CLCV 205: Introduction to Ancient Greek History

Lecture 11

 - The Rise of Athens (cont.)


In this lecture, Professor Kagan traces the development of Athens. He argues that Athens, like other poleis, undergoes political and social turmoil due to the rise of the hoplite farmer. This unrest is first seen in the attempted coup d’état of Cylon and the Law of Draco. Professor Kagan also points out that in response to these developments, Solon was made sole archon of Athens to establish peace in a time of unrest. It should also be noted that Solon established laws that were moderate in nature. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Solon was only partially successful. Eventually, a tyranny is established in Athens by Peisistratus, but Peisistratus, according to Professor Kagan, was a special type of tyrant, one that not only upheld the new laws of Solon, but was also interested in the welfare of Athens.

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Introduction to Ancient Greek History

CLCV 205 - Lecture 11 - The Rise of Athens (cont.)

Chapter 1. The Code of Draco; Athenian Colonies [00:00:00]

Professor Donald Kagan: I think the last thing I mentioned to you was the attempted coup d’état on the part of a nobleman by the name of Cylon, who was attempting to establish a tyranny of the sort that was becoming common in the neighborhood, and that he was the son-in-law of a tyrant in next-door Megara. The coup failed, but the problems that we imagine produced the coup did not go away, and once these evidence of continuing pressure for change away from the traditional aristocratic republic, which the early polis was, towards something that would challenge the unquestioned traditional rule of the aristocracy. Again, these are all traditional dates and shouldn’t be taken too seriously as precise, but probably reflect a pretty decent chronology in a general way. So, in the traditional year of 621 we hear that Athens received its first written law code, famous as the Code of Draco or in Greek it would be Dracon.

Reports that we have of it indicate that one kind of law that was included in the code was concerning homicide, which has a special place in Greek thinking. Probably it’s true of most primitive societies that homicide involves religious ideas. The Greeks believed that the killing of men was accepted in wartime, was a religious pollution that had to be taken care of one way or another. Beyond that there was also the primitive thing that was not particularly religious, but reflected primitive thinking that all homicides need to be avenged, and so the blood feud was clearly part of the way to deal with homicide in early Greek history. As is true of most early societies there comes a time that no longer will do, that there’s a sufficient civilization, urbanization, whatever it is that made the change, that people feel this has got to stop. One reason it does is, of course, because it tears the community apart, and as you are in the business of building a community, which is what’s happening here in the polis, you can’t have that going on.

One reason it is the way to settle things is, because there isn’t any proper government. There are only these noblemen. There is a council to be sure, but it’s all a question of going to somebody, who has power and has respect, and getting a judgment from them. But as time passes, that’s not good enough, and as the community becomes something that is more and more unified, there is a search for a better outcome and that is what resulted in the Code of Draco. Just the fact that there is written code, so that it is now available to anybody who read, which is not to say lots of people, but even so people who can read can now tell it to other people. That very fact is the sign of the decline of the power of the aristocracy, because they alone used to know what the law was or claim to know it, and people would go to them and say what’s the law, and they could administer it as they saw fit, which gave them extraordinary power, not to say prestige. Now, when it is possible, at least in some realms of the law, to know what that law is that has reduced the special place that the aristocrats have in society.

Stories are told about the Code of Draco; like most early law codes, and we can compare the Draconic Code with a famous or less famous ones, much older, that we find especially in Mesopotamia in the Ancient Near East. The most famous of these because it has been inscribed on a remarkable piece of sculpture which is now in the Louvre in Paris, the Code of Hammurabi from the second millennium B.C., is really quite similar in its essence. It says, if so and so does such a thing, this is what the punishment is. From our point of view, early codes like Draco are notorious for how harsh they are. The Greeks later on said that the Code of Draco was written not in ink, but in blood. In fact, what it does is to codify what had been the ordinary practice.

Nobody was inventing laws; they were writing down what had been the customary procedures. And again, a characteristic for such developments is that over time when people know how harsh these things are and as society sort of calms down from the more wild condition that it was in at an earlier time, it tends to reduce the severity of the penalties and to legislate, however the legislation goes forward, in a more gentle way. So, that’s another development which is obviously the consequence — aristocrats don’t give up their power willingly out of the goodness of their hearts. There’s pressure out there for access to the legal process for the ordinary person, and again I think, it’s easy to believe that a lot of that pressure is coming from that hoplite farmer class that is becoming more important and more demanding all the time.

Another change in the old placid life of the early Athenian republic, as we imagine it to be, is the conquest by the Athenians of the Island of Salamis that lies in the Saronic Gulf to the west of Attica between Attica and Megara. Athens and Megara will contest the control of Salamis for some time and fight each other over it, and on this occasion sometime here in the seventh century, probably towards the end of the seventh century, Athens conquers Salamis and populates it with Athenians. It’s not really a colony in the sense that these apoichia I described for you are; it simply becomes part of Attica, as do all the subdivisions in Attica. But it’s the first occasion that we see of the physical expansion of the Athenianpolis which is indicative of the kind of stuff we’ve been talking about elsewhere as well, and yet another sign takes place about the same time, end of the seventh, very early in the sixth century.

