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Solonian Constitution

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Solonian Constitution

The Solonian Constitution[1] was created by Solon in the early 6th century BC. At the time of Solon the Athenian State was almost falling to pieces in consequence of dissensions between the parties into which the population was divided. Solon wanted to revise or abolish the older laws of Draco. Solon promulgated a code of laws embracing the whole of public and private life, the salutary effects[2] of which lasted long after the end of his constitution.

Under Solon's reforms, all debts were abolished and all debt-slaves were freed. The status of the hectemoroi (the "one-sixth workers"), who farmed in an early form of serfdom, was also abolished. These reforms were known as the Seisachtheia.[3] Solon's constitution reduced the power of the old aristocracy by making wealth rather than birth a criterion for holding political positions, a system called timokratia or Timocracy. Citizens were also divided based on their land production: Pentacosiomedimnoi, Hippeis, Zeugitae, and Thetes. The lower assembly was given the right to hear appeals, and Solon also created the higher assembly. Both of these were meant to decrease the power of the Areopagus, the aristocratic council. The only parts of Draco's code that Solon kept were the laws regarding homicide. The constitution was written as poetry, and as soon as it was introduced, Solon went into self-imposed exile for 10 years so he would not be tempted to take power as a tyrant.


Of the population dissatisfied, the Diacrii,[4] the poorest and most oppressed section of the population, demanded that the privileges of the nobility, which had till then obtained, should be utterly set aside. Another party, prepared to be contented by moderate concessions, was composed of the Parali.[5] The third was formed by the nobles[6][7] because their property lay for the most part in the pedion,[8] the level and most fruitful part of the country. Solon, who enjoyed the confidence of all parties on account of his tried insight and sound judgment, was chosen archon by a compromise, with full power to put an end to the difficulties, and to restore peace by means of legislation. One of the primary measures of Solon was the Seisachtheia (dis-burdening ordinance). This gave an immediate relief by cancelling all debts, public and private. At the same time he made it illegal for the future to secure debts upon the person of the debtor.[9][10]

Solon also altered the standard of coinage [and of weights and measures], by introducing the Euboic standard[11] in place of the Pheidonian[12] or Aeginetan standard,.[13][14] 100 new drachmae were thus made to contain the same amount of silver as 73 old drachmae.


Solon further instituted a timocracy[15] (q.v.), and those who did not belong to the nobility received a share in the rights of citizens,[16] according to a scale determined by their property and their corresponding services to the Athenian State. For this purpose he divided the population into four classes,[17] founded on the possession of land.[18]

  1. Pentacosiomedimni [19][20]
  2. Hippeis[21]
  3. Zeugitae[22]
  4. Thetes[23]

Solon's legislation only granted to the first three of these four classes a vote in the election of responsible officers, and only to the first class the power of election to the highest offices; as, for instance, that of archon. The first three classes were bound to serve as hoplites; the cavalry was raised out of the first two, while the fourth class was only employed as light-armed troops or on the fleet, and apparently for pay. The others served without pay. The holders of office in the State were also unpaid.

Each division had different rights; for example, the pentacosiomedimnoi could be archons, while thetes could only attend the Athenian assembly. The fourth class was excluded from all official positions, but possessed the right of voting in the general public assemblies (the Heliaia) which chose officials and passed laws. They had also the right of taking part in the trials by jury which Solon had instituted.

Council of the Four Hundred

Main: Boule

Solon established as the chief consultative body the Council of the Four Hundred,[24][25] in which only the first three classes took part, and as chief administrative body the Areopagus (q.v.) which was to be filled up by those who had been archons.

Further reading

  • A Handbook of Greek Constitutional History, "Epochs Of Constitutional Reform At Athens" By Abel Hendy Jones Greenidge.
  • Solon the Athenian, Volume 6. By Ivan Mortimer Linforth.
  • Greece By George Grote. Page 122 - 133.

References and citations

  1. ^ A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Mythology, Religion, Literature and Art, from the German of Dr. Oskar Seyffert. Page 595
  2. ^ Effecting or designed to effect an improvement
  3. ^ the "shaking-off of burdens".
  4. ^ the inhabitants of the northern mountainous region of Attica
  5. ^ the inhabitants of the stretch of coast called Paralia
  6. ^ called Pedicis or Pediaci
  7. ^ The city of Athens was anciently divided into three districts, one sunny slope of a hill, one other on the beach of the sea, and the third in the middle of the plain between the hill and the sea. The inhabitants of the intermediate district were called Pediani or Pediaci or Pedici (Subscripts); those of the hill with the name of Diacrii, and those of the lido the Paralii. These three classes of inhabitants formed many factions. Pisistratus availed of Pediani against Diacrii. In the time of Solon, when he had choose a form of government, the democratic Diacrii they wanted, the Pediani asked the aristocracy, and the Paralii a mixed government.
  8. ^ The Greek word, pedion (πεδίον) means "plain", "flat", "field".
  9. ^ Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 6
  10. ^ In ancient Greece, the power of creditors over the persons of their debtors was absolute; and, as in all cases where despotic control is tolerated, their rapacity was boundless. They compelled the insolvent debtors to cultivate their lands like entile, to perform the service of beasts of burthen, and to transfer to them their sons and daughters, whom they exported as slaves to foreign countries. For more, see Reports of Committees of The House Of Representatives at the First Session of the Twenty-Second Congress, Begun and Held at The City of Washington, December 7, 1831. Pg 74.
  11. ^ Used around the Euboea
  12. ^ Used by Pheidon, king of Argos
  13. ^ Used around the Aegina
  14. ^ Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 10
  15. ^ timokratia
  16. ^ by which the exclusive rights which the nobles had till then possessed were set aside
  17. ^ not unlike the Four occupations of Ancient China.
  18. ^
    [...] Solon, who wished to leave all magistracies as he found them, in the hands of the wealthy classes, but to give the people a share in the rest of the constitution, from which they were then excluded, took a census of the wealth of the citizens, and made a first class of those who had an annual income of not less than five hundred medimni of dry or liquid produce; these he called Pentakosiomedimni. The next class were the Hippeis, or knights, consisting of those who were able to keep a horse, or who had an income of three hundred medimni. The third class were the Zeugitae, whose property qualification was two hundred medimni of dry or liquid produce; and the last class were the Thetes, whom Solon did not permit to be magistrates, but whose only political privilege was the right of attending the public assemblies and sitting as jurymen in the law courts. This privilege was at first insignificant, but afterwards became of infinite importance, because most disputes were settled before a jury. Even in those cases which he allowed the magistrates to settle, he provided a final appeal to the people.
    — Plutarch — Life of Solon
  19. ^ or Pentacosiomedimnoi
  20. ^ who had at least 500 medimni (750 bushels) of corn or mStrStce of wine or oil as yearly income
  21. ^ or knights, with at least 300 medimni
  22. ^ possessors of a yoke of oxen, with at least 150 medimni
  23. ^ workers for wages, with less than 150 medimni of yearly income
  24. ^ see Bodle
  25. ^ According to Aristotle's Constitution of Athens, 4, a Council of 401 members was part of Dracon's constitution (about 621 B.C.). The members were selected by lot from the whole body of citizens. Solon (who was archon in 594) reduced the Council to 400, one hundred from each of the four tribes; and extended in some particulars the powers already possessed by the Areopagus (ib. 8).

See also

External links

  • The Athenian Constitution, Aristotle (~350 BC). Commentary on the Solonian Constitution.
  • The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, Plutarch (~75 AD). Article on Solon.
  • The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Frederick Engels. Chapter V. The Rise of the Athenian State, discusses the significance and effects of Solonian Constitution.
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