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BC| birth_place = Athens 560}} BC (aged approx 70)| death_place = Cyprus| occupation = Statesman, lawmaker, poet}}Solon ( Sólōn {{IPA-el|só.lɔːn|}}; {{circa|lk=no| 630| 560}} BC){{citation |website=Encyclopædia Britannica |title=Solon |url= |access-date=13 April 2019}} was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic and moral decline in archaic Athens.Aristotle Politics 1273b 35–1274a 21 His reforms failed in the short-term, yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.Stanton, G. R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 76.Andrews, A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 197E. Harris, A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia, in The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece, eds. L. Mitchell and P. Rhodes (Routledge 1997) 103 He wrote poetry for pleasure, as patriotic propaganda, and in defence of his constitutional reforms.Modern knowledge of Solon is limited by the fact that his works only survive in fragments and appear to feature interpolations by later authors and by the general paucity of documentary and archaeological evidence covering Athens in the early 6th century BC.Stanton G. R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), pp. 1–5. Ancient authors such as Herodotus and Plutarch are the main sources, but wrote about Solon long after his death. 4th-century orators, such as Aeschines, tended to attribute to Solon all the laws of their own, much later times.V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71


Solon was born in Athens around 630 BC. His family was distinguished in Attica as they belonged to a noble or Eupatrid clan, although they possessed only moderate wealth. Solon's father was probably Execestides. If so his lineage could be traced back to Codrus, the last King of Athens."Solon" in Magill, Frank N. (ed)., The Ancient World: Dictionary of World Biography (Salem Press/Routledge, 1998), p. 1057. According to Diogenes Laërtius, he had a brother named Dropides who was an ancestor (six generations removed) of Plato.Diogenes Laërtius, The Lives and Opinions of Famous Philosophers, Book 3 "Plato", chapter 1. According to Plutarch, Solon was related to the tyrant Peisistratos, for their mothers were cousins.Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1]]. Solon was eventually drawn into the unaristocratic pursuit of commerce.s:Lives/Solon#2|Plutarch, Life of Solon, ch. 2]](File:Solon demands to pledge respect for his laws.jpg|thumb|Solon demands to pledge respect for his laws)When Athens and Megara were contesting the possession of Salamis, Solon was made leader of the Athenian forces. After repeated disasters, Solon was able to improve the morale of his troops through a poem he wrote about the island.Solon: Biography of Solon Supported by Peisistratos, he defeated the Megarians either by means of a cunning trick or more directly through heroic battle around 595 BC.Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives/Solon#9]] The Megarians, however, refused to give up their claim. The dispute was referred to the Spartans, who eventually awarded possession of the island to Athens on the strength of the case that Solon put to them.According to Diogenes Laertius, in 594 BC, Solon was chosen archon, or chief magistrate.Solon of Athens As archon, Solon discussed his intended reforms with some friends. Knowing that he was about to cancel all debts, these friends took out loans and promptly bought some land. Suspected of complicity, Solon complied with his own law and released his own debtors, amounting to 5 talents (or 15 according to some sources). His friends never repaid their debts.Plutarch Solon 15 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15]]After he had finished his reforms, he travelled abroad for ten years, so that the Athenians could not induce him to repeal any of his laws.Herodotus, The Histories, Hdt. 1.29 His first stop was Egypt. There, according to Herodotus, he visited the Pharaoh of Egypt, Amasis II.Herodotus, The Histories, Hdt. 1.30 According to Plutarch, he spent some time and discussed philosophy with two Egyptian priests, Psenophis of Heliopolis and Sonchis of Sais.Plutarch Solon 26 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#26]] According to Plato's dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, he visited Neith's temple at Sais and received from the priests there an account of the history of Atlantis. Next, Solon sailed to Cyprus, where he oversaw the construction of a new capital for a local king, in gratitude for which the king named it Soloi.File:Kroisos stake Louvre G197.jpg|thumb|left|200px|Croesus awaits fiery execution (Attic red-figure amphora, 500–490 BC, LouvreLouvreSolon's travels finally brought him to Sardis, capital of Lydia. According to Herodotus and Plutarch, he met with Croesus and gave the Lydian king advice, which Croesus failed to appreciate until it was too late. Croesus had considered himself to be the happiest man alive and Solon had advised him, "Count no man happy until he be dead." The reasoning was that at any minute, fortune might turn on even the happiest man and make his life miserable. It was only after he had lost his kingdom to the Persian king Cyrus, while awaiting execution, that Croesus acknowledged the wisdom of Solon's advice.Herodotus 1.30.Plutarch Solon 28 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#28]]After his return to Athens, Solon became a staunch opponent of Peisistratos. In protest, and as an example to others, Solon stood outside his own home in full armour, urging all who passed to resist the machinations of the would-be tyrant. His efforts were in vain. Solon died shortly after Peisistratos usurped by force the autocratic power that Athens had once freely bestowed upon him.Plutarch Solon 32 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#32]] Solon died in Cyprus at the age of 80 and, in accordance with his will, his ashes were scattered around Salamis, the island where he was born.Diogenes Laertius 1.62I. M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian, University of California Press (1919), p. 308, Google Books linkThe travel writer Pausanias listed Solon among the seven sages whose aphorisms adorned Apollo's temple in Delphi.Pausanias 10.24.1 (e.g. Jones and Omerod trans. weblink). Stobaeus in the Florilegium relates a story about a symposium where Solon's young nephew was singing a poem of Sappho's; Solon, upon hearing the song, asked the boy to teach him to sing it. When someone asked, "Why should you waste your time on it?" Solon replied , "So that I may learn it before I die."Stobaeus, III, 29, 58, taken from a lost work of Aelian. Ammianus Marcellinus, however, told a similar story about Socrates and the poet Stesichorus, quoting the philosopher's rapture in almost identical terms: "ut aliquid sciens amplius e vita discedam",Ammianus Marcellinus 38.4 meaning "in order to leave life knowing a little more".

