslaved by their owners and reinstated all confiscated serf property to the hektemoroi. These reforms created many enemies for him. He also created another reform for Females, is called Epikleros. The Law states that the daughter allowed inheriting all the property if there is no male heir in the Family. Solon gave pride to “Athenian nationalism” particularly in the war against Megarians for the island of Salamis. Using his poetic skills he tried to bring the spirit of nationalism among the people. One of the poems was “Behold in me a herald comes from lovely Salamis, with a song in ordered verse instead of a harangue.” This poem encouraged people to repeal any laws constraining then waged war against an opponent in which Solon was the commander .Everyone was sing in praise of Solon during this time and citizens obeyed his words. This made him a hero of the country. These events made him reform the system to show the loyalty to people and make the state a powerful state for years to come.

Aftermath of Solon's reforms

After he completed implementing his reforms, he gave up the authority of the government and fled the country. He thought that the people of Athens need some time to get used to the new system, which he created. He departed to Egypt .During this time, the government runs by tyrants .Within 4 years there were social rifts between the classes and tribes. The people found irregularities in the government’s procedure and election in the archon not held for few years. This led new complication in the system, which Solon could not foresee.

Even though the reform succeeded during his reign and declined after that, but people still remember him for various reforms in regulating the economy and reducing the burden of the people. He changed the mindset of the people who want justice and taught the people new trade and profession which regulated the economy. He brought some value into the state by introducing coin, units, and measurements. He also increased the population within the state and improved the trading system within the state and outside.

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