Solon: Wikis


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Bust titled 'Solon' (National Museum, Naples)
Born c. 638 BC
Died c. 558 BC
probably Cyprus[1]
Occupation Merchant, lawgiver, poet

Solon (ancient Greek: Σόλων, c. 638 BC–558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and elegiac poet. He is remembered particularly for his efforts to legislate against political, economic and moral decline in archaic Athens. His reforms failed in the short term yet he is often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.[2][3][4][5]

Our knowledge of Solon is limited by the lack of documentary and archeological evidence covering Athens in the early 6th century BC.[6][7] He wrote poetry for pleasure, as patriotic propaganda, and in defence of his constitutional reforms. His works only survive in fragments. They appear to feature interpolations by later authors and it is possible that fragments have been wrongly attributed to him (see Solon the reformer and poet). Ancient authors such as Herodotus and Plutarch are our main source of information, yet they wrote about Solon hundreds of years after his death — and this was at a time when history was by no means an academic discipline (see for example Anecdotes). Fourth century orators, such as Aeschines, tended to attribute to Solon all the laws of their own, much later times.[8] Archaeology reveals glimpses of Solon's period in the form of fragmentary inscriptions but little else. For some scholars, our 'knowledge' of Solon and his times is largely a fictive construct based on insufficient evidence[9][10] while others believe a substantial body of real knowledge is still attainable.[11] Solon and his times can appear particularly interesting to students of history as a test of the limits and nature of historical argument.[12]


Background to Solon's reforms

During Solon's time, many Greek city-states had seen the emergence of tyrants, opportunistic noblemen who had grabbed power on behalf of sectional interests. In Sicyon, Cleisthenes had usurped power on behalf of an Ionian minority. In Megara, Theagenes had come to power as an enemy of the local oligarchs. The son-in-law of Theagenes, an Athenian nobleman named Cylon, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Athens in 632 BC. Solon, on the other hand, appears to have been temporarily awarded autocratic powers by his fellow citizens on the grounds that he had the wisdom to sort out their differences for them in a peaceful and equitable manner.[13] According to ancient sources,[14][15] he obtained these powers when he was elected eponymous archon (594/3 BC). Some modern scholars believe these powers were in fact granted some years after Solon had been archon, when he would have been a member of the Areopagus and probably a more respected statesman by his (aristocratic) peers.[16][17][18]

The social and political upheavals that characterised Athens in Solon's time have been variously interpreted by historians from ancient times to the present day. Two contemporary historians have identified three distinct historical accounts of Solon's Athens, emphasizing quite different rivalries: economic and ideological rivalry, regional rivalry and rivalry between aristocratic clans.[19][20] These different accounts provide a convenient basis for an overview of the issues involved.

Athens controlled an unusually large territory by Greek standards. (Click to enlarge the picture)
  • Economic and ideological rivalry is a common theme in ancient sources. This sort of account emerges from Solon's poems (e.g. see below Solon the reformer and poet), in which he casts himself in the role of a noble mediator between two intemperate and unruly factions. This same account is substantially taken up about three centuries later by the author of the Athenaion Politeia but with an interesting variation:
    "...there was conflict between the nobles and the common people for an extended period. For the constitution they were under was oligarchic in every respect and especially in that the poor, along with their wives and children, were in slavery to the rich...All the land was in the hands of a few. And if men did not pay their rents, they themselves and their children were liable to be seized as slaves. The security for all loans was the debtor's person up to the time of Solon. He was the first champion of the people."[21]
    Here Solon is presented as a partisan in a democratic cause whereas, judged from the viewpoint of his own poems, he was instead a mediator between rival factions. A still more significant variation in the ancient historical account appears in the writing of Plutarch about another 300 years later:
    'Athens was torn by recurrent conflict about the constitution. The city was divided into as many parties as there were geographical divisions in its territory. For the party of the people of the hills was most in favour of democracy, that of the people of the plain was most in favour of oligarchy, while the third group, the people of the coast, which preferred a mixed form of constitution somewhat between the other two, formed an obstruction and prevented the other groups from gaining control.'[22]
    The ancient historical account here demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of political process - what were two sides in Solon's account have now become three parties, each with a regional base and a constitutional platform. Plutarch then goes on to repeat the usual ancient account with its brutal landlords on one side and wretched tenants on the other. But how does this melodramatic struggle between haves and have-nots fit into a picture of three regional groupings?
  • Regional rivalry is a theme commonly found among modern scholars.[23][24][25][26]
    'The new picture which emerged was one of strife between regional groups, united by local loyalties and led by wealthy landowners. Their goal was control of the central government at Athens and with it dominance over their rivals from other districts of Attika.'[27]
Regional factionalism was inevitable in a relatively large territory such as Athens possessed. In most Greek city states, a farmer could conveniently reside in town and travel to and from his fields every day. According to Thucydides, on the other hand, most Athenians continued to live in rural settlements right up until the Peloponnesian War.[28] The effects of regionalism in a large territory could be seen in Laconia, where Sparta had gained control through intimidation and resettlement of some of its neighbours and enslavement of the rest. Attika in Solon's time seemed to be moving towards a similarly ugly solution with many citizens in danger of being reduced to the status of helots.[29]
  • Rivalry between clans is a theme recently developed by some scholars, based on an appreciation of the political significance of kinship groupings.[30][31][32][33][34][35] According to this account, bonds of kinship rather than local loyalties were the decisive influence on events in archaic Athens. An Athenian belonged not only to a phyle or tribe and one of its subdivisions, the phratry or brotherhood, but also to an extended family, clan or genos. It has been argued that these interconnecting units of kinship reinforced a hierarchic structure with aristocratic clans at the top.[36][37] Thus rivalries between aristocratic clans could engage all levels of society irrespective of any regional ties. In that case, the struggle between rich and poor was the struggle between powerful aristocrats and the weaker affiliates of their rivals or perhaps even with their own rebellious affiliates.

The historical account of Solon's Athens has evolved over many centuries into a set of contradictory stories or a complex story that might be interpreted in a variety of ways. As further evidence accumulates, and as historians continue to debate the issues, Solon's motivations and the intentions behind his reforms will continue to attract speculation (see for example John Bintliff's 'Solon's Reforms: an archaeological perspective': [38] and other essays published with it[39]).

Solon's reforms

Solon's laws were inscribed on large wooden slabs or cylinders attached to a series of axles that stood upright in the Prytaneum. [40][41] These axones appear to have operated on the same principle as a Lazy Susan, allowing both convenient storage and ease of access. Originally the axones recorded laws enacted by Draco in the late 7th Century (traditionally 621BC). Nothing of Draco's codification has survived except for a law relating to homicide, yet there is consensus among scholars that it did not amount to anything like a constitution. [42][43] Solon repealed all Draco's laws except those relating to homicide. [44] Fragments of the axones were still visible in Plutarch's time [45] but today the only records we have of Solon's laws are fragmentary quotes and comments in literary sources such as those written by Plutarch himself. Moreover, the language of his laws was archaic even by the standards of the fifth century and this caused interpretational problems for ancient commentators.[46] Modern scholars doubt the reliability of these sources and our knowledge of Solon's legislation is therefore actually very limited in its details.

Generally, Solon's reforms appear to have been constitutional, economic and moral in their scope. This distinction, though somewhat artificial, does at least provide a convenient framework within which to consider the laws that have been attributed to Solon. Some short term consequences of his reforms are considered at the end of the section.

