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Early Athens. To the time of Draco. The Age of Tyranny finally passed. Tyranny died out by 500. Many of the reasons for stasis in the seventh and sixth centuries faded by then. Tyranny or the threat of tyranny may have “tamed” the volatile aristocratic rivalries.

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Early athens l.jpg

Early Athens

To the time of Draco


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The Age of Tyranny finally passed

  • Tyranny died out by 500.

  • Many of the reasons for stasis in the seventh and sixth centuries faded by then.

  • Tyranny or the threat of tyranny may have “tamed” the volatile aristocratic rivalries.

  • A taste of expanded powers for non-aristocrats over several generations may have prevented a return to the “good old days” for the aristocrats.

  • Let’s see how this pattern of Greek tyranny affected the development of Athenian democracy.


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Geography

  • Athens is in the district of Attica.

  • Attica is about 1000 square miles with several extensive plains areas.

  • Attica has extensive shorelines, which would suggest the inhabitants’ connection to the sea.

  • In the southeast area is Laurium, where rich silver deposits were mined.

  • There is little remarkable here to explain Athens later uniqueness among Greek poleis.


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A Large Unified Polis

  • The second largest polis in area, Attica was unified at an early date.

  • All free men of Attica were considered Athenian whether they lived in Marathon or Eleutherae or Phyle.

  • There was no Athenian equivalent to the perioiki or the helot of Sparta.

  • Athenians knew they were unique and pointed to a civic myth that explained how Attica was unified (συνοικίσμος): the myth of Theseus.


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An Athenian Civic Myth

Minos, Daedalus, and Theseus:

Story of re-foundation.



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Minos, Minotaur, and Athens

  • While Minos was struggling for the throne of Crete, he prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull as a sign of approval from the gods. He would sacrifice it.

  • When a beautiful white bull arose from the sea, Minos changed his mind and sacrificed a bull from the herd.

  • This angered Poseidon, who made MInos’ wife, Pasipha, fall madly in love with the bull, which became mad. Pasipha ordered Daedalus to construct a hollow wooden cow for her, she crawled in and had relations with the white bull. The offspring was the Minotaur, head and tail of bull on man’s body.



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Enter Daedalus

  • When the beast wrecked havoc on Crete, Minos called upon Daedalus to construct the Labyrinth, an intricate maze in which the beast would wander, but never find its way out.

  • Daedalus later lost MInos’ favor and was locked in a tower.

  • One of Minos’ sons, Androgeos, was competing in the Panathenaeic games sponsored by Aigeus, the Athenian king. After winning fairly, Aigeus gave him the task of traveling to Marathon to fight a bull that Heracles had captured on the island of Crete. Yes, it was the self-same mad bull, father of Androgeos’ half-brother, and it killed him.



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Theseus and the Minotaur

  • Minos declared war on Athens and besieged the city. The Athenians defended bravely, but finally agreed to pay tribute.

  • Each year, Athens had to provide seven maidens and seven boys as tribute. They were dropped into the Labyrinth as Minotaur food.

  • Theseus, Aegeus’ son, returned to Athens when this had been going on for eight years, and was disgusted. He volunteered to go as one of the victims.

  • When MInos’ daughter, Ariadne, saw Theseus, she fell madly in love with him and sneaked a sword and ball of thread to him.

  • Theseus killed the Minotaur, then escaped using the thread. He took Ariadne with him, but Athene ordered him to abandon her her on an island, Naxos, on the way.


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A tragic return

  • Another version of the story says that Dionysius cooperated with Athene to get Theseus out of the way because he loved Ariadne.

  • When their ship finally sailed to Athens, Theseus was unaware that the ship had two sets of sails: a black one and a white one. The black sails were used as a sign of mourning whenever the tribute ship returned from Crete.

  • Aegeus knew that Theseus was going to attempt to rescue the youths, so looked anxiously for the ship’s arrival. But Theseus mistakenly raised the black sails instead, so when Aegeus saw the sails, he killed himself.

  • Theseus became the king of Athens now.


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The myths of Theseus

  • Reportedly born in the late Bronze Age before the traditional time of the Trojan War, Theseus was son of Aegeus, king of Athens and Aethra a princess of Troezen.

  • Theseus led the Athenian forces in their victory over the Amazons and married the Amazon queen, Hippolyta. Shakespeare celebrated their wedding in Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  • The ideal of Athenian manhood, Theseus is the thinking person’s Heracles (Hercules), who held Helen as a prisoner and is credited with unifying the villages of Attica.


