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From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Athens is one of most famous city-states of ancient Greece, with an area of ​​only 2,550 square kilometers and a population of 200,000 to 300,000 people. Although Athens is small, it has left a strong mark on history of human civilization. Athens in ancient times became cultural center of ancient Greece, such famous scientists as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle appeared, and this was one of origins of humanism. The democratic system of Athens is representative of ancient Greek civilization. He is origin of Western democratic system and has had a profound influence on modern Western political system.

1. Solon's reform: laid foundation for formation of Athenian democracy

Athens is located on Attica peninsula and is inhabited by Ionians who lived here in Mycenaean era. After invasion of Dorians, ancient Greece entered "Dark Ages". However, Attica repelled Dorians and retained its independence. The Ionians of Attica had four tribes, each tribe had three phratries, and each phratry was divided into thirty clans. In archaic era (8 centuries BC - 6 centuries BC), Ionians began transition from era of tribal society to state stage.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Legend has it that Theseus united four tribes of Attica under Athenian rule and became origin of Athenian city-state. During this period, Athenian class was highly divided. It is said that Theseus divided citizens into three levels: nobles, peasants, industry and trade, and only nobles could hold public office. Theseus' reforms were a sign of Athens' transition from tribe to state. Athens in archaic era formed an aristocratic policy. The aristocrats have legislative, directive and judicial power in country, while in past assemblies of citizens existed only in name. The aristocrats used their privileges to exploit common people, resulting in a large number of common people being reduced to "Jun 1 Han" who had to give five-sixths of their income to nobles. Some civilians even became debt slaves. In addition, industry and trade also gradually developed during this period, and industrial and merchant class needed to expand domestic market and demanded more political rights.

Increasingly aggravated intra-class contradictions provoked a serious political crisis. In 630 BC Kieron uprising took place, which sounded alarm for dominance of nobility. Soon judicial consul Draco enacted first statutory law of Athens. The ancient codex of Draa is very cruel, and it is called "written not in ink, but in blood." Thus, contradiction between nobles and commoners was not mitigated. After this, Athens was divided into three factions. The plains faction, dominated by nobles, continued to exercise aristocratic autocracy; coastal faction, made up of industrial and merchant classes, favored moderate reforms; mountain faction, dispossessed of land and banished to mountains, advocated overthrow of aristocratic politics. and establishment of democratic government. Faced with a deepening crisis, nobles finally decided to allow Solon of coastal faction to serve as consul to bring about reforms.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy


In 594 BC. Solon officially became chief executive officer, and reformation began. He was first to issue "Order of Emancipation", which abolished "Jun 1 Han" and debt slavery, and restored freedom of citizens. The "Land Restriction Act" was then promulgated, restricting land mergers. These measures enjoy support of civilian population. To improve position of businessmen, he divided ranks according to degree of ownership and stipulated power and duties of each rank, violating power monopoly of nobility. To support development of industry and commerce, he unified measures and weights and corrected currency. Politically, Solon restored Citizens' Assembly, making it highest authority in Athens. He selected 100 people from each of four tribes to form a council of 400, which became permanent body of the citizens' assembly.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Solon's ownership level

Solon's reforms destroyed monopoly of nobility, improved position of entrepreneurs and laid foundation for formation of Athenian democracy. But Solon's reforms also had many shortcomings. Solon did not fundamentally solve land problem, many peasants still did not have land and lived in poverty. In addition, Solon's reforms did not give common people full political rights, which gradually aroused a feeling of discontent among common people. In 572 BC Solon retired as consul for 22 years, and democratic reform in Athens came to an end.

II. From Peisistratus to Cristhenes: The Final Formation of Athenian Democracy

After Solon's resignation as consul, social tensions in Athens again began to escalate, and disputes began again between lowland, coastal and mountain factions. Pisistratus, supported by common people, established tyrannical rule three times in a row, and in 546 BC. To strengthen his rule, he abolished military power of nobles and established a mercenary army. From then on, he began to use drastic measures to push for reforms.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy


To solve peasant land problem, he distributed land of runaway nobles to peasants, provided low-interest loans to peasants, and subsidized poor peasants to grow cash crops such as olives and grapes. To protect interests of common people, he established Rural District Court to resolve claims of peasants. In order to enlist support of industrial and commercial class, he vigorously developed industry and trade, carried out colonial expansion. He created a fleet of 48 warships, which marked beginning of strengthening of Athenian fleet. During reign of Peisistratus, Athenian industry and commerce developed rapidly, and their products proudly dominated Greek city-state, especially pottery, which was best-selling item. At same time, he was building public works on a large scale, such as roads, sewers, and water pipes. The famous Temple of Athena was built during time of Peisistratus. He established earliest library in Greece at Athens, attracting a large number of literati and artists to Athens, through which Athens gradually became cultural center of Greece. During this period, famous "Homeric epic" was compiled in Athens.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Temple of Athena

Peisistratus set up a tyrant, so color of man's reign is very obvious. In Peisistratus's late period, in order to support needs of overseas wars, he began to increase taxes and began to lose popular support. In 527 BC Peisistratus died, and his two sons Hippias and Hipparchus jointly ruled Athens. Their reign was very dark and cruel, which caused discontent among all sections of Athens society. At same time, Sparta relied on Peloponnesian League to constantly interfere in internal affairs of other countries in an attempt to maintain aristocratic rule in different countries. The Athenian tyrant became target of Sparta. In 511 BC Sparta attacked Athens and tyranny of Athens ended in second year.