Background to Solon's reforms

(File:Solon, the wise lawgiver of Athens.jpg|thumb|Solon, the wise lawgiver of Athens)During Solon's time, many Greek city-states had seen the emergence of tyrants, opportunistic noblemen who had taken power on behalf of sectional interests. In Sicyon, Cleisthenes had usurped power on behalf of an Ionian minority. In Megara, Theagenes had come to power as an enemy of the local oligarchs. The son-in-law of Theagenes, an Athenian nobleman named Cylon, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Athens in 632 BC. Solon was described by Plutarch as having been temporarily awarded autocratic powers by Athenian citizens on the grounds that he had the "wisdom" to sort out their differences for them in a peaceful and equitable manner.Plutarch Solon 14 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#14]] According to ancient sources,Plutarch Solon 14.3 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#14]]Athenaion Politeia 1.5 (e.g. Kenyon's translation s:Athenian Constitution#5]]) he obtained these powers when he was elected eponymous archon (594/3 BC). Some modern scholars believe these powers were in fact granted some years after Solon had been archon, when he would have been a member of the Areopagus and probably a more respected statesman by his peers.Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 36.Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford University Press 1952).Miller, M. Arethusa 4 (1971) 25–47.The social and political upheavals that characterized Athens in Solon's time have been variously interpreted by historians from ancient times to the present day. Two contemporary historians have identified three distinct historical accounts of Solon's Athens, emphasizing quite different rivalries: economic and ideological rivalry, regional rivalry and rivalry between aristocratic clans.Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pp. 3–4.Walters, K.R., Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens WEB,weblink Archived copy, 2007-07-05, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 2007-10-13, These different accounts provide a convenient basis for an overview of the issues involved.
  • Economic and ideological rivalry is a common theme in ancient sources. This sort of account emerges from Solon's poems (e.g. see below Solon the reformer and poet), in which he casts himself in the role of a noble mediator between two intemperate and unruly factions. This same account is substantially taken up about three centuries later by the author of the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia but with an interesting variation:"...there was conflict between the nobles and the common people for an extended period. For the constitution they were under was oligarchic in every respect and especially in that the poor, along with their wives and children, were in slavery to the rich...All the land was in the hands of a few. And if men did not pay their rents, they themselves and their children were liable to be seized as slaves. The security for all loans was the debtor's person up to the time of Solon. He was the first people's champion."Athenaion Politeia 2.1–3 s:Athenian Constitution2]].Here Solon is presented as a partisan in a democratic cause whereas, judged from the viewpoint of his own poems, he was instead a mediator between rival factions. A still more significant variation in the ancient historical account appears in the writing of Plutarch in the late 1st – early 2nd century AD:"Athens was torn by recurrent conflict about the constitution. The city was divided into as many parties as there were geographical divisions in its territory. For the party of the people of the hills was most in favour of democracy, that of the people of the plain was most in favour of oligarchy, while the third group, the people of the coast, which preferred a mixed form of constitution somewhat between the other two, formed an obstruction and prevented the other groups from gaining control."Plutarch Solon 13 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon13]]
  • Regional rivalry is a theme commonly found among modern scholars.B. Sealey, "Regionalism in Archaic Athens," Historia 9 (1960) 155–180.D. Lewis, "Cleisthenes and Attica," Historia 12 (1963) 22–40.P. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenian Politeia, Oxford University Press (1981) 186.P. Rhodes, A History of the Greek City States, Berkeley (1976)."The new picture which emerged was one of strife between regional groups, united by local loyalties and led by wealthy landowners. Their goal was control of the central government at Athens and with it dominance over their rivals from other districts of Attika."Walters K.R. Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens WEB,weblink Archived copy, 2007-07-05, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 2007-10-13, Regional factionalism was inevitable in a relatively large territory such as Athens possessed. In most Greek city states, a farmer could conveniently reside in town and travel to and from his fields every day. According to Thucydides, on the other hand, most Athenians continued to live in rural settlements right up until the Peloponnesian War.Thucydides 2.14–16. The effects of regionalism in a large territory could be seen in Laconia, where Sparta had gained control through intimidation and resettlement of some of its neighbours and enslavement of the rest. Attika in Solon's time seemed to be moving towards a similarly ugly solution with many citizens in danger of being reduced to the status of helots.Andrews, A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 118.
  • Rivalry between clans is a theme recently developed by some scholars, based on an appreciation of the political significance of kinship groupings.Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pp. 3–4.Frost, "Tribal Politics and the Civic State," AJAH (1976) 66–75.Connor, The New Politicians of Fifth Century Athens, Princeton (1971) 11–14.Cary, Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge Univ. Press (1925) 3:582–586.Ellis, J. and Stanton, G., Phoenix 22 (1968) 95–99. According to this account, bonds of kinship rather than local loyalties were the decisive influence on events in archaic Athens. An Athenian belonged not only to a phyle or tribe and one of its subdivisions, the phratry or brotherhood, but also to an extended family, clan or genos. It has been argued that these interconnecting units of kinship reinforced a hierarchic structure with aristocratic clans at the top. Thus rivalries between aristocratic clans could engage all levels of society irrespective of any regional ties. In that case, the struggle between rich and poor was the struggle between powerful aristocrats and the weaker affiliates of their rivals or perhaps even with their own rebellious affiliates.
The historical account of Solon's Athens has evolved over many centuries into a set of contradictory stories or a complex story that might be interpreted in a variety of ways. As further evidence accumulates, and as historians continue to debate the issues, Solon's motivations and the intentions behind his reforms will continue to attract speculation.See, for example, J. Bintliff, "Solon's Reforms: an archeological perspective", in Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches, eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)weblink, and other essays published with it.