The establishment of the first overseas colony by the Athenians at a place called Sigeum across the Aegean Sea, just at the entrance to the Dardanelles, the Hellespont and that is not an accident, I think, because that root, through the Hellespont, through the Sea of Marmara, through the Bosphorus and into the Black Sea, will, as Athens develops economically, become the most critical trade route for Athens indeed. After a while when Athens has developed a mixed economy and as population grows it becomes dependent on that route for supplying it with the grain that it needs as the staple of life for its people. So, this is the first little step towards a very important development for Athens in the future.

I guess the reasons for it, late and less pressing than in the other places, but they must be the same to some considerable degree. Hunger for land which means that there is a growing population, that needs additional land and also because of the location of it, it’s inescapable I think that they were also thinking that early of commercial considerations and it turns out that there were very great commercial opportunities in that direction.

Chapter 2. Crises and the Rise of Athens and Solon as Sole Archon [00:09:13]

So, we’ve seen a number of signs of change moving Athens in the direction that the other Greek states were moving, which bring us in the early sixth century to the first, I think I’ve said this before but I want to say it again, to the first truly living, human being that we come across probably in all of Greek history, certainly in that of Athens, Solon, whom we think of as the great lawgiver for reasons that you’ve read about and I’ll tell you about in a moment anyway.

The reason he is so much — we can speak of him as a human being is because he wrote those poems from which I read you some excerpts the other day and that poem tells us something about him and about the world in which lived. And, of course, we have many, many stories about him, because he was very well remembered as a critical individual in the history, not only of Athens, but in Greece. The Greeks later put together a list of the seven sages, seven wise men of the archaic period in Greek history and Solon is one of the seven sages. Indeed, one of the problems about knowing the truth about what Solon did is that it’s pretty clear that lots of stories that had nothing to do with Solon were attached to Solon in later ages, because he was the prominent figure that everybody had heard about and knew something about, and so it isn’t easy to know, if somebody says Solon did this or Solon said that, whether he really did. We can only try to sort of figure it out as best we can, but that’s a special problem we have about him.

Now, what becomes apparent, as soon as we examine the things that brought Solon to the fore, is that Athens is clearly suffering a very serious internal problem as we get to these years. By the way, the traditional date for Solon’s appointment as sole archon in these years is 594 B.C. Again, we don’t have to take that literally but it tells you we’re really talking about the very beginning of the sixth century. Here’s the picture as it is depicted by Solon himself in his poems, but also in the work of Herodotus and other later writers. The crisis in its most acute form takes the shape of Athenians who have been enslaved. Some of them have not only been enslaved and live in Attica as slaves, but some of them have been sold abroad, and Solon tells us that some of them have been abroad so long they have forgotten the Athenian language. So that we have to have a picture in which this problem is one of some duration. We have to imagine it’s at least a couple of generations old in order for that to make any sense. But it reaches its peak around the time I’m talking about. And it’s this that — how did they get to be slaves?

This is not a case where people have always been slaves. These are not people who were brought from somewhere else as slaves. These are not people who were conquered and made slaves by the conquerors. These are Athenian citizens who used to be free and have become slaves, and the answer to how they became slaves is through debt. People were borrowing money and obviously failing to pay it back, and at a certain point they couldn’t borrow money on the basis of something they could offer as a surety for the loan. If they had land, it would have been gone by now. If they had movable products or movable possessions that would have been gone. All they had left to give was the person and probably, I hate to tell you this my friends, but reality is reality, probably the first thing they did was to give their children as a surety for the loan and when the loan was not met, the children became slaves of the person who had leant them money and at some point, probably this even happened to grownups themselves, so that a sufficient number of people had been so enslaved as to create a very general problem.

The story is that apart from direct slavery, there was another form of farming by very poor people that led to terrific misery. The term that the Greeks used for this was the hektemoroi, which means one sixth men, and scholars have argued about what does this mean. These were people who had been so far into debt that they were essentially sharecroppers and the question is did they keep one sixth or did they keep five sixth? I think anybody who knows anything about what’s possible on a farm like this realizes it couldn’t have been more than one sixth that they gave away, because they didn’t make enough. They wouldn’t have been able to stay alive. But in any case, these one sixth men were fundamentally sharecroppers under the control of the people to whom they owed the debt.

Another aspect of this thing was that the lands that were mortgaged in effect were shown by a stone that had the mortgage inscribed on it and placed on the soil. They were called horoi and so seeing the horoi scattered all over the fields were indicative of the pitiful lot of the poor farmers, who had fallen into debt during this period. Well, scholars have also had a fantastic time trying to figure out how this came about, and I never found anything that seems satisfactory to me, based on looking at the sources or reading people’s interpretations until once again my hero, Victor Hanson, came down the road and he’s a farmer. It’s amazing how much that helps them understand farmers and I like his interpretation of how things got that way, so let me give you a quick rundown of how that worked.

Remember these times are times fundamentally of growth of farming skill, growth of farming return. People are making a living on areas, farmland that they could never have made a living on before, because they’ve learned how to grow the olives and grow vines and make olive oil and make wine, and they have reclaimed land, which had not been useful for farming in the past and that’s how they got into trouble, because for one thing farmers don’t all succeed. In any society, there are farmers who try to be good farmers and fail and they fail sometimes through their own shortcoming, and they fail sometimes because nature is not kind to them; luck is always part of the game in farming. But what happens is that they get into trouble because things don’t go well.

