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Early European History by Webster, Hutton

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After much agitation an Athenian named Draco was employed to write out a code for the state. The laws, as published, were very severe. The penalty for most offenses, even the smallest theft, was death. The Athenians used to declare that the Draconian code had been written, "not in ink, but in blood." Its publication, however, was a popular triumph and the first step toward the establishment of Athenian democracy.


The second step was the legislation of Solon. This celebrated Athenian was accounted among the wisest men of his age. The people held him in high honor and gave him power to make much-needed reforms. At this time the condition of the Attic peasants was deplorable. Many of them had failed to pay their rent to the wealthy landowners, and according to the old custom were being sold into slavery. Solon abolished the custom and restored to freedom all those who had been enslaved for debt. He also limited the amount of land which a noble might hold. By still another law he admitted even the poorest citizens to the popular assembly, where they could vote for magistrates and judge of their conduct after their year of office was over. By giving the common people a greater share in the government, Solon helped forward the democratic movement at Athens.


Solon's reforms satisfied neither the nobility nor the commons. The two classes continued their rivalry until the disorder of the times enabled an ambitious politician to gain supreme power as a tyrant. [24] He was Solon's own nephew, a noble named Pisistratus. The tyrant ruled with moderation and did much to develop the Athenian city-state. He fostered agriculture by dividing the lands of banished nobles among the peasants. His alliances with neighboring cities encouraged the rising commerce of Athens. The city itself was adorned with handsome buildings by architects and sculptors whom Pisistratus invited to his court from all parts of Greece.


Pisistratus was succeeded by his two sons, but the Athenians did not take kindly to their rule. Before long the tyranny came to an end. The Athenians now found a leader in a noble named Clisthenes, who proved to be an able statesman. He carried still further the democratic movement begun by Draco and Solon. One of his reforms extended Athenian citizenship to many foreigners and emancipated slaves ("freedmen") then living in Attica. This liberal measure swelled the number of citizens and helped to make the Athenians a more progressive people. Clisthenes, it is said, also established the curious arrangement known as ostracism. Every year, if necessary, the citizens were to meet in assembly and to vote against any persons whom they thought dangerous to the state. If as many as six thousand votes were cast, the man who received the highest number of votes had to go into honorable exile for ten years. [25] Though ostracism was intended as a precaution against tyrants, before long it came to be used to remove unpopular politicians.