Solon And Lycurgus History

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Of many ancient rulers, two are made very memorable. Lycurgus, ruler of Sparta, and Solon, ruler of Athens, made significant impacts on their polis that would continue throughout ancient Greek history. The reforms that were created by these rulers can be disputed in regards to their benefit on their city-state. The reforms Solon implemented were more efficacious in producing democratic change in Athens then those reforms that were executed in Sparta by Lycurgus. Due to the fact Solon is a man of middle ground, two reforms that are seen as superior to those of Lycurgus’ are the changes in trade as well as government.

The reforms implemented by Lycurgus are different than those of Solon’s. Lycurgus, who is not a man of middle ground, also created reforms for trade and government, but aimed for a different result. Lycurgus reigned for a long time in Sparta, as he claimed to be a descendent of Heracles. He held all power to develop and implement laws.

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“But Lycurgus was an eleventh-generation descendent of Heracles and had reigned for many years in Sparta,” (Plutarch, 22. 16). With the power he held, Lycurgus created laws that benefited his state, not individuals.

These laws were mainly developed around military benefit, such as the law practice of removing young children from their families to train for the army. Lycurgus also made changes dealing with trade in Sparta. Lycurgus abolished all trades that he deemed unnecessary. “After this he ordered a general expulsion of the workers in unnecessary trades. Indeed most of them would have left the country anyways when the old currency came to an end, since they could not sell their wares,” (Plutarch, 25.

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9). Again, he focused on trades that would give benefit to the state as a whole.

He gave no thought to individuals, or how other trades could benefit the Spartan economy. When it comes to government roles, Lycurgus’ decisions can compare to those of Solon. Lycurgus did not give a share in government to every citizen of Sparta. He took the liberty of developing his own laws for citizens to follow, and these laws were not meant to benefit the individual, but again, to benefit Sparta as a whole. “Life at Sparta in several ways resembled that of a military camp,” (Powell 2001, 219). Many laws that Lycurgus proposed revolved around the benefit of the Spartan military.

These implementations set by Lycurgus do not give any benefit to the democratic changes occurring in society at the time. Solon and his reforms are excellent examples of how Athens developed the road to democracy, and how the benefits of these reforms make Solon superior to Lycurgus as a ruler. Solon, a man of middle ground, was urged forward by the people to rule over them and to settle differences between the rich and the poor. “Solon, on the other hand, could not go to such extremes in his constitution, since he was a man of modest fortune and had been chosen by the people.

Yet he made full use of his power, relying on the good will of the citizens and their confidence in him,” (Plutarch, 22. 16). Since the people chose Solon to rule, he stood a middle ground, and made decisions based on what was best for the people, a true example of democracy in Athens. Solon also benefited the citizens of Athens through is reforms relating to trade. Solon implemented a law that required every man to have a trade. “He sought to dignify all trades and ordered the Council of Areopagus to inquire how every man made a living and to punish those who had no occupation,” (Plutarch, 22. 22).

Not only did this law produce work and wealth in Athens, strengthening their economy, it also gave citizens the choice to work in any trade they desired. This reform gave opportunity to citizens, opposed to Lycurgus’ reforms, which permitted them only to work in certain trades. Through the governmental roles in Athens, Solon is very effective in producing beneficial change. Solon created classes, and within these classes gave everyone an equal share in government. The government that Solon developed continues to be used in today’s society. “Athenians called their system demokratia which is only crudely translatable as ‘democracy’.

On the meaning of the ancient term Aristotle makes some helpful comments. He reports that demokratia was commonly taken to mean rule by the majority, and also personal freedom,” (Powell 2001, 272). This government developed by Solon, was developed for the people. It gave the chance for citizens to contribute to how their society was run. This opportunity strengthened their ways of life and lead to the development of a strong polis. Shown through the changes employed by Solon, it is made clear that he is more effective in generating democratic change in his city-state, then his inferior, Lycurgus.

Solon, who is a man of middle ground, made his type of rule effective through changes in trade and government. Being a man of middle ground, Solon was forced to make decisions based on the people, apposed to Lycurgus who made decisions based on benefit to Sparta as a whole. Solons reform in regards to trade, improved the wealth in Athens, as well as give citizens the opportunity to work in their trade of choice, while Lycurgus completely abolished trade all together. Through his reforms in government, Solon gave power to every single citizen, apposed to Lycurgus who kept all control over his state.

Overall, the changes that were made by Solon created a strong impact on how Athens was run during their time period, and this impact continued on to contribute to how many countries are controlled in today’s society.


  1. Plutarch, Life of Solon (from N. M Bailkey Readings in Ancient History (D. C. Heatlth and Co, 1996) pp. 159-165)
  2. Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus (from N. M Bailkey Readings in Ancient History (D. C. Heatlth and Co, 1996) pp. 177-185)
  3. Powell, A. 2001. Athens and Sparta: constructing Greek political and social history from 478 BC (NewYork: Routledge).
Cite this page

Solon And Lycurgus History. (2016, Jul 12). Retrieved from

Solon And Lycurgus History
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