They start out; they have a crop, and the crop doesn’t do well. So, they need money for next year, both to make it through the winter and also to have seed for the following year. So, what they do is they have to borrow that money, and if the next crop is bad too, well there you go, and you can see the whole process unraveling. I think that’s probably the way it came about. According to Hanson, the majority of the farmers were not so affected. They were doing okay. It was the losers who were the ones who were suffering these things, but there were enough losers, so that this was a very serious problem. Now, this rejects other earlier theories, for instance, that the soil of Attica had become exhausted through over cropping and so on. If Hanson is right, this is less likely to be true than it used to be because there’s more diversity, diversification of farming than there had been in the past.

Another theory is that a cause of the problem was deforestation. Well, it’s perfectly true that Athens was severely deforested in the course of the centuries, so that Plato could comment on how this deforesting had denuded Athens of trees by the fourth century, but there’s no reason to think that that was happening, especially during the time of Solon. Very probably that deforestation hadn’t gone that far, and in any case its connection to problems of the farmland are less clear than they might be. Here’s what Hanson finally concludes about it. He says the crisis was a natural, evolutionary process of success and failure. A subtle transformation that occurs when there are fundamental changes in land use and a growing population and that seems to me to be the most satisfactory account of how the Athenians got into that fix.

But in that fix they were, there’s no question about it, so the question was, what is to be done? Now, the pressure to do something about it, I think is twofold. Of course, inherently, Athenians would have been bothered by all of this, even those who were not the ones who did the suffering. But it’s amazing how we all are able to bear the suffering of our neighbor, if we’re not suffering too. However, the second element I think that put pressure on everybody, was next door in Megara when things had gone bad for the poor, there was a revolution and a tyranny was established, and so it was down the road in Corinth, and so it was a little further down the road in Scythian, so that the dominant people, the satisfied people, the people who liked things as they were, were worried that, if they didn’t solve their socio-economic problem they would find themselves confronting a tyranny. After all, that’s what Cylon had in mind back thirty, thirty-five years ago and the danger was ever present, and I think that is what you need to have in your mind.

Chapter 3. Choosing Solon [00:20:25]

The threat of tyranny was the great element that made chances or attempts at reform necessary and allowed the Athenians to give things a try that they would never have thought of before. So, what they finally decided to do was to select from among themselves, one Athenian who would replace all the nine archons of the usual government of Athens and be given the job of sole archon for one year, and he would be allowed to legislate for the Athenians as a way out of the trouble they were in. Now, think of how desperate things must be, and one aspect of that desperation I think we have to believe, is that there was no way they could have put together a coalition of citizens who would been sufficiently unified, sufficiently public-spirited to trust with such an activity.

We have to believe there was sufficient differences of interest on the part of different elements in the society that would have made that impossible, otherwise you don’t do this kind of thing. It is worth pointing out that something like Solon’s sole archonship is heard of about the same time in Greek history in other towns. Sometimes they appointed somebody they called an Aesymnetes, somebody who was supposed to be the guy who settled things for them. So, it’s an idea that came obviously naturally to the Greeks, but we ought to recognize what an extraordinary thing it really is. They chose Solon. Why did they choose Solon? He obviously was reputed to have the kinds of characteristics which would make him a competent, intelligent, wise, fair person to do this kind of thing. He had achieved fame, notoriety by his military activity. He had led in the war against the Megarians and had fought very well and it was out of that military achievement that he became well known, and then his other characteristics obviously were also well known.

If you read his poems, you realize he was a man who knew how to express himself and to persuade others of what he had in mind and that his approach was one that was popular. We should keep in mind what’s going on here. First of all, we are told he was a man — we have contradictory stories and I think I can understand how the contradiction arose. One story says he was a nobleman coming from extremely famous important ancestors. The other speaks of him as a man of the middle rank, which doesn’t really work out with that. I think the best explanation I can come up with that, is that he undoubtedly was a person of noble birth. In that kind of society, only such a person was likely to be looked to for a position of leadership. But I think what may have persuaded folks — well, he also couldn’t have been fabulously wealthy, but certainly he was not a poor man. But I think what convinced people that he was of the middle rank was that his message and the propaganda that he sent out in his poems, and indeed, the character of the reforms that he proposed were very much moderate.

That’s the word that came to be the one so much admired, and favored, and sought by the Greek people. Keep in mind this is the period in Greek history when the Delphic Oracle has come to the height of its influence in the Greek world and in the surrounding world as well. The Oracle of Apollo at Delphi was the most famous place that was putting forward the idea of moderation. The Greek word is sophrosyne, self control and moderation. You remember the messages at the Delphic Oracle, “know thyself,” meaning don’t imagine that you are more than a man, but that you are merely a man and don’t do anything in excess. Moderation is what should be sought. Greeks never stopped worshipping at the shrine of moderation for the rest of their history. A cynical man says the Greeks were so in love with moderation, because it was so rare among them, but I think it’s rare among all of us. So, here was Solon who was the spokesman of that very powerful mode of thinking that was pervading the Greek world at the time, and no doubt he gave it a great step forward with the things that he did and the things that he said.

Chapter 4. Solon’s Economic and Social Measures [00:25:49]

Okay, let’s look at a few of the things that he did. I’m picking out things that I’m pretty sure really were Solonian; there were others that are attributed to him that are more debatable. But the most basic problem is what are we going to do with these people who are losing their property, have lost their property, have lost their freedom, what’s to be done about that agricultural problem we’ve been talking about? So, Solon introduced the measure which is called in Greek, theseisachtheia. Fortunately, you have it on your computers and you’ve all copied it down and taken it to class. So, you can study these things, right? That measure abolished all debts that were based on the body of the person, that is, the surety given was the body of the borrower. Any debt that was so incurred was abolished, cancelled.

