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Solonian Constitution

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

Contents

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

Details

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

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

Timocracy

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

  1. Pentacosiomedimni
  2. Hippeis
  3. Zeugitae
  4. Thetes

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

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

Council of the Four Hundred

Main: Boule

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

References

Solonian Constitution Wikipedia


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