Solon's reforms

File:Meister des al-Mubashshir-Manuskripts 003.jpg|thumb|Solon, depicted with pupils in an Islamic miniature ]]Solon's laws were inscribed on large wooden slabs or cylinders attached to a series of axles that stood upright in the Prytaneion.V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71–72Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), p. 52 These axones appear to have operated on the same principle as a Lazy Susan, allowing both convenient storage and ease of access. Originally the axones recorded laws enacted by Draco in the late 7th Century (traditionally 621 BC). Nothing of Draco's codification has survived except for a law relating to homicide, yet there is consensus among scholars that it did not amount to anything like a constitution.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 26Oxford Classical Dictionary (1964), 'Draco' Solon repealed all Draco's laws except those relating to homicide.Plutarch Solon 17 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#17]] During his visit to Athens, Pausanias, the 2nd century AD geographer reported that the inscribed laws of Solon were still displayed by the Prytaneion.Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.18.3 Fragments of the axones were still visible in Plutarch's timePlutarch Solon 25.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25]] but today the only records we have of Solon's laws are fragmentary quotes and comments in literary sources such as those written by Plutarch himself. Moreover, the language of his laws was archaic even by the standards of the fifth century and this caused interpretation problems for ancient commentators.Andrews A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 114, 201 Modern scholars doubt the reliability of these sources and our knowledge of Solon's legislation is therefore actually very limited in its details.Generally, Solon's reforms appear to have been constitutional, economic and moral in their scope. This distinction, though somewhat artificial, does at least provide a convenient framework within which to consider the laws that have been attributed to Solon. Some short-term consequences of his reforms are considered at the end of the section.