On the other hand, there was no general cancellation of debts. In other words, any normal debt that didn’t have that characteristic continued. Another thing that the poor and the unhappy would have liked, they would have liked general cancellation of the debt. I should point out, whenever you have lower class discontent in the Greek world there are two things that they typically asked for. One is abolition of debt, because they’re always in debt and the second thing is redistribution of the land. Now, redistribution of the land means civil war. Nobody is going to allow his land to be taken away from him and given to somebody else without a fight, and so if you go for that, what you’re going to have to do is to have armed force to achieve it. And you’re going to end up with a tyranny, because that’s the kind of things tyrants are more likely to do.

So, he avoided that and he did not permit redistribution of the land. If you just look at that land question for a moment, and the dead bondage question, you can see that it is indeed the moderate position in between the view of those, the poor, the slave, the indebted who wanted these radical changes, and the old aristocracy would have preferred to just leave things as they were. Instead, Solon came through with this middling program, and by the way apparently there was — we don’t know how this was done, but apparently they brought back Athenians who had been enslaved abroad also. So, there must have been some expenditure of funds; somehow they must have collected it from somebody and brought them back, but the most important thing is what’s done right there in Attica. What all of this does is to settle down the situation for the moment, but it does not guarantee that these very same problems that produced the difficulty we’re talking about would not reappear in the future.

I think if we looked at this measure, it’s already a clue to most everything that’s characteristic of the Solonian reforms. They are moderate, and therefore, unsatisfactory. That is, they don’t solve the problems that are there, but that doesn’t mean they are not worth anything. For one thing they ameliorate the problem and therefore they ameliorate the discontent and the danger to the freedom of the Athenians, but they also sometimes set the stage for the elimination of the problem over time, because ways are found, obviously, for people to manage these things. If the possibility of debt slavery is taken away, other forms of managing these things will assert themselves. Indeed, what we find, and I must say what I’m going to tell you doesn’t solve the mystery, but what we find as you get to the fifth century, the Classical Period in Athens, is an extraordinary situation, because it’s so good and so unusual. This is that most Athenian farmers in the fifth century seemed to have small, but adequate family farms that allow many, many, many Athenians to live in a very satisfactory way, given the expectations that they had.

It never abolished great bit land holding arrangements that some people had. There always were, through Athenian history no matter how thoroughly democratic a state became, there always were great difference of wealth between very wealthy people and very poor people. But what is extraordinary and what would have been very satisfactory to the Greek political thinkers, even Aristotle, for instance, in the fourth century, there was a great middle ground in which the people were pretty much like each other in their economic condition, which produces the greatest stability, the greatest satisfaction, the greatest capacity for self government. So, that was one of the consequences, although it didn’t happen as any direct action by Solon.

We are also told by Aristotle and other ancient sources that Solon changed the coin standard for Athens from one that was used in the west in the Peloponnesus and in the west, to one that was used in the east. He changed the weight from the Pheidonian measures, Pheidonian coin standard, to the Euboic standard, which people try to understand why and how that would work. It would have made trade with Aegean and the east better, and of course we know that that’s the area that the Athenians are exploiting vigorously now. Although we must recognize that when the Athenians get rolling in the trade business, they do tremendously well in the west as well. But there’s a bigger problem with the story about these coins than any other. As you know from what I told you before, the almost universal opinion of coin experts is, how could he change the coin standards? There weren’t any coins yet. Now, you’re either going to believe them or you’re going to believe Aristotle; you know where I am.

Okay, in other steps that turned out to be very important in the long run, he encouraged the use of the land for the purpose of producing cash crops like olive oil and wine, and the Athenians do use more and more of their soil, largely because there’s more and more of their soil that can grow that and nothing else. But as they do, the consequence is to make the agricultural output of Athens much more diversified than it had been, which saves you — the more diverse your crops, the less chance you have to be wiped out in any one year by bad results, and as a matter of fact, over time it became a very satisfactory device and helps explain again the health of Athenian agriculture when we see it in the fifth century and later.

Another thing that he did — I’m going to talk about citizenship for a moment; the Greek poleis were very jealous of their citizenship. Their theory of the polis was that all citizens were the descendants of the original founders of the city. In other words, everybody in Athens was a relative of some kind. Of course it wasn’t true; certainly in Athens we know there were many immigrants and so on. But the fact remains that that was the normal thinking about it, and the notion of this — the power, the centrality of the concept of polis to them is something we need to understand, and they were jealous of it and selfish with it. This was not something they would simply allow people to acquire, if they wanted it. This place is us and it’s not them and we don’t make people citizens, and that was essentially the thing. To be a citizen of Athens in those days, you had to have a father who was a citizen of Athens; nothing else would do the trick.

But Solon changed that; Solon offered citizenship to individuals who came to Athens to settle and could show that they had a valuable skill, a valuable craft and the results were that Athens would become in the decades following Solon, a great center for the manufacturing of a variety of things; pottery is what we have, and great painted pottery is a great part of the Athenian tradition, but sculpture also and all kinds of things that we probably don’t have, because they would have been destroyed by time. But the idea was, if you were a skilled craftsman, you could come to Athens and you would not have to be what you would otherwise be. Anybody who came to Athens, not under these rules could stay, could make themselves a permanent resident, but he would always be what the Greeks called a metoikois, we say in English a metic, meaning a resident alien, never to be a citizen.