Constitutional reform

Previous to Solon's reforms, the Athenian state was administered by nine archons appointed or elected annually by the Areopagus on the basis of noble birth and wealth.[47][48] The Areopagus comprised former archons and it therefore had, in addition to the power of appointment, extraordinary influence as a consultative body. The nine archons took the oath of office while ceremonially standing on a stone in the agora, declaring their readiness to dedicate a golden statue if they should ever be found to have violated the laws.[49][50] There was an assembly of Athenian citizens (the Ekklesia) but the lowest class (the Thetes) was not admitted and its deliberative procedures were controlled by the nobles.[51] There therefore seemed to be no means by which an archon could be called to account for breach of oath unless the Areopagus favoured his prosecution.

According to Aristotle, Solon legislated for all citizens to be admitted into the Ekklesia[52] and for a court (the Heliaia) to be formed from all the citizens.[53] The Heliaia appears to have been the Ekklesia, or some representative portion of it, sitting as a jury.[54][55] By giving common people the power not only to elect officials but also to call them to account, Solon appears to have established the foundations of a true democracy. However some scholars have doubted whether Solon actually included the Thetes in the Ekklesia, this being considered too bold a move for any aristocrat in the archaic period.[56] Ancient sources[57][58] credit Solon with the creation of a Council of Four Hundred, drawn from the four Athenian tribes to serve as a steering committee for the enlarged Ekklesia. However, many modern scholars have doubted this also.[59][60]

There is consensus among scholars that Solon broadened the financial and social qualifications required for election to public office. The Solonian constitution divided citizens into four political classes defined according to assessable property[61][62] a classification that might previously have served the state for military or taxation purposes only.[63] The standard unit for this assessment was one medimnos (approximately 12 gallons) of cereals and yet the kind of classification set out below might be considered too simplistic to be historically accurate.[64]

The Areopagus, as viewed from the Acropolis, is a monolith where Athenian aristocrats decided important matters of state during Solon's time.
  • Pentacosiomedimni
    • valued at 500 medimnoi of cereals annually.
    • eligible to serve as Strategoi (Generals)
  • Hippeis
    • valued at 300 medimnoi production annually.
    • approximating to the mediaeval class of knights, they had enough wealth to equip themselves for the Cavalry
  • Zeugitai
    • valued at a 200 medimnoi production annually.
    • approximating to the mediaeval class of Yeoman, they had enough wealth to equip themselves for the infantry (Hoplite)
  • Thetes
    • valued 199 medimnoi annually or less
    • manual workers or sharecroppers, they served voluntarily in the role of batman, or as auxiliaries armed for instance with the sling or as rowers in the Navy.

According to Aristotle, only the Pentacosiomedimnoi were eligible for election to high office as archons and therefore only they gained admission into the Areopagus.[65] A modern view affords the same privilege to the hippeis.[66] The top three classes were eligible for a variety of lesser posts and only the Thetes were excluded from all public office.

Depending on how we interpret the historical facts known to us, Solon's constitutional reforms were either a radical anticipation of democratic government, or they merely provided a plutocratic flavour to a stubbornly aristocratic regime, or else the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Economic reform

Solon's economic reforms need to be understood in the context of the primitive, subsistence economy that prevailed both before and after his time. Most Athenians were still living in rural settlements right up to the Peloponnesian War. [67] Opportunities for trade even within the Athenian borders were limited. The typical farming family, even in classical times, barely produced enough to satisfy its own needs. [68] Opportunities for international trade were minimal. It has been estimated that, even in Roman times, goods rose 40% in value for every 100 miles they were carried over land, but only 1.3% for the same distance they were carried by ship [69] and yet there is no evidence that Athens possessed any merchant ships until around 525BC.[70] Until then, the narrow warship doubled as a cargo vessel. Athens, like other Greek city states in the 7th Century BC, was faced with increasing population pressures [71] and by about 525 BC it was able to feed itself only in 'good years'.[72]

Solon's reforms can thus be seen to have taken place at a crucial period of economic transition, when a subsistence rural economy increasingly required the support of a nascent commercial sector. The specific economic reforms credited to Solon are these:

This is one of the earliest known coins. It was minted in the early 6th century BC in Lydia, one of the world's then 'superpowers'. Coins such as this might have made their way to Athens in Solon's time but it is unlikely that Athens had its own coinage at this period
  • Fathers were encouraged to find trades for their sons; if they did not, there would be no legal requirement for sons to maintain their fathers in old age.[73]
  • Foreign tradesmen were encouraged to settle in Athens; those who did would be granted citizenship, provided they brought their families with them.[74]
  • Cultivation of olives was encouraged; the export of all other produce was prohibited.[75]
  • Competitiveness of Athenian commerce was promoted through revision of weights and measures, possibly based on successful standards already in use elsewhere, such as Aegina or Euboia[76][77] or, according to the ancient account but unsupported by modern scholarship, Argos[78]

It is generally assumed, on the authority of ancient commentators [79][80] that Solon also reformed the Athenian coinage. However, recent numismatic studies now lead to the conclusion that Athens probably had no coinage until around 560 BC, well after Solon's reforms.[81]

Solon's economic reforms succeeded in stimulating foreign trade. Athenian black-figure pottery was exported in increasing quantities and good quality throughout the Aegean between 600 BC and 560 BC, a success story that coincided with a decline in trade in Corinthian pottery.[82] The ban on the export of grain might be understood as a relief measure for the benefit of the poor. However, the encouragement of olive production for export could actually have led to increased hardship for many Athenians since it would have led to a reduction in the amount of land dedicated to grain. Moreover an olive produces no fruit for the first six years.[83] The real motives behind Solon's economic reforms are therefore as questionable as his real motives for constitutional reform. Were the poor being forced to serve the needs of a changing economy, or was the economy being reformed to serve the needs of the poor?

Moral reform

In his poems, Solon portrays Athens as being under threat from the unrestrained greed and arrogance of its citizens.[84] Even the earth (Gaia), the mighty mother of the gods, had been enslaved.[85] The visible symbol of this perversion of the natural and social order was a boundary marker called a horos, a wooden or stone pillar indicating that a farmer was in debt or under contractual obligation to someone else, either a noble patron or a creditor.[86] Up until Solon's time, land was the inalienable property of a family or clan [87] and it could not be sold or mortgaged. This was no disadvantage to a clan with large landholdings since it could always rent out farms in a sharecropping system. A family struggling on a small farm however could not use the farm as security for a loan even if it owned the farm. Instead the farmer would have to offer himself and his family as security, providing some form of slave labour in lieu of repayment. Equally, a family might voluntarily pledge part of its farm income or labour to a powerful clan in return for its protection. Farmers subject to these sorts of arrangements were loosely known as hektemoroi [88] indicating that they either paid or kept a sixth of a farm's annual yield.[89][90][91] In the event of 'bankruptcy', or failure to honour the contract stipulated by the horoi, farmers and their families could in fact be sold into slavery.

This 6th Century Athenian black-figure urn, in the British Museum, depicts the olive harvest. Many farmers, enslaved for debt, would have worked on large estates for their creditors.