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A footnote to the story…

  • When Minos decided to attack Athens, he first had to subdue Megara, a city ruled by Nisos, who was thought to be immortal.

  • His secret? A single lock of purple hair that grew, uncut, from his head, given to him by his father, Ares. Minos knew the purple hair had to go.

  • So he wooed Nisos’ daughter, Skylla, and persuaded her to pluck the hair from her father’s head. She did.

  • Minos then slew Nisos, but drowned Skylla.

  • An alternate story says Nisos chased Skylla off a cliff, and while they were falling, Ares transformed them into a pair of birds, Nisos a raptor and Skylla a swift, and so Nisos chases her for eternity.


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Development of Archaic Athens

  • So this is how Athenians accounted for their unusual acceptance of regional unity: It took the semi-divine Theseus to accomplish it. The ability to tackle the impossible was a characteristic of the Athenians and a sign of divine favor.

  • However, except for their strange unity, Athens developed like other Greek poleis.

  • Athens didn’t colonize at all, not even one (though they did invade and secure other cities to preserve their trade).

  • Large territory and cutting-edge industry provided economic outlets.

  • Nevertheless, late archaic Athens could not escape the stasis that seemed to simmer throughout Greece.


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The first threat of tyranny

  • A “eupatrid” (well-sired) Athenian named Cylon attempted to establish himself as tyrant in about 630.

  • Despite classical accounts, he enjoyed considerable internal support.

  • He was probably also supported by his father-in-law Theagenes, the tyrant of Megara.

  • The coup failed and Cylon escaped.

  • His followers were captured and given a safe conduct from the temple of Athena that was violated when a gang from the Alcmaeonid family, led by the eponymous (chief) archon Megacles, murdered them

  • This brought a mythic curse on that family. They were exiled and the bodies of their ancestors were dug up and removed from the city. They were allowed back in 594.


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After the coup attempt

  • Bad blood had been stirring between eupatrid families in Athens even before the coup.

  • The murders probably brought things to a boiling point for almost a decade after despite exiling the Alcmaeonids.

  • This probably explains the emergence of the shadowy lawgiver Draco, who addressed the laws of murder and vendetta, among other things.

  • Originally, he had been asked to transcribe the oral laws when ignorance of the law threatened to plunge the city into chaos. Later, he was appointed archon.


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Draco and his code “written in blood”

  • We know little about him except that he had authority to write code and his name has made it into English as byword for severity.

  • Draco certainly removed prosecution of homicide from families and made it a “state” issue: death penalty for murder and exile for manslaughter.

  • He also categorized different kinds of murder and required public trials for all homicide cases.

  • Classical authors claimed he revamped the entire civic code and made death the penalty of choice even for petty crimes, but many historians think this is an aristocratic fabrication.

  • Overhaul of the law codes was left to Solon. We turn to reform and tyranny in Athens next.



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Solon as Archon

  • The first undisputed documentation on legal codes for Athens appears in the ethical and political poetry of Solon.

  • Solon was invited to make a legal code for Athens after he was appointed archon in 594.

  • The legal code was needed to end a particularly troublesome period of stasis.

  • The fact that he received appointment from the aristocracy shows that many of the Eupatrids were prepared to make concessions to their opposition.


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The Solonic Code

  • Solon placed the responsibility for the social upheaval in Athens on the rapacity and insensitivity of the wealthy classes.

  • Solon had the text of his legal code inscribed on wooden tablets and placed in public view.

  • A grateful underclass clamored for him to become tyrant; instead he left Athens.


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Solon’s reforms

  • Solon acted according to a policy of seisachtheia, a “shaking off of burdens,” addressing enslavement.

  • Debts were cancelled; freedom was restored to debt slaves; Athenians sold into slavery abroad for debt were recovered; New law: people cannot be security for debt.

  • Solon divided the populace into four groups according to their wealth.

  • Solon allowed the general Assembly to have some authority to have appellate jurisdiction over the archons in lawsuits.


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Solon’s four classes

  • First class restricted to men whose land produced at least 500 dry or liquid measures (750 bushels or 4250 gallons). They could hold highest offices, like archon.

  • Next two offices, including hoplites, were eligible for minor offices and service in the Council of 400.

  • Lowest were the Thetes, who produced under 200 measures annually. They could serve in the Assembly.