Constitutional reform

Before Solon's reforms, the Athenian state was administered by nine archons appointed or elected annually by the Areopagus on the basis of noble birth and wealth.Athenaion Politeia 3.6 s:Athenian Constitution#3]]Athenaion Politeia 8.2 s:Athenian Constitution#8]] The Areopagus comprised former archons and it therefore had, in addition to the power of appointment, extraordinary influence as a consultative body. The nine archons took the oath of office while ceremonially standing on a stone in the agora, declaring their readiness to dedicate a golden statue if they should ever be found to have violated the laws.Athenaion Politeia 7.1, 55.5 s:Athenian Constitution#7]]Plutarch Solon 25.3 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25]] There was an assembly of Athenian citizens (the Ekklesia) but the lowest class (the Thetes) was not admitted and its deliberative procedures were controlled by the nobles.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), p. 35, n. 2 There therefore seemed to be no means by which an archon could be called to account for breach of oath unless the Areopagus favoured his prosecution.According to the Constitution of the Athenians, Solon legislated for all citizens to be admitted into the EkklesiaAthenaion Politeia 7.3 s:Athenian Constitution#7]] and for a court (the Heliaia) to be formed from all the citizens.Aristotle Politics 1274a 3, 1274a 15 The Heliaia appears to have been the Ekklesia, or some representative portion of it, sitting as a jury.Ostwald M. From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of the Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth Century Athens (Berkeley 1986) 9–12, 35.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 67 n. 2 By giving common people the power not only to elect officials but also to call them to account, Solon appears to have established the foundations of a true republic. However some scholars have doubted whether Solon actually included the Thetes in the Ekklesia, this being considered too bold a move for any aristocrat in the archaic period.Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford University Press 1952) pp. 117–118 Ancient sourcesAthenaion Politeia 8.4 s:Athenian Constitution#8]]Plutarch Solon 19 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#19]] credit Solon with the creation of a Council of Four Hundred, drawn from the four Athenian tribes to serve as a steering committee for the enlarged Ekklesia. However, many modern scholars have doubted this also.Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford University Press 1952) 92–96Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 72 n. 14There is consensus among scholars that Solon lowered the requirements – those that existed in terms of financial and social qualifications – which applied to election to public office. The Solonian constitution divided citizens into four political classes defined according to assessable propertyPlutarch Solon 18 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#18]] a classification that might previously have served the state for military or taxation purposes only.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 71 n. 6 The standard unit for this assessment was one medimnos (approximately 12 gallons) of cereals and yet the kind of classification set out below might be considered too simplistic to be historically accurate.V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) File:Areopagus from the Acropolis.jpg|thumb|right|250px|The Areopagus, as viewed from the AcropolisAcropolis
  • Pentakosiomedimnoi
    • valued at 500 medimnoi or more of cereals annually.
    • eligible to serve as strategoi (generals or military governors)
  • Hippeis
    • valued at 300 medimnoi or more annually.
    • approximating to the medieval class of knights, they had enough wealth to equip themselves for the cavalry
  • Zeugitai
    • valued at a 200 medimnoi or more annually.
    • approximating to the medieval class of Yeoman, they had enough wealth to equip themselves for the infantry (Hoplite)
  • Thetes
    • valued up to 199 medimnoi annually or less
    • manual workers or sharecroppers, they served voluntarily in the role of personal servant, or as auxiliaries armed for instance with the sling or as rowers in the navy.
According to the Athenian Constitution, only the pentakosiomedimnoi were eligible for election to high office as archons and therefore only they gained admission into the Areopagus.Athenaion Politeia 7–8 s:Athenian Constitution#7]] A modern view affords the same privilege to the hippeis.Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd edition 1996) Solon The top three classes were eligible for a variety of lesser posts and only the thetes were excluded from all public office.Depending on how we interpret the historical facts known to us, Solon's constitutional reforms were either a radical anticipation of democratic government, or they merely provided a plutocratic flavour to a stubbornly aristocratic regime, or else the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.{{efn|"In all areas then it was the work of Solon which was decisive in establishing the foundations for the development of a full democracy."{{emdash}}Marylin B. Arthur, 'The Origins of the Western Attitude Toward Women', in Women in the Ancient World: The Arethusa Papers, John Patrick Sullivan (ed.), State University of New York (1984), p. 30."In making their own evaluation of Solon, the ancient sources concentrated on what were perceived to be the democratic features of the constitution. But...Solon was given his extraordinary commission by the nobles, who wanted him to eliminate the threat that the position of the nobles as a whole would be overthrown".{{emdash}} Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, London: Routledge (1990), p. 76.}}

Economic reform

Solon's economic reforms need to be understood in the context of the primitive, subsistence economy that prevailed both before and after his time. Most Athenians were still living in rural settlements right up to the Peloponnesian War.Thucydides 2.14–2.16 Opportunities for trade even within the Athenian borders were limited. The typical farming family, even in classical times, barely produced enough to satisfy its own needs.Gallant T. Risk and Survival in Ancient Greece (Stanford, 1991), cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) p. 7 weblink Opportunities for international trade were minimal. It has been estimated that, even in Roman times, goods rose 40% in value for every 100 miles they were carried over land, but only 1.3% for the same distance were they carried by shipLaurence R. Land Transport in Rural Italy (Parkins and Smith, 1998), cited by Morris I in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) weblink and yet there is no evidence that Athens possessed any merchant ships until around 525 BC.Morris I. The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) p. 12 weblink Until then, the narrow warship doubled as a cargo vessel. Athens, like other Greek city states in the 7th century BC, was faced with increasing population pressuresSnodgrass A. Archaic Greece (London, 1980) cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) p. 11 weblink and by about 525 BC it was able to feed itself only in 'good years'.Garnsey P. Famine and Food Supply in Graeco-Roman World (Cambridge, 1988) p. 104, cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) weblinkSolon's reforms can thus be seen to have taken place at a crucial period of economic transition, when a subsistence rural economy increasingly required the support of a nascent commercial sector. The specific economic reforms credited to Solon are these:File:BMC 06.jpg|thumb|right|The Croeseid, one of the earliest known coins. It was minted in the early 6th century BC in LydiaLydiaFile:ATTICA, Athens. Circa 545-525-15 BC.jpg|thumb|The earliest coinage of AthensAthens
  • Fathers were encouraged to find trades for their sons; if they did not, there would be no legal requirement for sons to maintain their fathers in old age.Plutarch Solon 22.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon22]]
  • Foreign tradesmen were encouraged to settle in Athens; those who did would be granted citizenship, provided they brought their families with them.Plutarch Solon 24.4 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon24]]
  • Cultivation of olives was encouraged; the export of all other fruits was prohibited.Plutarch Solon 24.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon24]]
  • Competitiveness of Athenian commerce was promoted through revision of weights and measures, possibly based on successful standards already in use elsewhere, such as Aegina or EuboiaV. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 73–74Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), pp. 60–63 or, according to the ancient account but unsupported by modern scholarship, Argos.Athenaion Politeia 10 s:Athenian Constitution10]]
It is generally assumed, on the authority of ancient commentatorsPlutarch (quoting Androtion) Solon 15.2–5 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15]] that Solon also reformed the Athenian coinage. However, recent numismatic studies now lead to the conclusion that Athens probably had no coinage until around 560 BC, well after Solon's reforms.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 61 n. 4 Nevertheless, there are now reasons to suggestEberhard Ruschenbusch 1966, Solonos Nomoi (:de:Eberhard Ruschenbusch|(Solon's laws)) that monetization had already begun before Solon's reforms. By early sixth century the Athenians were using silver in the form of a variety of bullion silver pieces for monetary payments.Kroll, 1998, 2001, 2008 Drachma and obol as a term of bullion value had already been adopted, although the corresponding standard weights were probably unstable.The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage by William Metcalf, p. 88Solon's economic reforms succeeded in stimulating foreign trade. Athenian black-figure pottery was exported in increasing quantities and good quality throughout the Aegean between 600 BC and 560 BC, a success story that coincided with a decline in trade in Corinthian pottery.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 76 The ban on the export of grain might be understood as a relief measure for the benefit of the poor. However, the encouragement of olive production for export could actually have led to increased hardship for many Athenians to the extent that it led to a reduction in the amount of land dedicated to grain. Moreover, an olive produces no fruit for the first six yearsStanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), p. 65 n. 1 (but farmers' difficulty of lasting until payback may also give rise to a mercantilist argument in favour of supporting them through that, since the British case illustrates that 'One domestic policy that had a lasting impact was the conversion of "waste lands" to agricultural use. Mercantilists felt that to maximize a nation's power all land and resources had to be used to their utmost...'). The real motives behind Solon's economic reforms are therefore as questionable as his real motives for constitutional reform. Were the poor being forced to serve the needs of a changing economy, was the economy being reformed to serve the needs of the poor, or were Solon's policies the manifestation of a struggle taking place between poorer citizens and the aristocrats?