Solon's reform of these injustices was later known and celebrated among Athenians as the Seisachtheia (shaking off of burdens).[92][93]. As with all his reforms, there is considerable scholarly debate about its real significance. Many scholars are content to accept the account given by the ancient sources, interpreting it as a cancellation of debts, while others interpret it as the abolition of a type of feudal relationship, and some prefer to explore new possibilities for interpretation.[94] The reforms included:

  • annulment of all contracts symbolised by the horoi.[95]
  • prohibition on a debtor's person being used as security for a loan.[96][97]
  • release of all Athenians who had been enslaved.[98]

The removal of the horoi clearly provided immediate economic relief for the most oppressed group in Attica, and it also brought an immediate end to the enslavement of Athenians by their countrymen. Some Athenians had already been sold into slavery abroad and some had fled abroad to escape enslavement - Solon proudly records in verse the return of this diaspora.[99] It has been cynically observed, however, that few of these unfortunates were likely to have been recovered.[100] It has been observed also that the seisachtheia not only removed slavery and accumulated debt, it also removed the ordinary farmer's only means of obtaining further credit.[101]

The seisachtheia however was merely one set of reforms within a broader agenda of moral reformation. Other reforms included:

  • the abolition of extravagant dowries.[102]
  • legislation against abuses within the system of inheritance, specifically with relation to the epikleros (i.e. a female who had no brothers to inherit her father's property and who was traditionally required to marry her nearest paternal relative in order to produce an heir to her father's estate).[103]
  • entitlement of any citizen to take legal action on behalf of another.[104][105]
  • the disenfranchisement of any citizen who might refuse to take up arms in times of civil strife, a measure that was intended to counteract dangerous levels of political apathy.[106][107][108][109][110]

The personal modesty and frugality of the rich and powerful men of Athens in the city's subsequent golden age have been attested to by Demosthenes.[111] Perhaps Solon, by both personal example and legislated reform, established a precedent for this decorum. A heroic sense of civic duty later united Athenians against the might of the Persians. Perhaps this public spirit was instilled in them by Solon and his reforms. Also see Solon and Athenian sexuality

The Aftermath of Solon's reforms

After completing his work of reform, Solon surrendered his extraordinary authority and left the country. According to Herodotus [112] the country was bound by Solon to maintain his reforms for 10 years, whereas according to Plutarch [113] and the author of Athenaion Politeia [114] (reputedly Aristotle) the contracted period was instead 100 years. A modern scholar [115] considers the time-span given by Herodotus to be historically accurate because it fits the 10 years that Solon was said to have been absent from the country. [116] Within 4 years of Solon's departure, the old social rifts re-appeared, but with some new complications. There were irregularities in the new governmental procedures, elected officials sometimes refused to stand down from their posts and sometimes important posts were left vacant. It has even been said that some people blamed Solon for their troubles. [117] Eventually one of Solon's relatives, Pisistratus, ended the factionalism by force, thus instituting an unconstitutionally gained tyranny. In Plutarch's account, Solon accused Athenians of stupidity and cowardice for allowing this to happen.[118]

Solon the reformer and poet

Solon, depicted as a medieval scholar in the Nuremberg Chronicle

Solon was the first of the Athenian poets whose work has survived to the present day. His verses have come down to us in fragmentary quotations by ancient authors such as Plutarch and Demosthenes [119] who used them to illustrate their own arguments. It is possible that some fragments have been wrongly attributed to him [120] and some scholars have detected interpolations by later authors. [121]

The literary merit of Solon's verse is generally considered unexceptional. Solon the poet can be said to appear 'self-righteous' and 'pompous' at times [122] yet generally those were times when he was writing in the role of a political activist determined to assert personal authority and leadership. According to Plutarch [123] however, Solon originally wrote poetry for amusement, discussing pleasure in a popular rather than philosophical way. Solon's elegiac style is said to have been influenced by the example of Tyrtaeus.[124] He also wrote iambic and trochaic verses which, according to one modern scholar,[125] are more lively and direct than his elegies and possibly paved the way for the iambics of Athenian drama.

Solon's verses are mainly significant for historical rather than aesthetic reasons, as a personal record of his reforms and attitudes. However, poetry is not an ideal genre for communicating facts and very little detailed information can be derived from the surviving fragments [126] According to Solon the poet, Solon the reformer was a voice for political moderation in Athens at a time when his fellow citizens were increasingly polarized by social and economic differences:

πολλοὶ γὰρ πλουτεῦσι κακοί, ἀγαθοὶ δὲ πένονται:
ἀλλ' ἡμεῖς αὐτοῖς οὐ διαμειψόμεθα
τῆς ἀρετῆς τὸν πλοῦτον: ἐπεὶ τὸ μὲν ἔμπεδον αἰεί,
χρήματα δ' ἀνθρώπων ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἔχει.
Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor;
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue's a thing that none can take away,
But money changes owners all the day.[127]

Here translated by the English poet John Dryden, Solon's words define a 'moral high ground' where differences between rich and poor can be reconciled or maybe just ignored. His poetry indicates that he attempted to use his extraordinary legislative powers to establish a peaceful settlement between the country's rival factions:

ἔστην δ' ἀμφιβαλὼν κρατερὸν σάκος ἀμφοτέροισι:
νικᾶν δ' οὐκ εἴασ' οὐδετέρους ἀδίκως.

Before them both I held my shield of might
And let not either touch the other's right.[128]

His attempts evidently were misunderstood:

χαῦνα μὲν τότ' ἐφράσαντο, νῦν δέ μοι χολούμενοι
λοξὸν ὀφθαλμοῖς ὁρῶσι πάντες ὥστε δήϊον.
Formerly they boasted of me vainly; with averted eyes
Now they look askance upon me; friends no more but enemies.[129]

Solon gave voice to Athenian 'nationalism', particularly in the city state's struggle with Megara, its neighbour and rival in the Saronic Gulf. Plutarch professes admiration of Solon's elegy urging Athenians to recapture the island of Salamis from Megarian control.[130] The same poem was said by Diogenes Laertios [131] to have stirred Athenians more than any other verses that Solon wrote:

Let us go to Salamis to fight for the island
We desire, and drive away our bitter shame! [132]

It is possible that Solon backed up this poetic bravado with true valour on the battlefield.[133]

Solon and Athenian sexuality

As a regulator of Athenian society, Solon, according to some authors, also formalized its sexual mores. According to a surviving fragment from a work ("Brothers") by the comic playwright Philemon,[134] Solon established publicly funded brothels at Athens in order to "democratize" the availability of sexual pleasure.[135] While the veracity of this comic account is open to doubt, at least one modern author considers it significant that in Classical Athens, three hundred or so years after the death of Solon, there existed a discourse that associated his reforms with an increased availability of heterosexual pleasure.[136]

Ancient authors also say that Solon regulated pederastic relationships in Athens; this has been presented as an adaption of custom to the new structure of the polis.[137][138] According to various authors, ancient lawgivers (and therefore Solon by implication) drew up a set of laws that were intended to promote and safeguard the institution of pederasty and to control abuses against freeborn boys. In particular, the orator Aeschines cites laws excluding slaves from wrestling halls and forbidding them to enter pederastic relationships with the sons of citizens.[139] Accounts of Solon's laws by 4th Century orators like Aeschines, however, are considered unreliable for a number of reasons; [140][141][142]

Attic pleaders did not hesitate to attribute to him (Solon) any law which suited their case, and later writers had no criterion by which to distinguish earlier from later works. Nor can any complete and authentic collection of his statutes have survived for ancient scholars to consult.[143]

