Solution: Tyranny to Democracy.
Athens originated in Mycenaean culture and was one of a few cities to
escape the destruction of the period between 1200 and 800 B.C.E.
It was also one of the largest city-states in its region, Attica, all
of which were initially ruled by aristocratic clans who participated in
the ruling council. It had sufficient resources to escape the
population pressure causing social conflicts elsewhere until 7th c.
B.C.E.; at which point there were several decades of strife among all
city-states in Attica including Athens.
By 632 B.C.E. Athenian hoplites successfully challenged the Eupatrids,
the local Athenian aristocrats or basileis, but the attempted tyranny
caused a lot of bloodshed. A judge named Draco [DRAY-coh] drafted
and helped enforce a system of laws in 621 B.C.E. to limit vengeance
and prevent bloodshed. He did so by imposing harsh penalties
(usually death) for even minor offenses, hence our term
Even this change was not enough, though, because the rising hoplites
wanted more influence over government and many ordinary Athenians who
had been independent also wanted change as many were either
share-croppers (hektemoroi) or actually in debt-bondage, both groups
remained very dependent on the nobles and other wealthy men.
Real reform would have to await the time when Solon [SOH-lon] (630
B.C.E.-560 B.C.E.)served Athens as chief archon [ARE-kon] or
magistrate, in 594 B.C.E. Solon was an ristocrat (i.e. Eupatrid)
and merchant. Solon eliminated debt bondage, after which
enslavement for debts was permitted in Athens. Solon further
divided society into 4 classes based on wealth, not birth, and let
archons be elected from the top 2 classes, but allowed all including
those from the lowest group, the thetes, to participate in the Athenian
Assembly and in the law courts, including the high court which was the
Assembly. Solon also replaced voting with voices with the
counting of hands and added a council composed of 400 men from all
classes, to which citizens could appeal the magistrates'
which set the Assembly's agenda. This council served as a
the Areopagus, a council open only to the elite. For all this
progress, as a result of Solon's reforms we get
chattel slavery in Athens to replace the hektemoroi and
debt-slaves. It was also unfortunate, from Solon's
least, that a descendant in 546 and then his son in 528 became tyrants
for awhile, placing Athens was under strongman rule for a time.
Finally, these men were expelled by a coalition led by the eupatrid
Pisistratus and his sons until they were expelled in 510 with the help
of Spartan military force.
Cleisthenes [CLEYES-thuh-nees] in ca. 508 B.C.E., added final reform to
Solon's constitution. He reorganized the political units
elected council members so that they were no longer based on kin-linked
tribes, but on territorial units and grouped into 10 artificial tribes,
each including territory in the urban, inland, & coastal regions;
these regions, based on local government, were called demes. This
reform integrated people of different social, economic, and regional
backgrounds and also promoted a sense of Athenian polis identity.
Only one council, the Areopagus, remained closed to non-Aristocrats
under Cleithenes and a Council of 500 replaced the Council of 400,
Assemblymen could alter agenda. Finally, Ostracism: exiling the
most unpopular people in Athens for 10 years (so-called for the shards
of pottery on which their names were written) was introduced.
This was basically a way to get rid of unpopular and therefore
dangerous members of the elite.
Under Pericles (495-429 B.C.E., Archon from 443-429 B.C.E.)Athenian
democracy reached its height. He was popular with commoners who
were officeholders and sponsored many building programs (using money
from a military organization known as the Delian League). It is
important to note that the main element in Athenian democracy was
direct participation. The entire citizenry voted on all measures
in the Assembly (citizens came of age at 20). The Assembly
gathered a minimum of 40 times per year. This also means that
Athens had a weak executive and its courts were open to all citizens as
well with large juries of several hundred as a rule. Most
officials in Council of 500 and other public offices were chosen by
Athenian social order consisted of five groups: the aristocrats, the
citizens, women, metics, and slaves. Aristocrats owned much of
the land, used hired labor to cultivate it and therfore had much
leisure time themselves. For those aristocrats living in Athens
the center of social life was the symposion (pl. symposia), or drinking
party. The purpose was not to get drunk (the wine always mixed
with water), but to participate in a variety of different events
including games like dice, competitions in poetry, or philosophical
disputes. There was also entertainment from dancing girls.
The aristocracy also produced informal power brokers known as
demagogues who viewed their roles keeping a check on leaders (eg.
archons) who might be accruing too much power. The aristocrats
even if one includes their families, numbered only several hundred
families and so were a very small percentage of the total population.
Athenian male citizens, the next rung on the ladder of the social
order, numbered ~40,000 or 10-15% of population. The majority
were farmers who raised barley, some wheat, grapes for wine, olives for
oil; vegetables, and fruit as well as herding sheep and goats for milk
and cheese. Those citizens who were city dwellers worked in
government and other honorable tasks, but it is important to remember
that Athens was quite rural with over half of the population of the
Athenian city-state pop. of 300,000 living in the countryside.