Moral reform

In his poems, Solon portrays Athens as being under threat from the unrestrained greed and arrogance of its citizens.Demosthenes 19 (On the Embassy) 254–255 Even the earth (Gaia), the mighty mother of the gods, had been enslaved.Athenaion Politeia 12.4 (quoting Solon) s:Athenian Constitution#12]] The visible symbol of this perversion of the natural and social order was a boundary marker called a horos, a wooden or stone pillar indicating that a farmer was in debt or under contractual obligation to someone else, either a noble patron or a creditor.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pp. 55–56 n. 3 and 4 Up until Solon's time, land was the inalienable property of a family or clanInnis H. Empire and Communications (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) pp. 91–92 and it could not be sold or mortgaged. This was no disadvantage to a clan with large landholdings since it could always rent out farms in a sharecropping system. A family struggling on a small farm however could not use the farm as security for a loan even if it owned the farm. Instead the farmer would have to offer himself and his family as security, providing some form of slave labour in lieu of repayment. Equally, a family might voluntarily pledge part of its farm income or labour to a powerful clan in return for its protection. Farmers subject to these sorts of arrangements were loosely known as hektemoroiStanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), p. 38 n. 3 indicating that they either paid or kept a sixth of a farm's annual yield.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 35 n. 3Kirk. G, Historia Vol. 26 (1977) 369–370Woodhouse W. Solon the Liberator: A Study of the Agrarian Problem in Attika in the Seventh Century (Oxford University Press 1938) In the event of 'bankruptcy', or failure to honour the contract stipulated by the horoi, farmers and their families could in fact be sold into slavery.File:Amphora olive-gathering BM B226.jpg|thumb|right|250px|This 6th century Athenian black-figure urn, in the British MuseumBritish MuseumSolon's reform of these injustices was later known and celebrated among Athenians as the Seisachtheia (shaking off of burdens).Athenaion Politeia 6 s:Athenian Constitution#6]]Plutarch Solon 15.2 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15]] As with all his reforms, there is considerable scholarly debate about its real significance. Many scholars are content to accept the account given by the ancient sources, interpreting it as a cancellation of debts, while others interpret it as the abolition of a type of feudal relationship, and some prefer to explore new possibilities for interpretation. The reforms included:
  • annulment of all contracts symbolised by the horoi.Athenaion Politeia 12.4, quoting Solon s:Athenian Constitution12]]
  • prohibition on a debtor's person being used as security for a loan, i.e., debt slavery.
  • release of all Athenians who had been enslaved.
The removal of the horoi clearly provided immediate economic relief for the most oppressed group in Attica, and it also brought an immediate end to the enslavement of Athenians by their countrymen. Some Athenians had already been sold into slavery abroad and some had fled abroad to escape enslavement – Solon proudly records in verse the return of this diaspora.Solon quoted in Athenaion Politeia 12.4 s:Athenian Constitution#12]] It has been cynically observed, however, that few of these unfortunates were likely to have been recovered.Forrest G. The Oxford History of the Classical World ed. Griffin J. and Murray O. (Oxford University Press, 1995) p. 32 It has been observed also that the seisachtheia not only removed slavery and accumulated debt but may also have removed the ordinary farmer's only means of obtaining further credit.Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) p. 57 n.1The seisachtheia however was merely one set of reforms within a broader agenda of moral reformation. Other reforms included:
  • the abolition of extravagant dowries.Plutarch Solon 20.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon20]]
  • legislation against abuses within the system of inheritance, specifically with relation to the epikleros (i.e. a female who had no brothers to inherit her father's property and who was traditionally required to marry her nearest paternal relative in order to produce an heir to her father's estate).Grant, Michael. The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988 p. 49
  • entitlement of any citizen to take legal action on behalf of another.Athenaion Politeia 9 s:Athenian Constitution9]]Plutarch Solon 18.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon18]]
  • the disenfranchisement of any citizen who might refuse to take up arms in times of civil strife, and war, a measure that was intended to counteract dangerous levels of political apathy.Athenaion Politeia 8.5 s:Athenian Constitution8]]Stanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) p. 72 n. 17Plutarch Solon 20.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon20]]Goldstein J. Historia Vol. 21 (1972) 538–545.Develin R. Historia Vol. 26 (1977) 507–508.
Demosthenes claimed that the city's subsequent golden age included "personal modesty and frugality" among the Athenian aristocracy.weblink" title="">Demosthenes On Organization Perhaps Solon, by both personal example and legislated reform, established a precedent for this decorum.{{citation needed|date=May 2016}} A heroic sense of civic duty later united Athenians against the might of the Persians.{{citation needed|date=May 2016}} Perhaps this public spirit was instilled in them by Solon and his reforms.{{citation needed|date=May 2016}} (See also Solon and Athenian sexuality below).