Besides the alleged legislative aspect of Solon's involvement with pederasty, there were also suggestions of personal involvement. According to some ancient authors Solon had taken the future tyrant Peisistratus as his eromenos. Aristotle, writing around 330BC, attempted to refute that belief, claiming that "those are manifestly talking nonsense who pretend that Solon was the lover of Peisistratus, for their ages do not admit of it," as Solon was about thirty years older than Peisistratus.[144] Nevertheless the tradition persisted. Four centuries later Plutarch ignored Aristotle's skepticism[145] and discussed the relationship between the two:

And they say Solon loved [Peisistratus]; and that is the reason, I suppose, that when afterwards they differed about the government, their enmity never produced any hot and violent passion, they remembered their old kindnesses, and retained "Still in its embers living the strong fire" of their love and dear affection.[146]

A century after Plutarch, Aelian also said that Peistratus had been Solon's eromenos. Despite its persistence, however, it is not known whether the account is historical or fabricated. It has been suggested that the tradition presenting a peaceful and happy coexistence between Solon and Peisistratus was cultivated during the latter's dominion, in order to legitimize his own rule, as well as that of his sons. Whatever its source, later generations lent credence to the narrative.[147] Solon's presumed pederastic desire was thought in antiquity to have found expression also in his poetry, which is today represented only in a few surviving fragments.[148][149] The authenticity of all the poetic fragments attributed to Solon is not, however, universally accepted.[120] (See also Solon the reformer and poet.)


Details about Solon's personal life have been passed down to us by ancient authors such as Plutarch and Herodotus. Herodotus is sometimes referred to both as 'the father of history' and 'the father of lies'.[150] Plutarch, by his own admission, did not write histories so much as biographies; he believed that a jest or a phrase could reveal more about a person's character than could a battle that cost thousands of lives.[151] A battle of course is a matter of historical record; a jest or a phrase is not.

According to Plutarch, Solon was related to the tyrant Pisistratus (their mothers were cousins).[152] Solon's father Execestides could trace his ancestry back to Codrus, the last King of Athens. Solon's family belonged to a noble or Eupatrid clan yet it possessed only moderate wealth.[153] and Solon was therefore drawn into an unaristocratic pursuit of commerce.[154] According to Diogenes Laertius, he had a brother named Dropidas and was an ancestor (six generations removed) of Plato.[155]

Solon was given leadership of the Athenian war against Megara on the strength of a poem he wrote about Salamis Island. Supported by Pisistratus, he defeated the Megarians either by means of a cunning trick [156] or more directly through heroic battle.[157] The Megarians however refused to give up their claim to the island. The dispute was referred to the Spartans, who eventually awarded possession of the island to Athens on the strength of the case that Solon put to them.[158]

When he was archon, Solon discussed his intended reforms with some friends. Knowing that Solon was about to cancel all debts, these friends took out loans and promptly bought some land. Solon repaid these scandalous loans out of his own capital, amounting to 5 (or even 15) talents.[159]

After he had finished his reforms, he travelled abroad. His first stop was Egypt. There he visited Heliopolis, where according to Plutarch he discussed philosophy with an Egyptian expert on the subject, Psenophis.[160] According to Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, he visited Neith's temple at Sais and received from the priests there an account of the history of Atlantis. Next Solon sailed to Cyprus, where he oversaw the construction of a new capital for a local king, in gratitude for which the king named it Soloi.[161]

Croesus awaits fiery execution (Attic red-figure amphora, 500-490 BC, Louvre G 197)

Solon's travels finally brought him to Sardis, capital of Lydia. According to Herodotus and Plutarch, Solon met with Croesus and gave the Lydian king advice, which however Croesus failed to appreciate until it was too late. Croesus had considered himself to be the happiest man alive and Solon had advised him, "Count no man happy until he be dead", because at any minute, fortune might turn on even the happiest man and make his life miserable. It was not until after he had lost his kingdom to Cyrus, the Persian, that Croesus acknowledged the wisdom of Solon's advice.[162][163]

After his return to Athens, Solon became a staunch opponent of Pisistratus. In protest and as an example to others, Solon stood outside his own home in full armour, urging all who passed to resist the machinations of the would-be tyrant. But his efforts were in vain. Solon died shortly after Pisistratus usurped by force the autocratic power that Athens had once freely bestowed upon him.[164]

The travel writer, Pausanias, listed Solon among the seven sages whose aphorisms adorned Apollo's temple in Delphi.[165] Stobaeus in the Florilegium relates a story about a symposium, where Solon's young nephew was singing a poem of Sappho's; Solon, upon hearing the song, asked the boy to teach him to sing it. When someone asked, "Why should you waste your time on it?" Solon replied ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω, "So that I may learn it then die."[166]