Women in Athens were excluded from most of public life. They
could not vote, take part in public assemblies, take public office, and
were allowed only passive participation in law courts as
witnesses. They could participate in economic life, esp. in
farming & artisan families, but that was about all the regular
access to public life they were allowed. One reason for this was
that they were always legally under control of male guardian (ather,
husband or other male relative) a kyrios. Elite women in
particular married young, usually between 12 and 18, whereas their
husbands were usually. over 30. Marriages were arranged by
the male guardian or kyrios. The main function of Athenian
women citizens (astai), thus the elite among Athenian women, was
to produce male heirs for their husband's oikos (household); to
that heirs were legitimate. Such women were segregated in the
oikos and laws were even passed to regulate admission to a family and
citizenship. From c. 5th c. B.C.E., for example, all legitimate
offspring had to be introduced into the clan or phratry by their father
as legitimate and there were many lawsuits contesting legitimacy; The
reason: as the Athenian population grew Athenians came to believe there
were just too many people trying to become citizens according.
There was one class of women who had more freedoms: Prostitutes.
Prostitution was common in Athens and one particular class of highly
educated hetairai [heh-TAYR-eye] had the privilege of being present at
aristocratic symposia, whereas no astai were allowed this right.
Concubinage was also important. In fact in the earlier history of
Athens, citizens could be born of a relationship between a citizen and
a pallake (plural: pallakai).
Among the most dynamic elements in Athens were its foreigners or
metics. They had a major role in trade, participating in the
trade in Greek pottery, wine, and olive oil to the Greek colonies,
which brought grain, metals, fish, timber and slaves to Athens.
The metics also traded to Phoenicia, Egypt, and Persia. And yet
although metics equal before law with citizens for the most part and
could participate in economic life and have relationships with citizens
(though later starting in the 4th century this was not allowed) and
could also participate in the economy, they could not buy land (which
meant prestige and security), and had no political power. Indeed,
the metics had the same status as freedmen (former slaves).
The last group to mention would be the slaves. Most became slaves
because they were prisoners of war, foreigners who failed to pay taxes,
or were the victims of pirate raids. They numbered ~100,000 or
Thus, a democracy Athens may have been, but it was hardly a democracy
Sparta's Solution to
the Crisis of Legitimacy in the Archaic Period:
Oligarchic Martial rule, 725-400 B.C.E.
Sparta replaced an important Mycenaean kingdom called Lacedaemon, which
was also the proper name for Sparta (which was actually the capital
city) during the period of in-migration referred to above in the Dark
Ages. In the early 8th century B.C.E. Sparta/Lacedaemon conquered the
people of neighboring Messenia, turning them into serfs (called helots)
who, as we will see, were controlled through terror. With this new
workforce the Spartans found they had a need to reorganize their
military and their society given the potential for economic wealth and
disparities that would create. Also the number of hoplites must
have increased giving them more political power. Essentially, the
state owned much of the land (though there were also private estates
and this did create wealth disparities), but all state land was
privately managed with half the produce going to a Spartan
citizen. The helots too were state-owned. Beyond the helots
were the perioikoi or neighbors who served as craftsmen and traders as
well as soldiers and lived in communities within Sparta's sphere of
influence. They were not citizens with full, but nor were they
unfree like the helots.
Sparta had two kings, each from a rival house; initially they ruled
alone, and then jointly with the ephors or magistrates c. 7th c.
B.C.E., which was the period of the Spartan reform.
The kings' main function eventually became to lead the Spartan armed
forces on the field of battle. On the battlefield Spartan kings
could conduct war, negotiate with enemies and allies, etc., but
they could be tried if their actions were not approved of later.
The Spartan kings only married into major Spartan families, not into
one another's families and not into those of another polis.
There were five magistrates or ephors
elected annually by all the
Spartiates/Similars. Initially they served as the citizens'
watchdog over the kings, but by
5th century B.C.E. the ephors had taken over much of the power of the
two Spartan kings. They accepted a monthly oath from kings to
uphold laws, could arrest the kings, subject them to trial, and even
punish them. Once the office of ephor had reached this degree of
power, the main function of the ephors was to run Sparta on a
basis. By 5th century the ephors also presided over the Assembly
of Spartiates, called the apella.
Each ephor had responsibility
for judging a particular class of legal cases. They also received
foreign envoys and decided whether their requests would go to the
council of the assembly, raised the military levy, and had considerable
police powers over the helots.
The ephors were generally from
fairly humble/ordinary backgrounds in Spartan terms.
The Gerousia: Council of 28 Elders sat with the kings, and in the
classical era, perhaps below the ephors. They prepared business
for the apella to consider, meaning they had all initiative in
proposing laws. They also acted as high court of justice in cases
where penalty was death, loss of civic privileges, or exile.
Elders had to be at least 60 to join and election was by the apella and
The apella or assembly of all male citizens who fulfilled the
property requirements and who were not perioikoi or helots was an
assembly of all homoioi or similars or equals. It elected all
officials, decided on peace or war, and approved or disapproved all
legislation proposed. Spartan citizens were called homoioi or
similars or equals to represent the fact that they had equal rights
and, to some extent, equal access to wealth, although this latter part
of their status changed over time.