In the time before Solon there was a lot of conflict in Athens. Some between the aristocrats and the peasants. The rich had enslaved a lot of the poor people and most of the other poor people had debt with them. This drove the poor to seek a revolution because it was becoming unbearable. Other conflict that existed was between the different aristocratic families themselves. Megacles and Cylon’s factions had a blood feud going that was quite serious at the time of Solon. Solon made several different laws to fix these problems.
He was able the end the blood feuds for the most part and give both the poor and the rich a benefit from the new system of laws. Thus successfully getting them to work together instead of them trying to tear each other apart. Land ownership was the key to wealth in Athens. Not only did it have value itself but it produced grain, at the time there was no coin so grain was used for trade. (Trumbach) There were four basic classes of people at the time. The aristocrats who owned a lot of fertile land. Second is the “rich peasants” who owned smaller amounts of land but the land was also of poor yield, the mostly lived on the hill.
Though they are richer than the other peasants they were still poor. Third are the peasants who worked the land owned by the aristocrats and paid them rent. “They either cultivated their lands for them and paid them a sixth of the produce.. ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 23) Fourth are the slaves owned by the aristocrats, many of which were farmers that took out a loan from the aristocrats. “… or else they pledged their own persons to raise money and could be seized by their creditors, some of them being enslaved… ” (Pl. Sol.
Pg 23) This difference in wealth and quality of life created extreme tension between the rich and the poor. “The city stood on the brink of revolution… ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 23) The poorer folk wanted to overthrow the rich and take their wealth. “… they proposed to set all enslaved debtors free, redistribute the land… ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 23) The rich saw that this was going to be a problem and decided to seek a solution. “At this point the most level-headed of the Athenians began to look towards Solon. … they appealed to him to come forward and settle their difference. ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 55) Solon enacted several laws to address these issues.
He gave neither side what they wanted but gave them basically what they needed. “At first, however, his policy did not please either party. ” (Pl. Sol. pg58) He cleared all debt and stopped the use of persons as collateral. “”The first measure which he put into force decreed that existing debts were wiped out and that in future nobody could accept the person of a debtor as security. ” (Pl. Sol. pg 57) Although they did not like it at first they began to see the ways in which it was good.
They then appointed him to make more laws in all areas. … not long before they saw the advantages of his policy…. they went on to appoint Solon to reform the constitution and draw up a code of laws. No limit was set to his powers… ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 59) However because aristocrats could no longer lend grain on the collateral of possibly getting a slave Solon had to enact laws to encourage them to lend their grain. “Oil was the only product of Attica which Solon allowed to be exported… ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 66) This meant the aristocrats were sitting on vast amounts of grain they couldn’t do anything with but give away or lend to the people in need.
This was not all bad because by giving excess grain to the poor people it would win favor for them and when it came for a vote they would be more inclined to vote for them. This built better relations between the rich and the poor instead of driving a wedge between them. In addition to the conflict between the rich and the poor there was conflict among the rich and the rich. There were blood feuds between different families and struggle for power between them. “Those of Cylon’s partisans who survived built up a strong following again, and formed a permanent faction against the descendants of Megacles. (Pl. Sol. Pg 52-53)
Megacles was the archon at the time and Cylon was conspiring to overthrow him. Megacles got wind of this and Cylon retreated to the temple for safety. Megacles convinced him to come out for trial and Cylon tied a thread to the temple for safety. The thread snapped and Megacles and his followers slayed Cylon and his people even the ones that made it back to the temple. Megacles and his followers were then cursed and the people loathed him. This created the feud between Megacles and Cylon’s people and family. (Pl. Sol. Pg 52-53)
These family feuds would go on until there was no one left on one side or the other. Solon enacted laws to counter this and end the blood-feuds. For starters he made it so the jury was a very common place for disputes to be settled. “… the majority of disputes where finally settled before a jury. ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 60) Also insted of you needing you family to avenge or defend you any citizen could help your in court. “If a man was assaulted or suffered violence or injury, anybody who had the ability and the desire to do so was entitled to bring a suit and prosecute the offender. (Pl. Sol. Pg 60) Another thing he did to lessen the ties between families and open it up was to get rid of dowries. “In all other marriages Solon abolished dowries. ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 62)
He felt that marriage was not for wealth or politics but for love. “… but that a man and wife should live together for love, affection and the procreation of children. ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 62) Solon was able to restructure the political system in a way that let the aristocrats still hold their offices but gave the peasants power too. He did not change the fact that only the rich could hold office. … Solon was anxious to leave all the offices of state as he found them, in the hands of the rich… ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 59) However he gave just one power to the poor, a powerful one though.
He established 4 classes of people based on income. The class that had an income of 500 measures or more was called “Pentacosiomedimni” the 300 class was called “Knights” the 200 class was “Zeugitai” and anything less was called “Thetes” The top 3 classes were able to hold office whereas the lowest class was only able to sit on the assembly and the jury. (Pl. Sol.
Pg 59-60) Even if it does not seem like much they never had any political power before. “… to give the masses a share in the other processes of government which they had never before possessed… ” (Pl. Sol. Pg 59) The fact that the poor could sit on the assembly gave them power in the law making. The Areopagus was only able to propose law but the assembly had to vote to pass it. (Trumbach) This meant the aristocrats who where the only ones that could hold a seat on the Areopagus and the poor who could hold seats on the assembly had a 50/50 split in power.
So any law that was passed had to be liked by both the poor and the rich. The rich only consisted of 1-2% of the population and the had 50% of the power, this is imbalanced but considering they used to have 100% of the power it was still a very big change. Conclusion Solon had to take a county on the brink of civil war and somehow make them get along. He could not re-distribute the land like the poor wanted but what he did do was set them free. They still had the issue of not having land but they were able to either still work for the landlord or they could take up a trade.
Also be getting rid of their debt he let them start over. The rich still where rich and the poor were still poor however the poor no longer belonged to the rich and no longer could be made into slaves. This alone was a major improvement for the poor and it did not hurt the rich too much. Then by creating a surplus of grain within the county it encouraged the rich to be generous to the poor and in turn they were able to gain favor for votes. Allowing the poor freedom and lowering their chance of starving because of the rich giving away grain was an effective way of making the poor happy without removing the power from the rich.
To further improve the relation between the rich and the poor now that the juries consisted mostly of the poor the rich had even more reason to be nice to them and try and win their favor that way if they were ever in court they would not have to worry about vengeful poor people. He also lessened the ties between families and increased the ties between citizens by removing the dowery and having injuries handled in court instead of by your family.
This further encouraged treating people well rich or poor because anyone could help you in court. So the rich who were well liked by the masses had favor for getting office, and in court. Two things which were valuable to them considering they already had a surplus of riches. I believe this was effective in breaking down ties between specific groups and encouraging ties to the people as a whole. Both the rich and the poor had something to gain from this new system over their old system.
Courtney from Study Moose
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