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Solon Summation

  • Solon left Athens because he feared added pressure to become tyrant or pressure from dissatisfied people to make greater concessions.

  • Solon’s reforms acted like a “pressure valve” that relieved stasis for a time, but also increased competition for offices and power.

  • Solon’s reforms created a new class of peasants, freed from debt, who became the foundation for Athenian democracy.

  • Solon used the objective distinction between freedom and slavery to define citizenship.


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An Athenian tyrant

  • In 560 Peisistratus carried out the first successful coup in Athens aided by poorer rural and urban populations.

  • Peisistratus was twice driven off, but finally took over about 539 behind an army of mercenaries.

  • He ruled as tyrant until 527.

  • Interestingly, he was also a distant relative of Solon.


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Peisistratus’ Accomplishments

  • Peisistratus maintained a constitutional tyranny where democracy was “guided” rather than abolished.

  • Peisistratus was able to be the major influence on appointment of the archons.

  • He maintained a standing mercenary army.

  • He was not adverse to taking children of prominent families as hostages when he held them in suspicion.

  • He divided vacant land and distributed it to the poor.

  • He greatly increased the yields and exports of olives.


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Results of the tyranny

  • This was a relatively peaceful time.

  • Peisistratus conquered Salamis and established trading foothold on opposite shores of the Hellespont.

  • Peisistratus increased interest in the Iliad by making Homeric recitations a feature of the Panathenaic Festival. (Possibly didn’t commission first editions of Iliad.)

  • Peisistratus built a new temple to Dionysius and began the great Doric temple to the Olympian Zeus, which was only completed under the Romans (Hadrian).

  • He increased and improved the water supply of Athens.


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First Free Athens

  • The tyranny ended through the efforts of the Alcmaeonid family and the Spartans.

  • The Alcmaeonids paid to remodel the temple of Apollo at Delphi.

  • Delphic priests influenced the Spartans, who sought advice of the oracle from time to time.

  • The Delphic response to repeated Spartan requests? “First free Athens!”

  • In 510, King Cleomenes forced Hippias, Peisistratus’ son, to abdicate by holding his children as hostages.


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How the tyrant came to power

  • The old class distinctions based on birth had been crumbling away, and had been replaced by parties.

  • In Attica, the parties received their names from the places where their strongest support was based:

    • Men of the Plain—wealthy landowners, conservative aristocrats

    • Men of the Hill—small farmers and herdsmen, populists and democrats living in the highlands

    • Men of the Shore—merchants and traders, moderates

  • During Solon’s ten-year absence these parties were developing, gaining strength, and sparring with their rivals.

  • Certainly this party strife contributed to the viability of tyranny in Athens, and into the gap stepped Peisistratus:

    • Aristocrat, but espousing the cause of the people

    • Brilliant politician, able military leader, more than adequate communicator


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Looking back on Pesistratus’ career

  • At first, used a self-inflicted wound to gain sympathy:

    • Appeared in the Agora one day with blood oozing from wounds

    • He claimed he was attacked for defending the peoples’ rights

    • Enemies reminded them that Solon had warned the people about Pesistratus, but they were fooled and voted him a fifty-man guard

  • Used the bodyguard to seize the Acropolis (and thus the treasury) and made himself ruler. It lasted five years, until 555.

  • Second time he hired a woman to play the part of Athena, then rode into town with her in the chariot proclaiming her divine sanction! It lasted six years.

  • Third time he used a band of Argive mercenaries to seize power and held it till his death.

  • The Athenians were only done with him when they voted his son, Hippias, into perpetual exile with the help of Spartan king Cleomenes.


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Reforms of Cleisthenes

  • Spartans were to remain in Athens until oligarchic government was restored.

  • Sparta backed Isagoras as archon, but the Athenians defied the Spartans and invited Cleisthenes of the Alcmaeonid family to be archon.

  • Cleisthenes’ policies attempted to break the power of the wealthy families, he divided Attica into de’mes and required citizens to identify themselves by de’me rather than by family.

  • Each de’me provided representatives to the new Council of 500, all chosen by lot.

  • The army was also reorganized with each de’me electing its own officers and high general, called the strategos.


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Before Cleisthenes

  • Attica had been organized according to the old Ionian tribal system, made up of fratries and clans.

  • Political rights had been hereditary based on the clan from which one came.

  • Solon’s reforms attempted to simplify these divisions, but his departure in some sense doomed his reforms.