Only citizens were permitted to own land in Attica. Only citizens had access to the Athenian courts; a non-citizen who had to go to court for one reason or another would have to find a citizen to be his spokesman. So, you really were cut off from some very — of course a non-citizen could not participate in the political life of Athens either. But these people were not going to be metics, because of the economic skills that they brought. Solon arranged for them to become Athenian citizens, very rare thing. We will have a couple of other occasions in this course and take a look in a moment when foreigners were permitted to come to Athens and become citizens, but they’re very rare and there was always something very special connected with them, and there will always be some Athenians who will raise at least one eyebrow at the idea of making a foreigner a citizen of Athens. But it turned out to be one of those things that Solon instituted that would have long range consequences, helpful to the Athenian state.

Chapter 5. Solon’s Political Measures [00:37:21]

Well, so much for the economic and social issues, let’s turn to the constitutional questions, because of course — but when you’re talking about an independent republic then the political and constitutional arrangements are obviously critical to everybody. I guess it’s true in any society, but it’s blatant in a republic. So, Solon changed the Athenian constitution. Up to this moment the Athenian constitution came to be what it was in the way that these things happen in nature, namely, through tradition; they just kind of grow. Nobody legislates. But Solon was appointed to legislate and he was going to attempt to deal with the problems that he saw.

So, what he did first of all was to arrange Athenian political society on a new basis. This is as very large matter. Up to now, where you were in the state, whether you could serve on the council, whether you could be a magistrate, depended upon your birth. Aristocrats alone could hold these positions. Now that was swept away by Solon’s new system. He changed it so that the determination of who was eligible to serve in these councils and offices was based on the wealth that they had. Just to show you — and this is an argument against the coinage being present in that he did not fix the rating of citizens for these jobs in money. He rated them in measures of agricultural produce, whether dry produce or liquid produce, equally available. These measures of produce were called medimnoi measures. So here’s how he worked it out.

At the top of the scale there were five — you had to have each year products produced by your land which were worth 500 medimnoi at least. So, the people who held that position, that condition were described as — get ready this is a jawbreaker, pentakosiomedimnoi, which just means 500 measurement. That is obviously a new term, a new concept, didn’t exist before Solon. It makes no sense so Solon had to invent that to take care of a certain class of people that he wanted. But the next class down was probably, almost certainly, used for a condition that was already recognized, but didn’t have a formal place in the constitution. People with 300 measures a year, but not 500, were called hippeismeaning cavalrymen. I used that term in another place before. Then people with 200 measures but not 300 werezeugitai, yoke fellows you remember, yoke men. Then those below 200 were thetes and they were the lowest class in the Athenian society invented by Solon, again, that was an old term. The only one that he invented was thepentakosiomedimnoi.

Of course, the critical thing about it — whatever else I say about it, this is the important thing; it broke the monopoly of aristocrats by birth in the political realm. The first two classes, pentakosiomedimnoi and hippeis, could hold the archonships and only they. Now, the zeugitai, as I think I mentioned to you before, were essentially the hoplite class. That meant they could not hold the top jobs in the state. On the other hand, he established a council of four hundred. The word for council in Greek is boule. So, this boule of four hundred, zeugitai could serve on that and we never will really know what the powers of that council were, because it doesn’t seem — well, as we shall see, Solon’s constitution was never really put into effect in all its respects, although this business about the measures was put into effect. But I think we can guess by analogy to other councils that it would have considerable power, that it would have decided many things. It would not have been an empty honor to be on the council of 400, nor were the thetes excluded from political power entirely.

They, of course, made up a part of the assembly; the Greek word is ekklesia and there was certainly an ekklesia before Solon. You always, in any state that we know of in the Greek world, if you want to go to war you must go to the army. Now, the thetes didn’t fight as hoplites, but they could fight as light armed troops. So, I’m sure they were consulted, although it was pretty much a formality. Nonetheless, that’s not new, but what is new and extremely important, is that Solon invents a new kind of court. It is called in Greek the heliaia, and what it is, is a court of appeal. All this time before, every magistrate, as I believe I mentioned, had a court of his own that dealt with matters that were appropriate to his court and that was the end of it. I suppose, theoretically and probably in reality sometimes, if somebody didn’t like what a magistrate decided in a court he could do to the Areopagus and in very rare occasions, I would imagine, the Areopagus could do something about it, but I think what we have to assume is that a decision by the magistrates court was it and the game was over.

Heliaia, on the other hand, was a court of appeals; that’s critical. Anybody who didn’t like the decision that he got in a magistrates court could take it to a heliaia and then have that decision overturned, if the court so decided, and that court was a truly popular court. It was open to all adult male Athenian citizens, even the thetes. That is something very new. Really quite radical, the most radical element surely in this very moderate program that Solon puts forward. Notice, he still gives the aristocracy privileges that nobody else has in the right to hold — I say aristocracy but I mean the richest people in the state, in that they alone could hold the archonship, which would have been troubling to the poor. But then he gives this new founded court of appeals to the poorest Athenian citizens, which would certainly have ranked the rich and that’s characteristic of what he is up to.