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  3. ^ Andrews, A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 197
  4. ^ E. Harris, A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia, in 'The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece', eds. L.Mitchell and P.Rhodes (Routledge 1997) 103
  5. ^ Aristotle Politics 1273b 35-1274a 21.
  6. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500 BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), pp. 1-5.
  7. ^ Aristotle Politics 1273b 35-1274a 21
  8. ^ V.Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71
  9. ^ W.Connor et al. Aspects of Athenian Democracy (Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanam P., 1990) 71-99
  10. ^ C.Mosse, Comment s'elabore un mythe politique: Solon Annales ESC XXXIV (1979) 425-437
  11. ^ P.Rhodes, The Reforms and Laws of Solon The Wise: an optimistic view in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J.Blok and A.Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)
  12. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 2
  13. ^ Plutarch Solon 14 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#14
  14. ^ Plutarch Solon 14.3 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#14
  15. ^ Athenaion Politeia 1.5 (e.g. Kenyon's translation s:Athenian Constitution#5)
  16. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), p. 36.
  17. ^ Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford 1952).
  18. ^ Miller, M. Arethusa 4 (1971) 25-47.
  19. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pp. 3-4.
  20. ^ Walters, K.R., Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [1]
  21. ^ Athenaion Politeia 2.1 - 2.3 s:Athenian Constitution#2.
  22. ^ Plutarch Solon 13 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#13
  23. ^ B. Sealey, "Regionalism in Archaic Athens," Historia 9 (1960) 155-180.
  24. ^ D.Lewis, "Cleisthenes and Attica," Historia 12 (1963) 22-40.
  25. ^ P. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenian Politeia, Oxford Univ. Press (1981) 186.
  26. ^ P. Rhodes, A History of the Greek City States, Berkeley (1976).
  27. ^ Walters K.R. Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [2]
  28. ^ Thucydides 2.14 - 2.16.
  29. ^ Andrews, A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 118.
  30. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pages 3-4.
  31. ^ Walters K.R. Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [3]
  32. ^ Frost, "Tribal Politics and the Civic State," AJAH (1976) 66-75.
  33. ^ Connor, The New Politicians of Fifth Century Athens, Princeton (1971) 11-14.
  34. ^ Cary, Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge Univ. Press (1925) 3:582-586.
  35. ^ Ellis, J. and Stanton, G., Phoenix 22 (1968) 95-99.
  36. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pp. 3-4.
  37. ^ Walters, K.R., Geography and Kinship as Political Infrastructures in Archaic Athens [4].
  38. ^ Solon's Reforms:an archeological perspective J.Bintliff, in Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches, eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)[5]
  39. ^ Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches, eds. J. Blok and A. Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006).
  40. ^ V.Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71-72
  41. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 52
  42. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 26
  43. ^ Oxford Classical Dictionary (1964), 'Draco'
  44. ^ Plutarch Solon 17 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#17
  45. ^ Plutarch Solon 25.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25
  46. ^ Andrews A. Greek Society (Penguin 1967) 114, 201
  47. ^ Athenaion Politeia 3.6 s:Athenian Constitution#3
  48. ^ Athenaion Politeia 8.2 s:Athenian Constitution#8
  49. ^ Athenaion Politeia 7.1, 55.5 s:Athenian Constitution#7
  50. ^ Plutarch Solon 25.3 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25
  51. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 35, note 2
  52. ^ Athenaion Politeia 7.3 s:Athenian Constitution#7
  53. ^ Aristotle Politics 1274a 3, 1274a 15
  54. ^ Ostwald M. From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of the Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth Century Athens (Berkeley 1986) 9-12, 35.
  55. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 67 note 2
  56. ^ Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford 1952) pages117-118
  57. ^ Athenaion Politeia 8.4 s:Athenian Constitution#8
  58. ^ Plutarch Solon 19 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#19
  59. ^ Hignett C. A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford 1952) 92-96
  60. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 72 note 14
  61. ^ Athenaion Politeia 7.3 s:Athenian Constitution#7
  62. ^ Plutarch Solon 18 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#18
  63. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 71 note 6
  64. ^ V.Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973)
  65. ^ Athenaion Politeia 7-8 s:Athenian Constitution#7
  66. ^ Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd edition 1996) Solon
  67. ^ Thucydides 2.14 - 2.16
  68. ^ Gallant T. Risk and Survival in Ancient Greece (Stanford, 1991), cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) page 7 [6]
  69. ^ Laurence R. Land Transport in Rural Italy (Parkins and Smith, 1998), cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) [7]
  70. ^ Morris I. The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) page 12 [8]
  71. ^ Snodgrass A. Archaic Greece (London, 1980) cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) page 11 [9]
  72. ^ Garnsey P. Famine and Food Supply in Graeco-Roman World (Cambridge, 1988) page 104, cited by Morris I. in The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC (Stanford, 2005) [10]
  73. ^ Plutarch Solon 22.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#22
  74. ^ Plutarch Solon 24.4 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#24
  75. ^ :31. Plutarch Solon 24.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#24
  76. ^ V.Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973)73-74
  77. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 60-63
  78. ^ Athenaion Politeia 10 s:Athenian Constitution#10
  79. ^ Athenaion Politeia 10 s:Athenian Constitution#10
  80. ^ Plutarch (quoting Androtion) Solon 15.2-5 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15
  81. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 61 note 4
  82. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 76
  83. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 65 note 1
  84. ^ Demosthenes 19 (On the Embassy) 254-5
  85. ^ Athenaion Politeia 12.4 (quoting Solon) s:Athenian Constitution#12
  86. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), pages 55-6 notes 3 and 4
  87. ^ Innis H. Empire and Communications (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) pages 91-92
  88. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1991), page 38 note 3
  89. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC: A Sourcebook, Routledge, London (1990), page 35 note 3
  90. ^ Kirk. G, Historia Vol. 26 (1977) 369-370
  91. ^ Woodhouse W. Solon the Liberator: A Study of the Agrarian Problem in Attika in the Seventh Century (Oxford 1938)
  92. ^ Athenaion Politeia 6 s:Athenian Constitution#6
  93. ^ Plutarch Solon 15.2 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15
  94. ^ E. Harris, A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia, in 'The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece', eds. L.Mitchell and P.Rhodes (Routledge 1997) 103
  95. ^ Athenaion Politeia 12.4, quoting Solon s:Athenian Constitution#12
  96. ^ Athenaion Politeia 6 s:Athenian Constitution#6
  97. ^ Plutarch Solon 15.2 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15
  98. ^ Athenaion Politeia 12.4, quoting Solon s:Athenian Constitution#12
  99. ^ Solon quoted in Athenaion Politeia 12.4 s:Athenian Constitution#12
  100. ^ Forrest G. The Oxford History of the Classical World ed Griffin J. and Murray O. (Oxford Uni Press, 1995) page 32
  101. ^ Stanton G. Athenian Politics c800-500BC; a Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) page 57 note 1
  102. ^ Plutarch Solon 20.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#20
  103. ^ Grant, Michael. The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988 p. 49
  104. ^ Athenaion Politeia 9 s:Athenian Constitution#9
  105. ^ Plutarch Solon 18.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#18
  106. ^ Athenaion Politeia 8.5 s:Athenian Constitution#8
  107. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-500BC; a Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) page 72 note 17
  108. ^ Plutarch Solon 20.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#20
  109. ^ Goldstein J. Historia Vol. 21 (1972) 538-545.
  110. ^ Develin R. Historia Vol. 26 (1977) 507-508.
  111. ^ Demosthenes On Organization [11]
  112. ^ :6. Herodotus 1.29 (e.g. Campbell's translation [12])
  113. ^ Plutarch Solon 25.1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25
  114. ^ Athenaion Politeia 7.2 s:Athenian Constitution#7
  115. ^ Stanton G.R. Athenian Politics c800-55BC; a Sourcebook Routledge, London (1991) page 84
  116. ^ Plutarch Solon 25.6 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#25
  117. ^ Athenaion Politeia 13 s:Athenian Constitution#13
  118. ^ Plutarch Solon 30 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#30
  119. ^ Demosthenes 19 (On the Embassy) 254-5
  120. ^ a b K.Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents, Uni. California Press, 2003; p.36
  121. ^ A.Lardinois, Have we Solon's verses? and E.Stehle, Solon's self-reflexive political persona and its audience, in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J.Blok and A.Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)
  122. ^ Forrest G., The Oxford History of the Classical World, ed. Boardman J., Griffin J. and Murray O., Oxford Uni. Press (New York, 1995), page 31
  123. ^ Plutarch Solon 3.1-4 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#3
  124. ^ Oxford Classical Dictionary (1964) Solon
  125. ^ David.A.Cambell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press 1982, Intro. xxix
  126. ^ Andrews A. Greek Society (Penguin 1981) 114
  127. ^ Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1
  128. ^ Plutarch Solon 18 [13]
  129. ^ Plutarch Solon 16 [14]
  130. ^ Plutarch Solon 8 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#8
  131. ^ Diogenes Laertios 1.47
  132. ^ Solon, quoted in Diogenes Laertius 1.47
  133. ^ Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#9
  134. ^ Fr. 4
  135. ^ Rachel Adams, David Savran, The Masculinity Studies Reader; Blackwell, 2002; p.74
  136. ^ One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love, p.101
  137. ^ Bernard Sergent, "Paederasty and Political Life in Archaic Greek Cities" in Gay Studies from the French Culture; Harrington Park Press, Binghamton, NY 1993; pp.153-154
  138. ^ Eros and Greek Athletics By Thomas Francis Scanlon, p.213 "So it is clear that Solon was responsible for institutionalizing pederasty to some extent at Athens in the early sixth century."
  139. ^ Aeschines, Against Timarchus 6, 25, 26[15]; compare also Plutarch, Solon 1.3.
  140. ^ V.Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge (1973) 71
  141. ^ Kevin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Ox. Uni.Press, 1994; p128,
  142. ^ P.J.Rhodes, The Reforms and Laws of Solon: an Optimistic View, in 'Solon of Athens: new historical and philological approaches', eds. J.Blok and A.Lardinois (Brill, Leiden 2006)
  143. ^ Kevin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Ox.Uni.Press 1994; p128 (quoting F.E.Adcock)
  144. ^ Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, 2.17
  145. ^ Homosexuality & Civilization By Louis Crompton, p.25
  146. ^ Plutarch, The Lives "Solon" Tr. John Dryden[16]
  147. ^ Solon and Early Greek Poetry By Elizabeth Irwin p.272 n.24
  148. ^ Ancient Greece By Matthew Dillon, Lynda Garland, p.475
  149. ^ Nick Fisher, Against Timarchos, Oxford 2001; p.37
  150. ^ Piper D. Herodotus: Father of History, Father of Lies[17]
  151. ^ Plutarch in his introduction to 'The Life of Alexander' [18]
  152. ^ Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1.
  153. ^ Plutarch Solon 1 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#1
  154. ^ Plutarch, Life of Solon, ch.2
  155. ^ Diogenes Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of Famous Philosophers Plato, I.[citation needed]
  156. ^ Plutarch Solon 8 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#8
  157. ^ Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives/Solon#9
  158. ^ Plutarch Solon 9 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#9
  159. ^ Plutarch Solon 15 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#15
  160. ^ Plutarch Solon 26 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#26
  161. ^ Plutarch Solon 26 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#26
  162. ^ Herodotus 1.30.
  163. ^ Plutarch Solon 28 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#28
  164. ^ Plutarch Solon 32 s:Lives (Dryden translation)/Solon#32
  165. ^ Pausanias 10.24.1 (e.g. Jones and Omerod trans. [19]).
  166. ^ Stobaeus, III, 29, 58, taken from a lost work of Aelian.