Aftermath of Solon's reforms

After completing his work of reform, Solon surrendered his extraordinary authority and left the country. According to HerodotusHerodotus 1.29 (e.g. Campbell's translation (:gutenberg:2707|2707)) the country was bound by Solon to maintain his reforms for 10 years, whereas according to Plutarch and the author of the Athenian ConstitutionAthenaion Politeia 7.2 s:Athenian Constitution#7]] (reputedly Aristotle) the contracted period was instead 100 years. A modern scholarStanton, G.R. Athenian Politics c. 800–55 BC: A Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) p. 84 considers the time-span given by Herodotus to be historically accurate because it fits the 10 years that Solon was said to have been absent from the country.Plutarch Solon 25.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25]] Within 4 years of Solon's departure, the old social rifts re-appeared, but with some new complications. There were irregularities in the new governmental procedures, elected officials sometimes refused to stand down from their posts and occasionally important posts were left vacant. It has even been said that some people blamed Solon for their troubles.Athenaion Politeia 13 s:Athenian Constitution#13]] Eventually one of Solon's relatives, Peisistratos, ended the factionalism by force, thus instituting an unconstitutionally gained tyranny. In Plutarch's account, Solon accused Athenians of stupidity and cowardice for allowing this to happen.Plutarch Solon 30 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#30]]


File:Nuremberg chronicles f 59r 1.png|right|thumb|Solon, depicted as a medieval scholar in the Nuremberg ChronicleNuremberg ChronicleSolon's verses have come down to us in fragmentary quotations by ancient authors such as Plutarch and DemosthenesDemosthenes 19 (On the Embassy) 254–55 who used them to illustrate their own arguments. It is possible that some fragments have been wrongly attributed to himK. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents, Uni. California Press, 2003; p. 36 and some scholars have detected interpolations by later authors.A. Lardinois, Have we Solon's verses? and E. Stehle, Solon's self-reflexive political persona and its audience, in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006) He was also the first citizen of Athens to reference the goddess Athena (fr. 4.1–4).Susan Deacy, Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World: Athena (2008) p. 77The literary merit of Solon's verse is generally considered unexceptional. Solon's poetry can be said to appear 'self-righteous' and 'pompous' at timesForrest G., The Oxford History of the Classical World, ed. Boardman J., Griffin J. and Murray O., Oxford University Press (New York, 1995), p. 31 and he once composed an elegy with moral advice for a more gifted elegiac poet, Mimnermus. Most of the extant verses show him writing in the role of a political activist determined to assert personal authority and leadership and they have been described by the German classicist Wilamowitz as a "versified harangue" (Eine Volksrede in Versen).Wilamowitz, Arist. u. Athen, ii 304, cited by Eduard Fraenkel, Horace, Oxford University Press (1957), p. 38 According to PlutarchPlutarch Solon 3.1–4 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#3]] however, Solon originally wrote poetry for amusement, discussing pleasure in a popular rather than philosophical way. Solon's elegiac style is said to have been influenced by the example of Tyrtaeus.Oxford Classical Dictionary (1964) Solon He also wrote iambic and trochaic verses which, according to one modern scholar,David. A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press 1982, Intro. xxix are more lively and direct than his elegies and possibly paved the way for the iambics of Athenian drama.Solon's verses are mainly significant for historical rather than aesthetic reasons, as a personal record of his reforms and attitudes. However, poetry is not an ideal genre for communicating facts and very little detailed information can be derived from the surviving fragments.Andrews A. Greek Society (Penguin 1981) 114 According to Solon the poet, Solon the reformer was a voice for political moderation in Athens at a time when his fellow citizens were increasingly polarized by social and economic differences:{{Verse translation|italicsoff=y||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.Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1]]}}Here translated by the English poet John Dryden, Solon's words define a 'moral high ground' where differences between rich and poor can be reconciled or maybe just ignored. His poetry indicates that he attempted to use his extraordinary legislative powers to establish a peaceful settlement between the country's rival factions:{{Verse translation|italicsoff=y||Before them both I held my shield of mightAnd let not either touch the other's right.}}His attempts evidently were misunderstood:{{Verse translation|italicsoff=y||Formerly they boasted of me vainly; with averted eyesNow they look askance upon me; friends no more but enemies.Plutarch Solon 16 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#16]]}}Solon gave voice to Athenian 'nationalism', particularly in the city state's struggle with Megara, its neighbour and rival in the Saronic Gulf. Plutarch professes admiration of Solon's elegy urging Athenians to recapture the island of Salamis from Megarian control.Plutarch Solon 8 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#8]] The same poem was said by Diogenes Laërtius to have stirred Athenians more than any other verses that Solon wrote:Let us go to Salamis to fight for the islandWe desire, and drive away our bitter shame!Solon, quoted in Diogenes Laërtius 1.47
It is possible that Solon backed up this poetic bravado with true valour on the battlefield.Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#9]]

