Solon's Constitution and the Rise of Democracy

Democracy Then and Now: The Rise of Democracy

Areopagus From the Acropolis
Areopagus (Mars Hill) taken from the Propylaea. CC Flickr User KiltBear (AJ Alfieri-Crispin)
"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

Reforms of Solon's Constitution

After dealing with the immediate crises in 6th century Athens, 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 this hereditary aristocracy with one based on wealth.

In the new system, there were four propertied classes in Attica (greater Athens). Depending on how much property they owned, citizens were entitled to run for certain offices denied those lower on the property scale. In return for holding more positions, they were expected to contribute more.

  • Those who were worth 500 measures of fruits, dry and liquid, he placed in the first rank, calling them Pentacosiomedimni (note the prefix meaning 'five');
  • Those who could keep a horse, or were worth three hundred measures, were named Hippada Teluntes, and made the second class (note the hipp- prefix meaning 'horse');
  • The Zeugitae, who had two hundred measures, were in the third (note the zeug- is thought to refer to a yoke).
  • Solon added, as a fourth class, the thetes, serfs with only a small amount of property.

    Classes (Review)

    1. Pentacosiomedimnoi
    2. Hippeis
    3. Zeugitai
    4. Thetes

    Offices to which members could be elected (by class)

    1. Pentacosiomedimnoi
      • Treasurer,
      • Archons,
      • Financial officials, and the
      • Boule.
    2. Hippeis
      • Archons,
      • Financial officials, and the
      • Boule.
    3. Zeugitai
      • Financial officials, and the
      • Boule
    4. Thetes

    Property Qualification and Military Obligation

    • Pentacosiomedimnoi

      produced 500 measures or more of produce per year.

    • Hippeis (cavalry)

      produced 300 measures.

    • Zeugitai (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. Earlier, the only ones who could do so 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 those in 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 cause to doubt this Solonian accomplishment.

    The magistrates or archons may have been selected by lot and election. If so, each tribe elected 10 candidates. From the 40 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 his 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 top three classes, its composition was entirely aristocratic. It was considered a censoring body and the "guardian of the laws." The ekklesia had the power to try archons at the end of 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.

    References

    • J.B. Bury. A History of Greece.
    • Reed College's David Silverman's Early Athenian Institutions (http://homer.reed.edu/GkHist/EarlyAthenianLect.html)
    • John Porter's Solon (http://duke.usask.ca/~porterj/CourseNotes/SolonNotes.html)
    • Athenian Democracy (http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/cl/iahcla~7.htm)
    • Ancient Greece: Athens (http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/ATHENS.HTM)