This court — here’s the way it worked. Every year Athenians could volunteer to be enrolled in the panel that would produce the courts of the heliaia, and a number of Athenians on this panel was six thousand, and then on any occasion when there had to be an actual court case, then the members, people on the enrolled list — there would be some way of picking the numbers you needed for the jury. We know how it worked in the Classical Period, but we can’t be sure it worked the same way in Solon’s time. But in the Classical Period, the very complicated way of choosing jurors, which was allotment, but such a wonderfully complicated allotment device, that it guaranteed that nobody would know who was going to sit on a particular jury until they walked into the room and began to hear the case and that was to avoid corruption of a jury.

So, whether that system was in play or not, and I don’t think it was in the detail in Solon’s time, the idea should be clear. These things are really going to be unfixable and ordinary Athenians are going to be the ones who are making the decisions. Later, theoreticians of politics of democracy would fix on that as the single most important step towards the democracy that the Athenians would ultimately reach, but by no means would Solon’s constitution, if it had been put into effect, have amounted to a thorough going democracy. Yet, the tradition always was there that Solon had done something democratic, because as you go into the fourth century, people looking back without any real good knowledge of what went on back in those days, some of them listed Solon as the founder of democracy. But it’s also true that the general understanding was not wrong about this, because there was the same tradition at the same time, that it wasn’t the same kind of democracy we have now in the fifth century. It was less democratic; and I think those traditions were correct but moderation again is the example of what I’m talking about.

Chapter 6. Dissatisfaction and Years of Anarchy [00:47:22]

Well, brilliant, marvelous Solon was so clever he realized that when you’re moderate, the wonderful achievement of a moderate person is that everybody is dissatisfied, because the guys on that end are unhappy and the guys that are on that end are unhappy, and so he knew that there would immediately be efforts to overthrow what he had done. So, one of his stipulations was that the Athenians would have to leave his laws unchanged for ten years, and he also knew that his own life would be extremely uncomfortable hanging around Athens while everybody came and said, what the hell did you do Solon? So, he left town and went on his travels for ten years after that. Well, it saved him a lot of grief, but it didn’t save his legislation, because there was tremendous strife in Athens after the year of Solon’s archonship, indeed, something resembling chaos I think.

They were technically years of anarchy; that is to say, there was so much dispute and conflict in Athens that they were unable to elect the nine archons, just years with no archons, no name for the year, that was how serious the conflict was. What emerges in our records about what was happening is that localism, regionalism was very powerful in Attica and it was regionalism that was a large part of the problem in this period. Important figures in the aristocracy from different parts of Attica, each sought to make himself the dominant force in Athenian society, and to bring about changes that were satisfactory to them, but they ran into the fact that they had competition. To make it more complicated, it wasn’t even a nice one against one thing. There were three factions that were identified by the Greeks, by the Athenians and they all struggled one against the other.

Let’s start with the regional character of these places. One such region was called, the people in that faction — let me back up. The region was called peralia and the people who were in the faction were called peralioi. Modern scholars identify the peralia with the southern tip of Attica, starting some distance up from Sunium on the west coast carrying a little bit around to the east coast, and that was a region that was dominated by that family I mentioned to your earlier, the family that was held responsible for the killing of the supporters of Cylon, that family were the Alcmaeonidae and their leading figure, at the moment we’re talking about, was a man called Megacles, who was one of the competitors for the leading position in Attica. According to the ancient writers of the fourth century, very hard to know how much they really knew about it, it’s a matter of speculation, but anyway what they say is these people wanted a middling moderate constitution. They were probably very close to trying to retain the Solonian legislation.

Another faction were called the pediakoi and they represented the middling part of Attica, which is in fact, the very best land in Attica where grain and wheat especially, were growable and the richest people had their land. Their leader was a man named Lycurgus and they represented the old aristocracy more than any other group, and would have undoubtedly if they had had their way, just undone the Solonian laws, and gone back to the old days. They favored some kind of oligarchic regime. Then the third group lived in the region called diakrioi and they were called diakrioi. Sometimes some of our sources say hyperakrioi; I’ll come back to that in just a moment. Well, I might as well tell you about it now. It is identified with the region on the east coast of Attica, which was called the Diakria, but why they might have been called hyperakrioi is that there was some mountains between central Attica and the Diakria, which meanthyperakrioi means beyond the mountains and that would have been a geographical description of the region.

Chapter 7. Peisistratus, the Very Special Tyrant [00:52:48]

The leader of this faction was a man called Peisistratus who was a nobleman, an aristocrat; all of them were, but his family had come from the Peloponnesus back in the years of the great migration, following the fall of the Mycenaean world and that shows you that the Athenians had brought into their bosoms at that time, and made full citizens all aristocrats and leading people, some people from outside of Attica. Now, it was hundreds of years later and Peisistratus arose as the leader of that place and of those people. Now, he’s going to be very important; we need to say a few more words about him. In the quarrel about what shall be done Peisistratus and his group were the most radical. They represented the views of the poorest people in Attica and pressed for solutions of the kind that they would like. He, himself, had arisen to power in the usual way. He had been a great soldier and had won great victories for the Athenians and was deeply honored for that reason, and we’ll hear more from him. Ancient writers speak of him as the most demotic, the most popular, the most democratic, if you will.

