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Greece. 1st Period: From the Dorian Migration to the Persian Wars (1100-500 b.c.). page 3


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We must pass swiftly over the early history of Athens. The rule of kings, at a very early period, gave way to that of nobles, the Eupatridae or "well-born," the executive government being in the hands of Archons ("ruling men"), who were chosen by the nobles from their own body, and, by the year 683, had become nine officials, annually chosen. The Archon Eponymus, meaning "he from whom the year is named," was president of the body; the Basileus, or king of the sacrifices, was high-priest; the Polemarchus, "war-leader," became afterwards war-minister; the other six, called Thesmothetae, were judges. The first archon, or Eponymus, was the special representative of the majesty of the state, and acted as guardian of orphans and heiresses, and of the rights of inheritance in general. The Polemarch had also charge of strangers who settled in Attica and of freedmen. Oligarchical oppression of the mass of the people, and factious contests among the nobles, who were great landowners in the plain-district of Attica; the democratic peasants of the hill-districts; and the coast-inhabitants, a moderate middle party in politics, showed the strong need for political reform. The man for the time was ready. Solon, of the "Seven Wise Men" of Greece, one really deserving the title, was born about 640 b.c., son of a noble but impoverished sire. He took up trade, and travelled much, gaining both material and mental wealth. A good writer, at first of graceful and amatory, and then of stirring "Tyrtsean" verse, he first gained high credit with his Ionian countrymen in the war with Dorian Megara (610-600), by his dashing conduct as leader of an expedition which regained for Athens the isle of Salamis, hereafter to become of immortal fame. Called by the united voice of the people of Attica to devise remedies for mischiefs and to frame a constitution in the capacity of chief archon, Solon nobly illustrated his own motto, "Nothing in excess," by a graceful compromise between democracy and oligarchy, and, as a constructive statesman, rivalled the greatest legislators of the world's history. His work was taken in hand in 594 b.c. New laws in behalf of the embarrassed abolished interest, and thus relieved debtors of a great part of their burden; lowered the standard of the currency; annulled all mortgages and put every landowner in full possession; placed a limit on great accumulation of lands in the same tenure; and abolished servitude for debtors. A comprehensive code of laws dealt with all the relations of public and private life, and burst the bonds which had hitherto kept most of the Athenians in a state of political and legal pupilage. The new law-giver then, in his desire to give the poorest class some control over the officials and the law, divided the people into four classes, according to property. The democratic character of this arrangement is seen in the fact that property was substituted for birth as a qualification for the higher offices of the state. The three higher classes, possessed of a yearly income from land of value from at least 750 down to 225 bushels of corn, had to provide the land-army of Attica. The highest class, the men of 750 bushels and upwards, could alone fill the chief offices of state; the second and third classes could hold minor posts. The fourth class, including all below the property-standard of 225 bushels, furnished the rowers in the triremes, the war-galleys of three banks of oars, hereafter to be the salvation of Greece in war against Oriental power, and the bulwark of Athenian empire. These citizens of the fourth class were, however, placed on the straight road to democratic power by having the right of voting in the general assembly which elected the public officials, passed sentence on their conduct at the end of their year of office, and debated and decided on legislation and other matters submitted to it by the Council, including the question of peace or war. This famous body, the Ecclesia, or General Assembly of the People, was composed of all classes of citizens. The Council or Senate comprised 400 men, chosen annually by lot, to prepare business for discussion and decision in the Ecclesia. The lower courts of justice were composed of jurors, sitting to the number of several hundreds in each case, selected from a body of 6,000 citizens above 30 years of age, chosen annually from the Ecclesia. The famous Areopagus a body of judges composed of archons retired from office, had the guardianship of the laws and of public morals, with jurisdiction in all grave criminal cases. There were many other regulations made by Solon concerning the power of fathers over children, the personal and domestic affairs of citizens, sacrifices, public amusements, marriage, education, and slaves. The persons at Athens who had no political rights were the metaeci, or resident aliens, mostly foreigners engaged in trade, paying a fixed sum for the privilege, and liable to public burdens, including military service; and the slaves, purchased aliens and their descendants, whose lives were protected by Solon's legislation, with an appeal to the magistrates against ill-treatment. Freedmen, or emancipated slaves, had the same position as the metaeci. The slaves and resident aliens formed the great majority of the inhabitants, the estimate for Athens in her most prosperous days being 90,000 citizens, 45,000 resident aliens, and 360,000 slaves. We may observe that the fourth class of citizens, or the owners of land yielding less than 225 bushels, or having no land, was largely composed of day-labourers in the country, artisans, sailors, and city-tradesmen. The members of the first three classes served in war as heavy-armed and armoured infantry; of the first two, in case of need, as cavalry, furnishing their own horses; and members of the first class supplied ships for the fleet at their own expense. These liabilities to service - the state-officials also receiving no pay - formed the only regular taxation of citizens. In cases of need, an income-tax or special contribution levied on the first three classes was called into play, but the ordinary revenue of the state came in later days from tribute received from subject-allies, customs-duties and harbour-dues, the alien poll-tax, and from the rich silver mines of the state at Laurium in the south of Attica.

