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Democracy Then and Now

Rise of Democracy - Solon's Constitution

By N.S. Gill

Next, Solon, being willing to continue the magistracies in the hands of the rich men, and yet receive the people into the other part of the government, took an account of the citizens' estates, and those that were worth five hundred measures of fruits, dry and liquid, he placed in the first rank, calling them Pentacosiomedimni; those that could keep an horse, or were worth three hundred measures, were named Hippada Teluntes, and made the second class; the Zeugitae, that had two hundred measures, were in the third; And all the others were called Thetes, who were not admitted to any office, but could come to the assembly, and act as jurors; which at first seemed nothing, but afterwards was found an enormous privilege, as almost every matter of dispute came before them in this latter capacity.
- Plutarch Life of Solon
Solon faced the daunting task of improving the condition of debt-ridden farmers, laborers forced into bondage over debt, and the middle classes who were excluded from government, while not alienating the increasingly wealthy landowners and aristocracy. After dealing with the immediate crises, Solon redefined citizenship so as to create the foundations of democracy. Before Solon, the eupatridai (nobles) had a monopoly on the government by virtue of their birth. Solon replaced the hereditary aristocracy with one based on wealth.

In the new system, there were four propertied classes in Attica. Depending on how much property they owned, citizens were entitled to run for certain offices denied those lower on the property scale. The ones with the largest number of available positions were the Pentacosiomedimni; next were the Hippeis; then came the Zeugitae. In return, they were expected to contribute more.

Those that were worth five hundred measures of fruits, dry and liquid, he placed in the first rank, calling them Pentacosiomedimni; those that could keep an horse, or were worth three hundred measures, were named Hippada Teluntes, and made the second class; the Zeugitae, that had two hundred measures, were in the third.
Solon added, as a fourth class, the thetes, serfs with only a small amount of property.
Class Offices Members Could Be Elected To Property Qualification - Military Obligation
Pentacosiomedimnoi Treasurer
Archons
Financial officials
Boule
produced 500 measures or more of produce per year
Hippeis Archons
Financial officials
Boule
(cavalry) produced 300 measures
Zeugitai Financial officials
Boule
(hoplites) produced 200 measures
Thetes didn't produce enough for the military census
It is thought that Solon was the first to admit the thetes to the ekklesia (assembly), the meeting of all citizens of Attica. The ekklesia had a say in appointing archons and could also listen to accusations against them. The citizenry also formed a judicial body (dikasteria), which heard many legal cases. Under Solon, rules were relaxed as to who could bring a case to court. Before, the only ones were the injured party or his family, but now, except in cases of homicide, anyone could.

Solon may also have established the boule, or Council of 400, to determine what should be discussed in the ekklesia. One hundred men from each of the four tribes (but only the upper three classes) would have been picked by lot to form this group. However, since the word boule would also have been used by the Areopagus, and since Cleisthenes created a boule of 500, there is (http://homer.reed.edu/GkHist/EarlyAthenianLect.html) cause to doubt this Solonian accomplishment.

The magistrates or archons may have been selected by lot and election. If so, each tribe elected ten candidates. From the forty candidates, nine archons were selected by lot each year. This system would have minimized influence peddling while giving the gods the ultimate say. However, in the Politics, Aristotle says the archons were selected the way they had been before Draco, with the exception that all citizens had the right to vote.

Those archons who had completed their year in office were enrolled in the Council of the Areopagus. Since archons could only come from the the top three classes, its composition was entirely aristocratic. It was considered a censoring body and the "guardian of the laws." However, since the ekklesia had the power to try archons after their year in office, since the ekklesia probably selected the archons, and since, in time, it became common practice to make legal appeals to the ekklesia, the ekklesia (i.e., the people) had the supreme power.

Next page > Solon's Democracy > Page 1, 2, 3

More of This Feature

Part 1: Solon's Compromise Reforms
Rise of Democracy Quiz

Related Resources

Pericles
Rise of Democracy: The Four Tribes
Rise of Democracy: Cylon and Draco
Rise of Democracy: Reforms of Cleisthenes
Democracy Then and Now
Seven Sages
• Plutarch's Life of Solon

Elsewhere on the Web

• (http://www.usask.ca/antharch/cnea/CourseNotes/SolonNotes.html#solon"> John Porter's Solon

• (http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/ATHENS.HTM"> Ancient Greece: Athens
• (http://www.usask.ca/antharch/cnea/DeptTransls/Solon.html) Solon's poetry fragments
• (http://www.san.beck.org/EC18-Greekto500.html#5) Ethics of Greek Culture
• Richard Hooker's (http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/ATHENS.HTM) Ancient Greece: Athens
• John Porter's (http://www.usask.ca/antharch/cnea/CourseNotes/SolonNotes.html#solon) Solon

Print Source

• J.B. Bury. A History of Greece

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