Biography[ edit ] Solon was born in Athens around BC. If so, Solon's lineage could be traced back to Codrusthe last King of Athens.
It was not until the 5th century that accounts of his life and works began to be put together, on the evidence of his poems of which the or so lines preserved by quotation probably represent only a small proportionhis law code, oral tradition, and inference from existing institutions.
Although certain details have a legendary ring, the main features of the story seem to be reliable. Solon was of noble descent but moderate means.
As the tradition states and his travels and economic measures suggest, he may have been a merchant. He first became prominent about bce, when the Athenians were disheartened by ill success in a war with their neighbours of Megara for possession of the island of Salamis.
The early 6th century was a troubled time for the Athenians in other ways as well. Society was dominated by an aristocracy of birth, the eupatridaewho owned the best land, monopolized the government, and were themselves split into rival factions. The poorer farmers were easily driven into debt by them and when unable to pay were reduced to the condition of serfs on their own land and, in extreme cases, sold into slavery.
The intermediate classes of middling farmers, craftsmen, and merchants resented their exclusion from the government.
These social, economic, and political evils might well have culminated in a revolution and subsequent tyranny dictatorshipas they had in other Greek states, had it not been for Solon, to whom Athenians of all classes turned in the hope of a generally satisfactory solution of their problems.
Because he believed in moderation and in an ordered society in which each class had its proper place and function, his solution was not revolution but reform. Economic reforms Solon had already held office as archon annual chief ruler about bce. It was probably about 20 years later that he was given full powers as reformer and legislator.
His first concern was to relieve the immediate distress caused by debt.
He redeemed all the forfeited land and freed all the enslaved citizens, probably by fiat. But he refused to go to the length demanded by the poor, which was to redistribute the land. Instead, he passed measures designed to increase the general prosperity and to provide alternative occupations for those unable to live by farming: The rapid spread of the new coinage and of Athenian products, particularly olive oil and potterythroughout the commercial world of the times, attested by archaeologyshows that these measures were effective.
He instituted a census of annual income, reckoned primarily in measures of grain, oil, and wine, the principal products of the soil, and divided the citizens into four income groups, accordingly.
Those whose income was in other forms, including money, must have been rated on a system of equivalents. Henceforth, political privilege was allotted on the basis of these divisions, without regard to birth.
All citizens were entitled to attend the general Assembly Ecclesiawhich became, at least potentially, the sovereign body, entitled to pass laws and decrees, elect officials, and hear appeals from the most important decisions of the courts.
All but those in the poorest group might serve, a year at a time, on a new Council of Four Hundredwhich was to prepare business for the Assembly. The higher governmental posts were reserved for citizens of the top two income groups. Thus, the foundations of the future democracy were laid.
But a strong conservative element remained in the ancient Council of the Hill of Ares Areopagusand the people themselves for a long time preferred to entrust the most important positions to members of the old aristocratic families. The first written code at Athens, that of Draco c. On the civil side they permitted enslavement for debt, and death seems to have been the penalty for almost all criminal offenses.
Solon revised every statute except that on homicide and made Athenian law altogether more humane. His code, though supplemented and modified, remained the foundation of Athenian statute law until the end of the 5th century, and parts of it were embodied in the new codification made at that time.
In attempting to satisfy all, he had satisfied none. The nobles had hoped that he would make only marginal changes; the poor, that he would distribute all the land in equal shares and, if necessary, make himself tyrant in order to enforce the redistribution. But Solon, although concerned for freedom, justiceand humanity, was no egalitarian, nor had he any ambition for autocratic power.
To avoid having to defend and explain them further, Solon set off on a series of travels, undertaking not to return for 10 years. Later years Among the places Solon visited were Egypt and Cyprus. Those visits are attested by his poems.
Less credible because of chronological difficulties is the famous encounter with the fabulously rich Croesusking of Lydiawho, so the story goes, learned from Solon that wealth and power are not guarantors of happiness and that, while they lived, fate could reverse the fortunes of all.Solon: Solon, Athenian statesman, known as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece (the others were Chilon of Sparta, Thales of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Cleobulus of Lindos, Pittacus of Mytilene, and Periander of Corinth).
Solon ended exclusive aristocratic control of . Solons Reforms Council of After Solon was given full powers as legislator and reformer, his first concern was to address the immediate stress issue cause by debt. Transcript of Solons Reforms Solon, a respected statesman tried to solve problems that were escalating in Athens.
Solon passed a law outlawing slavery based on debt and canceled farmers' debts. Solon's laws do not appear to have been systematic, but provided regulations in the areas of politics, religion, public and private life (including marriage, burial, and the use of springs and wells), civil and criminal life, commerce (including a prohibition on export of all Attic produce except olive oil, although Solon encouraged the export of artisans' work), agriculture, sumptuary regulation and discipline.
Herodotus' Corner This session's topic: Solon's Reforms & Athenian Democracy Solon, the great law maker, made both political and economic reforms to the Athenian law code which were enacted in Solon’s economic reforms, known as the “shaking off of burdens,” dealt with one of the immediate causes of the crisis: debt.
All debts were cancelled, enslaved debtors freed, and borrowing on the security of the person forbidden.