Some years after Solon had settled affairs in Athens, and had left Attica for foreign travel, the revival of factions led to the establishment of a "tyranny" in the Greek sense. A clever and ambitious noble named Peisistratus, by craft and intrigue, obtained the support of the largest and poorest class of the citizens, and usurped supreme power in 560 b.c., leaving the constitution of Solon untouched in its forms. After two periods of exile caused by a coalition of the nobles and the moderate party, he finally established himself in 541, and ruled till his death in 527. His sway was of a mild character, and he was an excellent patron of literature and the arts. His son Hippias, who succeeded to his power, became a cruel ruler after the murder, for a private wrong, of his brother Hipparchus, and was finally driven out in 510 b.c. by nobles headed by Cleisthenes, aided by a Spartan army. The time for the establishment of Athenian democracy in almost full force had now arrived. Cleisthenes put himself at the head of the commons or popular party, and made considerable changes in the constitution, developing that of Solon in a democratic direction. The four old Athenian tribes were set aside, and ten new tribes were created, each consisting of ten demes, i.e. districts, parishes, or local communities, scattered about Attica. The local influence of the aristocracy was broken up by this political division of the old clans. The Council had 100 new members, making 500, elected by fifties from each tribe. The citizenship was given to a number of the metaeci, the trading aliens, and a new and important office was created in the strategi or generals, one chosen by each tribe, to hold military command by turns each for a day. The Polemarch Archon commanded with them. The management of foreign affairs gradually came into the hands of these "generals." The changes effected by the year 507 included the famous ostracism, or banishment by ticket, enabling the citizens to get rid of any man thought to be dangerous to freedom, provided 6,000 voters could agree, by ballot, in naming one and the same person for an exile of ten years. This remarkable device was aimed at men who might aspire to a "tyranny," and was of service in guarding the new constitution. The banished politician did not lose his property, and at the end of his term of exile he could return with full civic rights. The ostracism, moreover, could only take place when the Council and the Ecclesia had decided that there was danger to the state, The Spartans, Boeotians, and the people of Chalcis in Euboea, at the instance of the Athenian aristocratic party, now interfered with Athens by force of arms. The people, however, sturdily upheld their rights. A small Spartan force which had, by treachery; entered Athens was expelled. The Thebans of Boeotia were defeated. The Chalcidians were attacked at home and completely overcome, and 4,000 Athenian farmers were settled on the lands of their nobles. The new democracy was already giving bright promise of the union, energy, and courage which were shortly, in conflict with the greatest existing power, to maintain the cause not only of Athens, but of freedom for the Aryan world.

Note: For detailed information on Greek mythology and legends the reader is referred to Myths and Legends, by E. M. Berens (Blackie & Son): for Greek antiquities, including the general character of the people, public and private life, religion and law, to Professor Mahaffy's Greek Antiquities (Macmillan's History Primers): for Greek literature, to Professor Jebb's excellent little work (Macmillan's Literature Primers): and for Greek civilisation in general, and all that Ancient Greece has done for mankind, to Mahaffy's Survey of Greek Civilisation (Macmillan & Co.).

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