In 508 B.C. Christina, a representative of coast faction, allied with civilians to expel Spartans, overthrew short-lived aristocratic rule, and began democratic reform of Athens. In order to completely eradicate power of aristocracy, he re-divided administrative division of Athens, dismantled four blood tribal tribes in past, and then created 10 regional tribes, thus destroying basis of aristocratic politics. Politically, he expanded council of 400 to a council of 500, with 50 members elected from each regional tribe. The powers of 500-member council have also been expanded and it has greater oversight powers. In later period of Christina, a committee of ten generals was established to exercise administrative power in country. Ten generals were chosen from 10 regional tribes and implemented a change of government strategy. To prevent emergence of autocracy, Christini also enacted "Pottery Expulsion Law", under which citizens could vote to expel from Athens people who were detrimental to democratic politics.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Democratic institutions in Athens

Christina's reforms effectively destroyed power of aristocracy, allowing every male citizen to have right to vote. The largest law enforcement agencies have formed a situation of mutual deterrence and supervision. Thus, reform of Cristheni was a symbol of formal formation of Athenian democracy. In addition, he dispersed remnants of blood clans and ruled Athens by region, which was a sign that Athens had officially entered national arena.

Thirdly, pinnacle of Athenian democracy is sunset

In 500 B.C. mighty Persian Empire began to attack Greek city-states in a comprehensive manner, and Hippo-Persian War broke out. In this war, Athens became leader of Greek city-state, and Athens' power was gradually consolidated during war. During war, Delian League was formed with Athens as center and this alliance became a tool for Athens to later dominate Greece. After Persian Wars, Athens became most prosperous area of ​​the Greek economy. Culturally, due to severe damage to region of Asia Minor, a large number of philosophers and scientists arrived in Athens, making Athens officially cultural center of Greece. And this war also brought politics of Athenian democracy to its peak.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Academy of Athens

Themistocles was chief consul during Hippo-Persian Wars. He changed election of consuls to a lottery, a measure that abolished nobles' privilege as consuls, further weakening power of nobles. At same time, he expanded navy, whereby Athenian navy triumphantly dominated Greece. After that Simon from aristocratic faction and Effiart from democratic faction started a power struggle and Effiart finally won. Effialte introduced very radical reform measures: he abolished veto power of Senate, turning it into an empty shelf. This measure seriously damaged interests of nobles, and he was killed by nobles in 461 BC.

After that, democrat Pericles became commander-in-chief of Athens. Pericles continued to implement comprehensive democratic reforms, and he continued to expand power of Civic Assembly, making it highest authority and legislative power. The power of Senate was further reduced, retaining only power to consider murders and religious crimes. Pericles establishes that male citizens who have reached age of 20 may participate in vote of Civic Assembly. Citizens can hold all positions except ten generals. The jury became highest judicial and supervisory body. The powers of Council of Ten Generals, which became head of government, were also expanded. To encourage ordinary people to participate in politics, he instituted bonuses for government positions and theatrical bonuses. The reforms of Pericles raised universality of Athenian democracy to unprecedented heights. In era of Pericles, economy and culture of Athens reached its peak, which is why it is called "golden age".

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy


In late period of reign of Pericles, protracted Peloponnesian War broke out between Athens and Sparta, and Athens finally lost war. This war will destroy Athenian fleet and lead to decline of Athenian economy and culture. After war, Staba abolished democratic policy of Athens and established aristocratic policy of "thirty oligarchs". In 403 BC Democrats in exile invaded Athens and restored democracy. However, Athens was unable to restore its former national strength, and democratic politics are difficult to reproduce glory of era of Pericles, and eventually fell into decline.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

The reason for decline of democratic politics is not only war unleashed by Sparta, but also shortcomings of democratic politics itself. Athens implements direct democracy as long as citizens can participate in national elections and hold public office. However, majority of inhabitants of Athens are peasants who lack cultural knowledge, lack political vision, tend to follow suit, and are easily taken advantage of by ambitious people. This has led to phenomenon of lay people running country. In 399 BC citizens voted to sentence philosopher Socrates to death, a reflection of shortcomings of Athens' democratic politics. The democracy of Athens is based on "a small country with a small number of people" and cannot be used in a large country, so one cannot promote democratic politics of Athens. At time of Socrates, politics of Athens were already very corrupt, and assembly of citizens gradually became an instrument of politicians' struggle for power.

From Reformation of Solon to the Death of Socrates - The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy

Death of Socrates

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