  • Cleisthenes was one of the greatest political reformers in ancient Greece, and his organizational structure laid a new foundation for the Athenian state.


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The Deme

  • The de’me was the smallest territorial district.

  • It was very much like our present idea of a township.

  • It had a town government, with town officers presiding over a town meeting.

  • At left is pictured the town center of the de’me of Rhamnous, most northerly de’me of Attica, noted for being a center of the worship of Nemesis.


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The Trittys

  • Three (and sometimes four) de’mes made up a trittys. Some say seven or eight in the non “peri-to-astu” de’mes, while some urban de’mes may eventually have been trittyes in their own right.

  • The trittys corresponds to our idea of a county.

  • There were thirty of these trittyes in Attica. Ten around Athens proper, ten along the coast and ten in the interior.

  • The heads of the trittyes were the trittyarchoi. They were to maintain roads, build defensive and retaining walls and ships, recruit soldiers, and administer certain local cults.

  • It is confusing to study these sometimes because the trittys usually took the name of the leading de’me in the trittys.


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Tribes

  • The tribe is the largest of the three districts.

  • They were organized along a sister-trittys system.

  • A city trittys, a shore trittys, and an interior trittys combined to form a tribe, even though the trittyes may not be contiguous.

  • Each tribe also maintained five officials, called naukraria, who were responsible to build and maintain at least one ship under the ultimate command of the pole’march.

  • So Attica was divided into ten tribes, each providing fifty for the council of 500.

  • This ingenious plan helped break down the old party spirit of rivalry between plain, hill, and shore.


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4 Ionian tribes.

12 fratries or brotherhoods.

300+ clans or families

10 “Tribes.”

30 Trittyes, like counties.

100+ de’mes, like townships.

Old Ionian vs. New Attic

Cleisthenes would use the new territorial divisions of the people to form a new government structure.


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The Assembly: Ekkle’sia

  • The ekklesia was made up of all free males in the de’mes, though they may not attend all meetings.

  • It became the real sovereign power of Athens.

  • They deliberated upon questions of war and peace, and had to approve foreign policy.

  • They also had to pass on questions related to revenue to run the government and taxation.

  • It suggests the picture of Athenian democracy with which we will later become familiar.


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The Council of 500: Boule’

  • Each tribe provided fifty representatives, chosen by lot.

  • The Boule was a deliberative body. It created policies and bills that were submitted to the ekklesia for approval.

  • The Boule was also a watchdog, supervising the administration of the Athenian state.


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Executive branch: Nine Archons and Ten Strategoi

  • Now archons were chosen by lot from a list of candidates submitted by the de’mes.

  • The archons selected a pole’march to act as commander-in-chief of the army.

  • Now military generals would be elected. Each tribe had its own military division and elected its own strategos.

  • Eventually, these strategoi would come to supercede the archons as the chief magistrates.


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Ostracism

  • This new organization provided checks and balances which protected the state against abuses by the aristocrats.

  • Cleisthenes also wanted to have some effective means of preventing domination by a single person, or the return of tyranny.

  • This power was vested in the ekklesia. An ostracism meeting could be called, and if 6000 citizens cast votes against any man, he had to endure an exile of ten years.

  • The name came from the way in which the votes were cast: eah voter scratched the name of the offending man on a broken piece of pottery, an “ostraca,” ancient foolscap or post-it notes.

  • It was seen as more of a precaution than a punishment, and often did not mean the complete ruin of a political career.

  • Thus, ostracism was an honorable exile!


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Implications for Greece

  • Can’t you see Athens moving not only away from the old monarchy, but away from aristocracy as well?

  • These changes alarmed the Spartans, who had ridded the Athenians of tyranny, but now saw the new Athenian constitution as a threat to their cherished aristocratic notions.

  • Cleomenes returned to Attica to attempt to overthrow the constitution, but failed.

  • Now the polarity of Athens and Sparta begins to take shape, the Athenians the advocates of democracy, the Spartans the reactionary defenders of aristocracy.


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Dark Clouds Brewing in the East

  • All during this time of tyranny and reform in Athens, distant Ionian relatives in western Asia minor were facing multiple threats.

  • After first caving in to the Lydians under Croesus, Ionians and Aeolians were subjugated by the Persians and the world thus came to Greece, which could no longer escape the world’s notice.

  • How did the Persians come so far from their homes to threaten mainland Greece?


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