II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > D. Classical Greece and the Hellenistic World > 3. The Archaic Period, 800–510 B.C.E. > d. Athens
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
d. Athens
c. 800–680
Athens gradually unified Attica by conquest and by synoecism, the process of merging with smaller towns. The Athenians were divided into four tribes (phylai) made up of phratries. Each phratry was divided into two groups: the clansmen (gennetai), made up of the aristocratic eupatridae, and the guildsmen (orgeones), who practiced trade and manufacture. Where poor farmers and serfs (hektemoroi) were enrolled is unclear. For administrative purposes, each tribe was divided into 12 naucrariai, each providing one ship for the navy. The army was provided by two of three classes: the knights (hippeis), wealthy aristocrats who made up the cavalry, and the hoplite class (zeugitai) who provided their own arms and made up the infantry. The thetes, who had no property, did no military service. The Medonidae ruled as kings, but during the 8th and 7th centuries, the aristocrats gradually usurped royal power. The king's military functions were absorbed by the war archon (polemarch) and his civil duties were absorbed by a civil archon (archon eponymos) after whom the year was named. The kingship retained only religious significance.  1
Athens abolished the monarchy completely. The king's religious duties were now performed by a king archon (archon basileus). Six thesmothetai were created to be judges and interpreters of law, and these officials along with the civil archon, the king archon and the polemarch were known as the Nine Archons. They were chosen each year from among the aristocracy by the Areopagus, the council of ruling aristocrats, which ran the state. The important priesthoods were hereditary in aristocratic families. The Ecclesia, or assembly of citizens, had little power.  2
Cylon attempted to establish a tyranny in Athens, but the people did not support him. Cylon himself escaped, but many of his followers were massacred by Megacles and the aristocratic Alcmaeonid clan while in a religious sanctuary. This impious slaughter gave rise to the so-called “Curse of the Alcmaeonidae.”  3
According to tradition, Draco, one of the thesmothetai, issued Athens' first written laws. The “Draconian” penalties were most severe—death in most cases.  4
c. 600
Athens seized Sigeum from Mytilene. The resulting war was arbitrated around 590 by the tyrant Periander of Corinth in Athens' ofavor.  5
THE REFORMS OF SOLON. The introduction of coined money, and high rates of interest, led to increased indebtedness. Debt slavery in turn brought civil unrest. To solve the crisis, Solon was made sole archon in 595, with special legislative powers. In 592, he was appointed “reformer of the constitution.” His Seisachtheia (“shaking-off-of-burdens”) canceled all debts on land, banned debt slavery, and freed all debt slaves. Those who had been sold abroad were redeemed at state expense. Solon replaced Draco's laws, except those on homicide, with a milder code. A popular court, the heliaea, was created, to which the citizens could appeal the decisions of the magistrates. Solon created a Council (boule) of 400 (100 from each tribe), which proposed laws to the assembly (ecclesia). The assembly could still only accept or reject the council's proposals but now elected all the magistrates. The Areopagus council continued, but in a reduced capacity. Four classes of citizens, based on wealth, were established: (1) the pentacosiomedimnoi had annual revenues of 500 bushels (medimnoi) of grain or measures (metretai) of wine or olive oil, (2) the hippeis, with revenues of 300 bushels or measures, (3) the zeugitai, with 200, and (4) the thetes who made up the rest of the citizen body. At some later date, these classes were redefined in terms of money and based on property rather than income. Every member of the first two classes was eligible for the archonships. Since ex-archons automatically joined the Areopagus council, it ceased to be exclusively aristocratic. The first three property classes could run for the lower magistracies, but the fourth class, the lowest and largest, could participate only in the heliaea court and the assembly. Solon's reforms were important but did not solve the underlying class tensions, perhaps because no provision was made to supply freed slaves with land or to relieve the burdens of the serfs (hektemoroi, “sixth-parters”). Unlike other contemporary political leaders, Solon did not try to become a tyrant. After making his reforms, he left Athens for ten years, traveling around the Mediterranean. Factional fighting broke out immediately after Solon's departure between two parties: the rich aristocrats of the plain (pediakoi) led by Lycurgus, and the merchants and craftsmen (paralioi) headed by Megacles the Alcmaeonid.  6
c. 565
Peisistratus, a relative of Solon, acquired fame by conquering the island of Salamis from Megara. He organized a new party, the diakrioi, based in the hill country of north Attica, made up of small farmers, shepherds, artisans, and the poor.  7
The Rule of Peisistratus. In 561, Peisistratus made himself tyrant of Athens but shortly thereafter was driven out of the city by Megacles and Lycurgus. In 560/559, allying himself with Megacles, he was restored to power, only to be expelled again in 556. Peisistratus spent some years in Thrace, gaining wealth from mines he owned there. In 546, he was again made tyrant with help from Thessaly and from Lygdamis, the tyrant of Naxos. Peisistratus exiled his opponents, confiscated their lands, and distributed them to the poor, so that the hektemoroi now became landowners. Peisistratus encouraged industry and trade and introduced the popular cult of Dionysus, which reduced the power of the aristocrats' hereditary priesthoods. He sent Miltiades to establish a tyranny over the Thracian Chersonese, which controlled the passage between Europe and Asia. Peisistratus also “purified” the island of Delos, the center of an Ionian religious league, which extended his political control into the Cyclades. At home, Peisistratus kept the form of the Solonian constitution, while holding all real power.  9
Upon Peisistratus's death, his sons Hippias and Hipparchus succeeded to the tyranny.  10
Athens defeated Thebes and prevented it from forcing Plataea into the Boeotian League.  11
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.