  • A. Andrews, Greek Society, Penguin, 1967
  • J. Blok and A. Lardinois (eds), Solon of Athens: New Historical and Philological Approaches, Leiden, Brill, 2006
  • Cary, Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. III, Cambridge Uni. Press, 1925
  • Connor, The New Politicians of Fifth-Century Athens, Princeton, 1971
  • W. Connor et al. Aspects of Athenian Democracy, Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanam P., 1990
  • R. Develin, Historia, Vol. 26, 1977
  • V. Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization, Routledge, 1973
  • J. Ellis and G. Stanton, Phoenix, Vol. 22, 1968, 95-99
  • G. Forrest, 'Greece: The History of the Archaic Period', in The Oxford History of the Classical World, ed. Boardman J., Griffin J. and Murray O., Oxford Uni. Press, New York, 1995
  • Frost, 'Tribal Politics and the Civic State', AJAH, 1976
  • P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in Graeco-Roman World, Cambridge Uni. Press, 1988
  • J. Goldstein, Historia, Vol. 21, 1972
  • M. Grant, The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988
  • E. Harris, 'A New Solution to the Riddle of the Seisachtheia', in The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece, eds. L. Mitchell and P. Rhodes, Routledge, 1997
  • C. Hignett, A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C., Oxford, 1952
  • K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents, Uni. California Press, 2003
  • H. Innis, Empire and Communications, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007
  • G. Kirk, Historia, Vol. 26, 1977
  • D. Lewis, 'Cleisthenes and Attica', Historia, 12, 1963
  • M. Miller, Arethusa, Vol. 4, 1971
  • I. Morris, The Growth of City States in the First Millennium BC, Stanford, 2005
  • C. Mosse, 'Comment s'elabore un mythe politique: Solon', Annales, ESC XXXIV, 1979
  • M. Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of the Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth-Century Athens, Berkeley, 1986
  • P. Rhodes, A History of the Greek City States, Berkeley, 1976
  • P. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenian Politeia, Oxford Uni. Press, 1981
  • K. Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece, Oxford Uni. Press, 1994
  • B. Sealey, 'Regionalism in Archaic Athens', Historia, 9, 1960
  • G. R. Stanton, Athenian Politics c. 800–500 BC: A Sourcebook, London, Routledge, 1990
  • M. L. West (ed.), Iambi et elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati2: Callinus. Mimnermus. Semonides. Solon. Tyrtaeus. Minora adespota, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, revised edition, 1992
  • W. Woodhouse, 'Solon the Liberator: A Study of the Agrarian Problem', in Attika in the Seventh Century, Oxford, 1938

Collections of Solon's surviving verses

  • Martin Litchfield West, Iambi et elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati2 : Callinus. Mimnermus. Semonides. Solon. Tyrtaeus. Minora adespota,, Oxonii: e typographeo Clarendoniano 1972, revised edition 1992 x + 246 pp.
  • T. Hudaon-Williams, Early Greek Elegy: Ekegiac Fragments of Callinus, Archilochus, Mimmermus, Tyrtaeus, Solon, Xenophanes, and Others, # Taylor and Francis (1926), ISBN 0-8240-7773-3.
  • Christoph Mülke, Solons politische Elegien und Iamben : (Fr. 1 - 13, 32 - 37 West), Munich (2002), ISBN 3-598-77726-4.
  • Eberhard Ruschenbusch Nomoi : Die Fragmente d. Solon. Gesetzeswerkes, Wiesbaden : F. Steiner (1966).
  • H. Miltner Fragmente / Solon, Vienna (1955)
  • Eberhard Preime, Dichtungen : Sämtliche Fragmente / Solon Munich (1940).

See also

Seven Sages of Greece

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

You made your rulers mighty, gave them guards, so now you groan 'neath slavery's heavy rod.

Solon (c. 638 BC – c. 558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawgiver and poet. He is numbered among the Seven Sages of Greece.


  • An unlucky rich man is more capable of satisfying his desires and of riding out disaster when it strikes, but a lucky man is better off than him…He is the one who deserves to be described as happy. But until he is dead, you had better refrain from calling him happy, and just call him fortunate.
  • If through your vices you afflicted are,
    Lay not the blame of your distress on God;
    You made your rulers mighty, gave them guards,
    So now you groan 'neath slavery's heavy rod.
  • Consider your honour, as a gentleman, of more weight than an oath.
    • Diogenes Laërtius (trans. C. D. Yonge) The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (1853), "Solon", sect. 12, p. 29.
  • Rule, after you have first learned to submit to rule.
    • Diogenes Laërtius (trans. C. D. Yonge) The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (1853), "Solon", sect. 12, p. 29.
  • Watch well each separate citizen,
    Lest having in his heart of hearts
    A secret spear, one still may come
    Saluting you with cheerful face,
    And utter with a double tongue
    The feigned good wishes of his wary mind.
    • Diogenes Laërtius (trans. C. D. Yonge) The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (1853), "Solon", sect. 13, p. 29.
  • Wealth I desire to have; but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish.
    Justice, even if slow, is sure.
    • Plutarch Solon, ch. 2; translation by Bernadotte Perrin. [2]
  • For often evil men are rich, and good men poor;
    But we will not exchange with them
    Our virtue for their wealth since one abides always,
    While riches change their owners every day.
    • Plutarch Solon, ch. 3; translation by Bernadotte Perrin. [3]
  • That city in which those who are not wronged, no less than those who are wronged, exert themselves to punish the wrongdoers.
    • Plutarch Solon, ch. 18; translation by Bernadotte Perrin. [4]
    • Having been asked what city was best to live in.
  • As the Deity has given us Greeks all other blessings in moderation, so our moderation gives us a kind of wisdom which is timid, in all likelihood, and fit for common people, not one which is kingly and splendid. This wisdom, such as it is, observing that human life is ever subject to all sorts of vicissitudes, forbids us to be puffed up by the good things we have, or to admire a man's felicity while there is still time for it to change.
    • Plutarch Solon, ch. 27; translation by Bernadotte Perrin. [5]
  • I grow old ever learning many things.
    • Plutarch Solon, ch. 31; translation by Bernadotte Perrin. [6]