So, here are the three factions with their local places, with their policies presumably, and their different leaders all struggling for power and sufficiently equal in strength, so that nobody could come out on top. Out of this, and by the way, when Solon comes home and the situation is as unsatisfactory as I’ve described, Solon becomes particularly worried about Peisistratus whom he has spotted as potential tyrant, and he goes out and he warns the people against Peisistratus, but the fact of the matter is, he fails and his warnings and his predictions turn out to be accurate, as Peisistratus does bring about tyranny in Athens for the stretch of time that he and his sons will dominate the place.

He was engaged in that war against Megara and was the number one hero in that war. He was wounded and when he came back he said that he was in danger from his enemies who were going to try to kill him and he asked the people to supply him with a body guard. They did so, and he pretty quickly took the opportunity to use his body guard to seize the Acropolis and made himself boss of Athens. For a five-year stretch from about 561 to 556, he was able to rule Athens. We know very little about the details of that period, but he was a proper tyrant one way or another. Then the two factions that were defeated managed to get their heads together to plot and to overthrow the tyranny to drive Peisistratus out. So out, he goes. For a period of time he goes abroad, wanders around, meets with other important people, goes to see other tyrants, and becomes friendly with other tyrants. And he finds one way or another to make a lot of money, and to get very rich. This is important because he is able to use this money for hiring mercenary soldiers, which will play a large part in his restoration, but not the first restoration. That comes about, because the two factions that had gotten together to drive him out, had by now come to quarrel with one another, and so taking advantage of their dissent, he made a deal with one of the faction leaders.

It was our old friend Megacles, the Alcmaeonidae. He now united with Megacles, and the two of them drove out their opponents in the form of Lycurgus and his people, and Peisistratus was restored to the tyranny. What did Megacles get out of it? Well, he got guarantees that he would be a big shot and one part of the guarantee was that Peisistratus, who had had a wife and children already — I assume she died, the first wife — now married the daughter of Megacles. Time memorial, that’s the way to produce political associations; one guy marries the one’s daughter. So, there we are. Now, the story of how Peisistratus comes back to power in this second time is charming, and I think we have to believe it in its general outlines. Well, you can decide whether you want to or not. The story is told in a couple places, but Aristotle and his Athenian Constitution tells it in one way.

Peisistratus got a tall, beautiful girl, and he dressed her up to look like Athena and he put her on a chariot and had her drive through the Attica countryside and his boys running alongside her shouted, Athena is bringing back Peisistratus to Athens. Well, you’re not going to cross your patron deity are you? So, you can imagine them just sort of kowtowing and saying, hail Peisistratus, the favorite of Athena. Well, the fact that he had a lot of soldiers and that he had Megacles on his side undoubtedly played a large part in the success. But there he is back, and everything would have been all right I guess, except that after a while Peisistratus — let me back up a second. Peisistratus’ wife, the daughter of Megacles, began going home to her father and mother and telling them sad stories, which is that her husband was not performing his husbandly duties. Why was this? Was she particularly offensive?

No, there’s no such record as that. It’s clear enough that what was worrying Peisistratus was that he did not want to mess up the clarity of the succession of his sons to the tyranny. If he had children with Megacles, and they grew up, maybe they would contest the succession and so it was in his role as a loyal and devoted father that he got himself into all kinds of trouble. Well, Megacles felt the insult, the fact that his grandchildren would not be in charge, and finally, I have to believe, even in a Greek father, feeling that his daughter had been done wrong. So, he joined up with the opposition, kicked out Peisistratus one more time. In this second exile of Peisistratus, he goes to various places to raise all kinds of money, gets mercenaries, he is supported by — this will play a role in later events. He gets very friendly with the cavalrymen, the horsemen, the nobility of Eritrea, a town in the northern part of the Island of Euboea, just off the east coast of Attica.

By the way, remember Peisistratus comes from that area, the east coast of Attica, and regionalism will not disappear from Attica for some time, and that is significant. Anyway, he gets all kinds of help from overseas and his wealth and all that, and this time he’s just going to fight his way back. No tricks, no goddesses. He lands at Marathon which has the advantage to him of being very close to Euboea, where he’s been operating with his friends in Eritrea. It also has a nice flat place for cavalry and I’m sure he acquired cavalrymen among the mercenaries that he hired. All of that allows him to get his forces together, and sure enough, when he lands at Marathon, that’s his home territory and all his people come rallying round to him and now he has a good sized army of Athenians and mercenaries and he marches inland, and in the middle land of Attica, the place called Pellini, he meets his opponents and defeats them in battle, and makes himself the tyrant of Athens once again.

One of the things he does by a trick, very soon after coming to power, is to disarm the Athenian people, so that he is now ruling in a truly tyrannical way in that sense. There’s not much pretense at having achieved this position by the popular will. He’s done so by force and trickery, and he’s prepared to maintain his power in those ways. But in his actual government of Attica and Athens in the remainder of his life, tradition is pretty clear that he did not rule harshly. If we think of the word tyrannical as meaning harsh, he did not rule tyrannically. In fact, later writers describe the way he ruled Athens, and it’s this last period that they’re talking about I think, as one that was politicos, meaning moderately and in accordance with the way a polis should be run, which does not include tyranny.

