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Herodotus' Corner

This session's topic: Solon's Reforms & Athenian Democracy

Solon, the great law maker, made both political and economic reforms to the Athenian law code which were enacted in 594. His reforms were radical, but they fit the needs of the people at the time. The laws enacted by Solon were not popular, but many of them were kept or further adjusted later by the Athenians.

Among the most radical of the changes was abolishing all debts owed and making enslavement for debt illegal. This loosened the grip of the aristocracy on the common people, and made it easier for all males to become productive citizens in the society. Solon banned the export of Green maize and other crops to build a less foreign-dominated import-export system, and redid the money system to curb rapid inflation. He also encouraged craftsmen to move to Athens by allowing the children of those that stayed to be granted Athenian citizenship. He mandated that all free Athenians must teach their sons a trade, and that political readiness was based on wealth, not birth, enticing wealthy merchants to come to Athens.

Solon completely reworked the political system of Athens, taking out the tyrranus and replacing him with a town council composed of nine men called achrons. The citizens elected the achrons from a group of 40 candidates that were selected by lot. There was also a new council created called a boule, which was composed of 400 members elected from the top three property-owning classes. The boule was responsible for establishing the legislative agenda. Solon took away most of the powers of the ancient ruling group, the Aereopagus, allowing them to keep only their religious powers. Another assembly was the Ecclesia, and it was open to all male citizens over the age of 21. Attendance in the Ecclesia was mandatory, and those that did not go were jailed or worse. The Ecclesia coted on all topics and was the best example of Democracy that has ever existed. A law court was also set up, and was called Heliaia. The Heliaia was made up of men from all classes, and worked as a court of appeals. The officials presiding over the Heliaia were selected by lot, and were almost always from the highest level of society.

In the Athenian Democrary only citizens could vote, and only free, landowning males over the age of 21 whose fathers were citizens could be citizens in Athens. This group accounted for less that hald of the population of Athens. The Democracy in Athens was a democryacy in that all citizens could vote and have equal way, but since so few people were actually citizens, the democracy in Athens was not a true democracy, as popular opinion suggests. A true democracy has never ben seen, and probably never will, except with a very small group of people who all share the same reasoning and goals. The likelihood of that ever happening is slim to none, with mob rule (as the Athenians feared) being the more probably outcome.


Green, Peter. Ancient Greece: A Concise History. Thames and Hudson, Ltd: London, 1973.