Solon and Athenian sexuality

As a regulator of Athenian society, Solon, according to some authors, also formalized its sexual mores. According to a surviving fragment from a work ("Brothers") by the comic playwright Philemon,Fr. 4 Solon established publicly funded brothels at Athens in order to "democratize" the availability of sexual pleasure.Rachel Adams, David Savran, The Masculinity Studies Reader; Blackwell, 2002; p. 74 While the veracity of this comic account is open to doubt, at least one modern author considers it significant that in Classical Athens, three hundred or so years after the death of Solon, there existed a discourse that associated his reforms with an increased availability of heterosexual contacts.One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love,'' p.101Ancient authors also say that Solon regulated pederastic relationships in Athens; this has been presented as an adaptation of custom to the new structure of the polis.Bernard Sergent, "Paederasty and Political Life in Archaic Greek Cities" in Gay Studies from the French Culture; Harrington Park Press, Binghamton, NY 1993; pp. 153–154Eros and Greek Athletics By Thomas Francis Scanlon, p.213 "So it is clear that Solon was responsible for institutionalizing pederasty to some extent at Athens in the early sixth century." According to various authors, ancient lawgivers (and therefore Solon by implication) drew up a set of laws that were intended to promote and safeguard the institution of pederasty and to control abuses against freeborn boys. In particular, the orator Aeschines cites laws excluding slaves from wrestling halls and forbidding them to enter pederastic relationships with the sons of citizens.Aeschines, Against Timarchus 6, 25, 26 weblink; compare also Plutarch, Solon 1.3. Accounts of Solon's laws by 4th century orators like Aeschines, however, are considered unreliable for a number of reasons;Kevin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Ox. Uni. Press, 1994; p. 128,P. J. Rhodes, The Reforms and Laws of Solon: an Optimistic View, in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)Attic pleaders did not hesitate to attribute to him (Solon) any law which suited their case, and later writers had no criterion by which to distinguish earlier from later works. Nor can any complete and authentic collection of his statutes have survived for ancient scholars to consult.Kevin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Ox. Uni. Press 1994; p. 128 (quoting F. E. Adcock)Besides the alleged legislative aspect of Solon's involvement with pederasty, there were also suggestions of personal involvement. Ancient readers concluded, based on his own erotic poetry, that Solon himself had a preference for boys.BOOK, Marilyn Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture (Ancient Cultures), 2nd edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 978-1-4443-4986-3, 139, 2013, According to some ancient authors Solon had taken the future tyrant Peisistratos as his eromenos. Aristotle, writing around 330 BC, attempted to refute that belief, claiming that "those are manifestly talking nonsense who pretend that Solon was the lover of Peisistratos, for their ages do not admit of it," as Solon was about thirty years older than Peisistratos.Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, 2.17 Nevertheless, the tradition persisted. Four centuries later Plutarch ignored Aristotle's skepticismHomosexuality & Civilization By Louis Crompton, p. 25 and recorded the following anecdote, supplemented with his own conjectures:And they say Solon loved [Peisistratos]; and that is the reason, I suppose, that when afterwards they differed about the government, their enmity never produced any hot and violent passion, they remembered their old kindnesses, and retained "Still in its embers living the strong fire" of their love and dear affection.Plutarch, The Lives "Solon" Tr. John Dryden s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon]]A century after Plutarch, Aelian also said that Peisistratos had been Solon's eromenos. Despite its persistence, however, it is not known whether the account is historical or fabricated. It has been suggested that the tradition presenting a peaceful and happy coexistence between Solon and Peisistratos was cultivated during the latter's dominion, in order to legitimize his own rule, as well as that of his sons. Whatever its source, later generations lent credence to the narrative.Solon and Early Greek Poetry By Elizabeth Irwin p. 272 n. 24 Solon's presumed pederastic desire was thought in antiquity to have found expression also in his poetry, which is today represented only in a few surviving fragments.Ancient Greece By Matthew Dillon, Lynda Garland, p. 475Nick Fisher, Against Timarchos, Oxford University Press 2001, p. 37 The authenticity of all the poetic fragments attributed to Solon is however uncertain – in particular, pederastic aphorisms ascribed by some ancient sources to Solon have been ascribed by other sources to Theognis instead.