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SOLON (7th and 6th century B.C.), Athenian statesman, the son of Execestides of the family of Codrus, was born about 638 B.C. The prodigality of his father made it necessary for Solon to maintain himself by trade, especially abroad. In his youth he became well known as the author of amatory poems and later of patriotic and didactic verse. Hence his inclusion among the Seven Sages. Solon's first public service was the recovery of Salamis from the Megarians. A law had been passed forbidding any reference to the loss of the island; Solon solved the difficulty by feigning madness, and reciting an inflammatory poem in the agora. It appears that Solon was appointed to recover the " fair island " and that he succeeded in expelling the Megarians. Sparta finally arbitrated in favour of the Athenians (c. 596), who ascribed their success to Solon. About a year later he seems to have moved a decree before the Amphictyons declaring war on Cirrha. At this period the distress in Attica and the accumulating discontent of the poorer classes, for whom Draco's code had proved inadequate, reached its height. Solon was. summoned by all classes unanimously to discover a remedy; under the legal title of Archon, he received unlimited powers, which he exercised in economic and constitutional reforms. (see below). From various sources we learn that these reforms met with considerable opposition, to escape from which Solon left Athens for ten years. After visiting Egypt, he went to Cyprus, where Philocyprus, king of Aepea, received him with honour. Herodotus (v. 113) says that Philocyprus, on the advice of Solon, built himself a new town called, after his guest, Soli. The story that Solon visited Croesus in Lydia, and made to him the famous remark-" Call no man happy till he is dead " -is unfortunately discredited by the fact that Croesus seems to have become king nearly thirty years after Solon's legislation, whereas the story must be dated within ten years of it. Subsequently Solon returned to Athens, to find civil strife re- newed, and shortly afterwards his friend (perhaps his relative) Peisistratus made himself tyrant. About 558 B.C. Solon died, and, according to the story in Diogenes Laertius i. 62 (but see Plutarch's Solon, 32), his ashes were scattered round the island of Salamis. If the story is true, it shows that he was regarded as the oecist of Salamis.

Reforms.--The date of Solon's archonship has been usually fixed at 594 B.C. (01.46.3), a date given by Diog. Laert. (i. 62) on the evidence of the Rhodian Sosicrates (fl. 200-128 B.C.;, see Clinton, Fast. Hell. ii. 298, and Busolt, 2nd ed., ii. 259). The date 594 is confirmed by statements in the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens (ch. 14). For various reasons, the dates 592, 2 The conception of the Messiah is vigorous, but the influence of such a conception was hurtful; for by connecting the Messianic with the popular aspirations of the nation, the former were secularized and the way prepared for the ultimate destruction of the nation.

59 1 and even 590 have been suggested by various historians (for the importance of this question see' the concluding paragraph of this article). The historical evidence for the Solonian reforms has always been unsatisfactory. There is strong reason to conclude that in the 5th and 4th centuries there was no general tradition as to details. In settling differences there is no appeal to tradition, and this though there occur radical and insoluble contradictions. Thus the Constitution of Athens (ch. vi.) says that the Seisachtheia (" shaking off of burdens ") consisted in a cancelling of all debts public and private, whereas Androtion, an elder contemporary, denies this specifically, and says that it consisted in the reduction of the rate of interest and the debasement of the coinage. The Constitution (ch. x.) denies the existence of any connexion between the coinage reform and the relief of debtors. The absence of tradition is further confirmed by the fact that the Constitution always appeals for corroboration to Solon's Poems. Of the Laws it is probable that in the 4th century, though some dealing with agrarian distress were in existence, those embodying the Seisachtheia were not, and few if any of the purely constitutional laws remained. The main source of the account in the Constitution 'is, therefore, the Poems of Solon, from which numerous quotations are made (see chs. 5-12).

The reforms of Solon may be divided under three heads - economic, constitutional and miscellaneous. They were necessary owing mainly to the tyrannical attitude of the rich to the poorer classes. Of these many had become slaves in lieu of payment of rent and loans, and thus the land had fallen gradually into the hands of the capitalists. It was necessary to readjust the economic balance and to provide against the evil of aristocratic and capitalist predominance.

A. Economic Reforms. - Solon's economic reforms consisted of the Seisachtheia and certain commercial laws (e.g. prevention of export trade except in olive oil, Plut. Sol. 24). Among all the problems connected with the Seisachtheia, it is clear (I) that Solon abolished the old Attic law of debt which permitted loans on the security of the debtor's person; (2) that he restored to freedom those who had been enslaved for debt; (3) that he refused the demand for the division of the land (yi d s avaSao / As). As to the cancelling of all debts (xp€c v airoKoai) there is some controversy; Gilbert and Busolt maintain that all debts were cancelled; strong reasons, may however, be advanced against it. It is possible that the statement in the Constitution is a hypothesis to explain the restoration of the slaves to freedom. Further, Solon seems to have regulated the accumulation of land (cf. in Rome the legislation of Tiberius Gracchus) and the rate of interest; and to have simplified commerc3 by replacing the Pheidonian standard by the Euboic, which was in use among the Ionian traders, in commerce with whom he foresaw that prosperity lay. It is impossible here to enter into the details of the controversy in connexion with Solon's land reforms; it must suffice to give the bare outlines of the dispute. There is no question that (I) the distressed class whom Solon sought to relieve were the Hektemors, and that (2) the achievement on which he prided himself was the removal of the Spot or stones which were seen everywhere in Attica, and were symbolic of the slavery of the soil. Almost all writers say that these Spot were mortgage-pillars: that they were originally boundary stones and that when land was mortgaged the terms of the agreement were carved on the stones, as evidence. Now firstly, though such mortgage-pillars existed in the time of Demosthenes, none are found earlier than the year 400 B.C., nor is there any reference before that year to this special sense of the word. If then these stones which Solon removed were mortgage-pillars, it is strange that none should have been found till two hundred years later. Secondly, it is highly improbable that the terms on which land was then cultivated admitted of mortgaging at all. The Hektemors, who, according to the Constitution, paid the sixth part of their produce as rent,' were not freeholders but tenants, and therefore, could not mortgage their land at all. From this it follows that when Solon said he had " removed the stones " he referred to the fatal accumulation of land by landowners. The tenants failed to pay rent, were enslaved, and the " boundary stone " of the landowner was moved forward to include their land. Thus the removal of the Spot was a measure against the accumulation of land in the form of enclosures (Te,u vn), and fits in with the statement at the end of chapter iv. of the Constitution, Others say they were: (I) labourers who received one-sixth of the produce as wages; (2) tenants who paid five-sixths as rent and kept one sixth, or (3) tenants who paid one-sixth as rent and kept five-sixths. As to (3) it is said such tenants could not have been in real distress, and as to (I) and (2) it is said that such a position would have meant starvation from the first.

the land was in the hands of a few." It should be noted (I) that from this releasing of the land it follows that Solon's law against lending on the security of the person must have been retrospective (i.e. in order to provide a sufficient number of freeholders for the land released); and (2) that it is one of the most remarkable facts in Athenian economic history that when at the end of the Peloponnesian War a proposal was brought forward to limit the franchise to freeholders, it was found that only five thousand failed to satisfy this requirement.