In fact, some later writers picture the rule of Peisistratus as a golden age in Athens. We’ll come back to that perhaps. But there are two edges to this thing. There’s the notion, my God he established a tyranny which later on in Athens would be the worst thing in the world you could do and yet there’s this alongside it, this tradition of a decent government under Peisistratus. Well, let’s see what he did. One thing he did was not to repeal the laws of Solon. They may never have been put into full effect, because of the turmoil but no one had ever said they’re not the law anymore. In fact, Peisistratus let them be and, in fact, he allowed them to function as they should. In other words, I would think that there was a council of 400 that was elected every year and met. We know there were magistrates, there were archons elected in the appropriate way each year. The law courts even met in the way that they were supposed to, but what Peisistratus did was not to change the constitution, but to dominate it. I think you have to imagine that there is the rule of a boss.

He doesn’t change the laws; he just sees to it that all the appropriate bodies are controlled by his people. That, for an analogy, is the way the Medici governed in Florence and they made themselves the rulers of that republic. It is true; you can’t be just totally gentle. You have to take care of your enemies, because they’re going to be enemies out there. So, Peisistratus surely exiled some aristocratic families, the ones who wouldn’t cut a deal with him, the ones who wouldn’t play ball; out they went. We know that for some part of the time, but we don’t know just when. He exiled the Alcmaeonidaes. Of course, he had this quarrel with Megacles, so that was not a surprise and they could not readily be made complacent to what was going on, although we do have, and this is remarkable, we have an actual inscription which is blatantly a list of archons who held office in Athens after Peisistratus’ death, in the period when his sons ruled Athens.

One of the names as archon of the city was Cleisthenes, who was an Alcmaeonid, which means makes it perfectly clear that at least later in the day the Alcmaeonids came back into Attica. We have to imagine that Peisistratus ruled this thing with great savvy and there was always time come home, if you would be a good boy and do what Peisistratus told you to do, and I think that happened in many cases. One of the things he did that was very popular was to invent the institution of circuit judges. That is to say, it used to be that if you were an Athenian citizen and you wanted to go to law, originally of course you had no choice but to go to the local big shot and have this local aristocrat settle the matter, as had been the case in the days of Hesiod. But under Solon’s system, at the very least, you could go to the magistrate in Athens, if you wanted to, and you could even appeal to his decision if you wanted too, but here’s the problem, what if you lived in Sunium? You lived miles and miles, and miles away from this, what were the chances that you would in fact, or could go to the city to receive the justice that you needed.

So, by establishing circuit justice, brought courts that were objective, that were not dominated by the local barons, he was doing a real service to the ordinary Athenian citizen, and that was seen to be a good thing. But it was also, of course, in his interest. He doesn’t want local big shots being big shots. There’s only room in a tyranny for one big shot and that is the tyrant, and so he’s serving himself, breaking down local power, unifying the state into a single thing, which is good in all kinds of ways, but it’s also good for the tyrant.

Now, the next thing I’m going to say is supposition; we don’t have any ancient evidence for it, which is, of course, open to doubt. But I would argue that he must have confiscated some of the land of the aristocrats who opposed him and with whom he did not make a deal. I say that pretty much only for this reason. Before Peisistratus we have the story of great differences in land holding between very, very big landowners and very, very small landowners and those who own no land at all, producing the problem. Nothing Solon did directly affected that situation, but when we get into the fifth century, the evidence is overwhelming that we have what I spoke of earlier, lots and lots of medium, moderate family-sized farms, some big farms, but these are not what are characteristic of the place. Well, how did that happen? When did that happen? My guess is probably Peisistratus brought that about, and if so, it would have been still another reason why he had brought popularity, remarkable popularity. The ancient sources do tell us that among the things that he did was to spend money on farmers. That is, he would give money or lend money to farmers who needed it when they needed it, which was of course one of the issues constantly before the small farmers of Attica.

So, with the money they borrowed, they could buy more land, and make their farm more self-sustaining. They could pay off debts that they owed to other people, and they could do the things that these small farmers have to do to succeed, namely, buy the equipment they need: olive presses, wine presses, and mills. They could use their loans for planting fruit trees, olive trees. All of these things could have been part of the story of how Athenian agriculture came to be so successful after the time of the tyrants, as they had not been before. Now, there’s one negative thing that I’m sure nobody liked. Peisistratus instituted the first regular direct tax that we know of in Athenian history. A five percent tax on all that was produced from the land and that money went to Peisistratus, and it made him wealthy, but also provided him with the money he needed to be this good fellow that I have been describing.

So, it all assisted his political power and his popularity. Tyrants laid down taxes. Taxes are evidence of tyranny, and all that. That’s not totally the picture we get. Aristotle tells this story, one day Peisistratus was traveling around the countryside of Attica, as I guess he sometimes did, and he went up on the slopes of Mount Hymettus, not too far from the city of Athens. You can go up there today, the notion of anybody farming on that mountain is totally incredible, nothing you could possibly grow on Mount Hymettus, but it’s been deforested by that time. So anyway, it was still lousy. I mean, mountains are not great places for farms, you may have noticed. So anyway, he goes up to this farmer and he says, “Say farmer what do you grow on your farm?” The farmer, you have to imagine a gnarled old mean, nasty old guy saying, “On my farm I grow rocks and Peisistratus is welcome to his five percent.” Well, what did Peisistratus say, off with his head or send him on to the moon? He said, well, aren’t you a cute little fellow. I hereby declare your farm exempt from taxes forever, and it became a famous thing the tax free farm. It shows up in a Byzantine encyclopedia; that story is still being told. So, you got a very special kind of tyrant here. We’ll turn to the rest of his reign and that of his sons next time.

[end of transcript]

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