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.
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.
Athens is in the district of Attica.
Attica is about 1000 square miles with several extensive
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.
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
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.
An Athenian Civic Myth
Minos, Daedalus, and Theseus:
Story of re-foundation.
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.
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
Daedalus later lost MInos’ favor and was locked in a
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
Theseus and Ariadne
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Large territory and cutting-edge industry provided
Nevertheless, late archaic Athens could not escape the
stasis that seemed to simmer throughout Greece.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Overhaul of the law codes was left to Solon. We turn to
reform and tyranny in Athens next.
Reform and Tyranny in
Solon as Archon
The first undisputed documentation on legal codes for
Athens appears in the ethical and political poetry of
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.
The Solonic Code
Solon placed the responsibility for the social upheaval in
Athens on the rapacity and insensitivity of the wealthy
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.
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
Solon allowed the general Assembly to have some
authority to have appellate jurisdiction over the archons
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.
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
Solon used the objective distinction between freedom
and slavery to define citizenship.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Used the bodyguard to seize the Acropolis (and thus the
treasury) and made himself ruler. It lasted five years,
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.
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.
Attica had been organized according to the old
Ionian tribal system, made up of fratries and
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.
The de’me was the
smallest territorial district.
It was very much like our
present idea of a
It had a town
government, with town
officers presiding over a
At left is pictured the town
center of the de’me of
northerly de’me of Attica,
noted for being a center
of the worship of
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
It is confusing to study these sometimes because the
trittys usually took the name of the leading de’me in the
The tribe is the largest of the three
They were organized along a
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
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.
Old Ionian vs. New Attic
4 Ionian tribes. 10 “Tribes.”
12 fratries or 30 Trittyes, like
300+ clans or families 100+ de’mes, like
Cleisthenes would use the new territorial divisions of the
people to form a new government structure.
The Assembly: Ekkle’sia
The ekklesia was made up of all free males in
the de’mes, though they may not attend all
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.
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
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
Eventually, these strategoi would come to
supercede the archons as the chief magistrates.
This new organization provided checks and balances
which protected the state against abuses by the
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
Thus, ostracism was an honorable exile!
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
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.
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
How did the Persians come so far from their
homes to threaten mainland Greece?