B. Constitutional Reforms

It is on this part of his work that Solon's claim to be considered a great statesman is founded. By his new constitution he laid the foundations of the Athenian democracy and paved the way for its later developments. It should be noted in the first place that the following account is written on the assumption that the Draconian constitution described in chapter iv. of the Constitution of Athens had never existed (see Draco). In some respects that alleged constitution is more democratic than Solon's. This, coupled with the fact that Solon is always spoken of as the founder of democracy, is one of the strongest reasons for rejecting the Draconian constitution. It will be seen that Solon's state was by no means a perfected democracy, but was in some respects rather a moderate oligarchy in which political privilege was graduated by possession of land. To Solon are generally ascribed the four classes - Pentacosiomedimni, Hippeis, Zeugitae and Thetes. Of these the first consisted of those whose land produced as many measures (medimni) of corn and as many measures (metretae) of oil and wine as together amounted to 500 measures. The Hippeis (the horsemen, i.e. those who could provide a warhorse for the service of the state) were rated at over 300 and under 500 medimni; the third class (those who tilled their land with a yoke of oxen) at 200 medimni and the Thetes below 200 medimni. The Zeugites probably served as heavy-armed soldiers, and the Thetes were the sailors of the state. It is likely that the Zeugites were mainly Hektemors (see above) whom Solon converted into freeholders. Whether Solon invented these classes is uncertain, but it seems clear that he first put them into definite relation with the political organism. The Thetes (who included probably the servants of the Eupatridae, now secured as freemen), the fishermen of the Paralia (or sea-coast), and the artisans (cerameis) of Athens) for the first time received political existence by their admission to the sovereign assembly of the Ecclesia. Of these classes the first alone retained the right of holding the offices of archon and treasurer; other offices were, however, opened to the second and third classes (sc. the Poletae, the Eleven and the Colacretae; see [[Cleisthenes [I]].] footnote). It is of the utmost importance to observe that the office of Strategus (q.v.) is not mentioned in connexion with Solon's reform. It is often said that Solon used his classification as the basis of a sliding scale of taxation. Against this, it is known that Peisistratus, whose faction was essentially the poorer classes, established a uniform 5% tax, and it is highly unlikely that he would have reversed an existing arrangement which was particularly favourable to his friends. The admission of the Thetes to the Ecclesia was an important step in the direction of democracy (for the powers which Solon gave to the Ecclesia, see Ecclesia). But the greatest reform of Solon was undoubtedly the institution of the Heliaea (or courts of justice). The jury were appointed by lot from all the citizens (including the Thetes), and thus the same people elected the magistrates in the Ecclesia and subsequently tried them in the Heliaea. Hence Solon transferred the sovereign power from the areopagus and the magistrates to the citizens as a whole. Further, as the archons, at the expiry of their year of office, passed into the areopagus, the people exercised control over the personnel of that body also (see AREOPAGUs). In spite of the alleged Draconian constitution, alluded to above, it is still very generally held that Solon invented the Boule or Council of Four Hundred, one hundred from each of the old tribes. The importance of this body as an advisory committee of the Ecclesia, and the functions of the Prytaneis are explained under BOULfi. It is sufficient here to point out that, according to Plutarch's Solon (ch. 19) the state henceforth rested on two councils " as on anchors," and that the large powers exercised by the Cleisthenean Boule were not exercised by the Solonian. From this, and the articles Areopagus, BOULfi, Ecclesia and Greek Law, it will be seen that Solon contrived an absolutely organic constitution of a " mixed " type, which had in it the seeds of the great democratic growth which reached its maturity under Pericles. It should be added here, in reference to the election of magistrates under Solon's constitution, that there is discrepancy between the Politics and the Constitution; the latter says that Solon gave to the Thetes nothing but a share in the Ecclesia and the courts of justice, and that the magistrates were elected by a combination of selection and lot (KXnpc,rot EK zrpoKpirwv), whereas the Politics says that Solon gave them only the power to elect the magistrates and try them at the end of their year. It seems likely for other reasons that the former scheme should be assigned to the years after Marathon, and, therefore, that the account in the Politics is correct (but see Archon).

C. Miscellaneous

The miscellaneous laws of Solon are interesting primarily as throwing light upon the social condition of Athens at the time (see Evelyn Abbot, History of Greece, I. xiii. § 18). In the matter of trade it has been said that he favoured one export only, that of olive oil, in which Athens was peculiarly rich; further he encouraged the settlement of aliens (metoeci) engaged in commerce, and compelled fathers to teach their sons a useful trade under penalty of losing all right to support in old age. The influence of women Solon regarded as most pernicious. Wealthy wives he forbade; no bride might bring more than three changes of raiment and a little light furniture to the house; all brothels and gymnasia were put under stringent state-control (see Prostitution). Solon also regulated intestate succession, the marriage of heiresses, adoption, the use and sinking of wells, bee-farming, the planting of olives and figs, the cutting down of olive trees, the calendar. Further, he ordained that each citizen must show how he obtained his living (Herod. ii. 177) and must, under penalty of losing the franchise, adhere to one or other party in a sedition (for these laws see Plutarch's Solon, chs. 20-24).

The laws were inscribed on Kyrbeis or tablets framed in wood which could be swung round (hence also called axones). The boule as a body swore to observe the laws, and each archon undertook to set up a life-size golden statue at Delphi if he should be convicted of transgressing them.

Solon appears to have supplemented his enactments by a law that they should remain in force for one hundred years, and according to another account that his laws, though not the best, should stand unchanged for ten years (Plut. Solon, 25; Herod. i. 29). Yet according to the Constitution of Athens (chs. 11 -13) (without which the period from Solon to Peisistratus was a blank), when Solon went abroad in 593(?) the city was disturbed, and in the fifth year dissension became so acute that no archon was elected (for the chronological problem, see J. E. Sandys, Constitution of Athens, ch. 13, note); again four years later the same anarchia (i.e. no archon elected) occurred. Then four years later the archon Damasias (582 ?) continued in office illegally for two years and two months. The office of the archon was then put into commission of ten: five from the Eupatrids, three from the Agroeci and two from the Demiurgi, and for twenty years the state was in a condition of strife. Thus we see that twelve years of strife (owing to Solon's financial reforms) ended in the reversal of Solon's classification by assessment. We are, therefore, driven to conclude that the practical value of his laws was due to the strong and enlightened government of Peisistratus, whose tyranny put an end to the quarrels between the Shore, the Upland and the Plain, and the stasis of rich and poor.

See editions with notes of Constitution of Athens (q.v.); histories of Greece later than 1891 (e.g. Busolt, &c.). See also Gilliard, Quelques reformes de Solon (1907); Cavaignac, in Revue de Philol., 1908. All works anterior to the publication of the Constitution are so far out of date, but reference should be made to the work of Grote. (J. M. M.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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See also solon




From Ancient Greek Σόλων (Solōn).

Proper noun

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  1. An ancient Athenian statesman and lawgiver, one of the Seven Sages (c.630-c.560 BC).

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  • Anagrams of lnoos
  • loons

Simple English

Solon was a Greek statesman. He is one of Seven Wise men of Greece, because of his political reforms to help the poor in Athens. He lived from 630 B.C.- 560 B.C. He introduced the court and judges.

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