See also




  • A. Andrews, Greek Society, Penguin, 1967
  • J. Blok and A. Lardinois (eds), Solon of Athens: New Historical and Philological Approaches, Leiden, Brill, 2006
  • Buckley, T. Aspects of Greek History. London: Routledge, 1996.
  • Cary, Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. III, Cambridge Uni. Press, 1925
  • Connor, The New Politicians of Fifth-Century Athens, Princeton, 1971
  • W. Connor et al. Aspects of Athenian Democracy, Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanam P., 1990
  • R. Develin, Historia, Vol. 26, 1977
  • Dillon, M and L Garland. Ancient Greece: Social and Historical Documents from Archaic Times to the Death of Alexander the Great. London: Routledge, 2010.
  • V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge, 1973
  • J. Ellis and G. Stanton, Phoenix, Vol. 22, 1968, 95–99
  • W.R. Everdell, The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
  • G. Forrest, 'Greece: The History of the Archaic Period', in The Oxford History of the Classical World, ed. Boardman J., Griffin J. and Murray O., Oxford University Press, New York, 1995
  • Frost, 'Tribal Politics and the Civic State', AJAH, 1976
  • P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in Graeco-Roman World, Cambridge Uni. Press, 1988
  • J. Goldstein, Historia, Vol. 21, 1972
  • M. Grant, The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988
  • E. Harris, 'A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia', in The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece, eds. L. Mitchell and P. Rhodes, Routledge, 1997
  • C. Hignett, A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C., Oxford University Press, 1952
  • K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents, Uni. California Press, 2003
  • H. Innis, Empire and Communications, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007
  • G. Kirk, Historia, Vol. 26, 1977
  • D. Lewis, 'Cleisthenes and Attica', Historia, 12, 1963
  • M. Miller, Arethusa, Vol. 4, 1971
  • I. Morris, The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC, Stanford, 2005
  • C. Mosse, 'Comment s'elabore un mythe politique: Solon', Annales, ESC XXXIV, 1979
  • M. Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of the Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth-Century Athens, Berkeley, 1986
  • P. Rhodes, A History of the Greek City States, Berkeley, 1976
  • P. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenian Politeia, Oxford University Press, 1981
  • K. Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Oxford University Press, 1994
  • B. Sealey, 'Regionalism in Archaic Athens', Historia, 9, 1960
  • G. R. Stanton, Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, London, Routledge, 1990
  • M. L. West (ed.), Iambi et elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati2: Callinus. Mimnermus. Semonides. Solon. Tyrtaeus. Minora adespota, Oxford University Press: Clarendon Press, 1972, revised edition, 1992
  • W. Woodhouse, 'Solon the Liberator: A Study of the Agrarian Problem', in Attika in the Seventh Century, Oxford University Press, 1938

Collections of Solon's surviving verses

  • Martin Litchfield West, Iambi et elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati2 : Callinus. Mimnermus. Semonides. Solon. Tyrtaeus. Minora adespota,, Oxonii: e typographeo Clarendoniano 1972, revised edition 1992 x + 246 pp.
  • T. Hudaon-Williams, Early Greek Elegy: Ekegiac Fragments of Callinus, Archilochus, Mimmermus, Tyrtaeus, Solon, Xenophanes, and Others, Taylor and Francis (1926), {{ISBN|0-8240-7773-3}}.
  • H. Miltner Fragmente / Solon, Vienna (1955)
  • Christoph Mülke, Solons politische Elegien und Iamben : (Fr. 1–13, 32–37 West), Munich (2002), {{ISBN|3-598-77726-4}}.
  • Noussia-Fantuzzi, Maria, Solon the Athenian, the Poetic Fragments. Brill (2010).
  • Eberhard Preime, Dichtungen : Sämtliche Fragmente / Solon Munich (1940).
  • Eberhard Ruschenbusch Nomoi : Die Fragmente d. Solon. Gesetzeswerkes, Wiesbaden : F. Steiner (1966).
  • Kathleen Freeman, The Work and Life of Solon, with a translation of his poems, Cardiff, University of Wales Press Board 1926. {{OCLC|756460254}}

Further reading

  • Hall, Jonathan. 2013. "The Rise of State Action in the Archaic Age." In A Companion to Ancient Greek Government. Edited by Hans Beck, 9–21. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Lewis, John. 2006. Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens. London: Duckworth.
  • Owens, Ron. 2010. Solon of Athens: Poet, Philosopher, Soldier, Statesman. Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic.
  • Schubert, Charlotte. 2012. Solon. Tübingen, Germany: Francke.
  • Wallace, Robert W. 2009. "Charismatic Leaders." In A Companion to Archaic Greece. Edited by Kurt Raaflaub and Hans van Wees, 411–426. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

External links

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