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Cleisthenes (Kleisthenes) was considered the founder of Athenian democracy, although this is disputed, since Solon is sometimes credited as such.

An Alcmaeonid, Cleisthenes, son of Megacles and Agariste (who was the daughter of the Cleisthenes tyrant of Sicyon [c. 600 - 570 B.C.]), lived from about 570 to perhaps 508 B.C.

He was an archon (525/4) under the Athenian tyrant Hippias, the last of the Peisistratids, but he was subsequently exiled. Supported by the Delphic Oracle, Cleisthenes successfully called on the Spartans to help rid Athens of Hippias. Following the end of the Athenian tyranny, Cleisthenes lost his bid for the archonship against Isagoras for 508/7, but then stirred the Athenians to support him with promises of meaningful reforms. Isagoras called on Sparta for support, so Cleisthenes fled in 508 B.C. Under Isagoras, 700 powerful families, including the Alcmaeonids, were sent from Athens. Isagoras also disbanded the Council of 400 [see Boule].

The Athenians rioted. Cleisthenes was recalled from exile to put in place his democratic reforms -- most important of which was his rearrangement of the citizens into trittyes -- that created direct democracy. He gave a voice to the non-elite Athenians, creating a Council of 500, a tribally organized hoplite army, and competitive dithyrambic choruses [Pritchard]. He may have established the Pnyx as the meeting place for the assembly. He may also have been responsible for the institution of ostracism.

We don't know what happened to him after or when he died.


  • PBS Cleisthenes
  • Theodore John Cadoux , P. J. Rhodes "Cleisthenes (2)" The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth. Oxford University Press 2009.
  • "Kleisthenes, Participation, and the Dithyrambic Contests of Late Archaic and Classical Athens"
    David Pritchard
    Vol. 58, No. 3/4 (Autumn - Winter, 2004), pp. 208-228

Ancient Sources

Alternate Spellings: Kleisthenes, Κλεισθένης
There has been debate over whether Cleisthenes was archon in 525/4 or in exile at the time. See: "The Archonship of Cleisthenes," by Wesley E. Thompson; The Classical Journal Vol. 55, No. 5 (Feb., 1960), pp. 217-220, and "Was Kleisthenes or Pleisthenes Archon at Athens in 525 BC?" by Matthew P. J. Dillon; Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd. 155, (2006), pp. 91-107, for more on the issue.

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