The major city on the Attic peninsula, populated initially by Ionians who were displaced from the north during the Dorian invasion.
Athens is the center of Classical Greece, and provides a study of government by democracy.
Read Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens here.
The Government of Draco
Draco, apparently reacting to outrages perpetrated by land owners against the working people and vice versa, institutes harsh laws know even to this day as ‘Draconian’.
Plutarch from Life of Solon- on Solon’s founding of new laws following the rule of Draco:
First, then, he repealed all Draco’s laws, except those concerning homicide, because they were too severe, and the punishment too great; for death was appointed for almost all offences, insomuch that those that were convicted of idleness were to die, and those that stole a cabbage or an apple to suffer even as villains that committed sacrilege or murder. So that Demades, in after time, was thought to have said very happily, that Draco’s laws were written not with ink but blood; and he himself, being once asked why be made death the punishment of most offences, replied, “Small ones deserve that, and I have no higher for the greater crimes.”
The Government of Solon
a chart from the Penguin Atlas of World History
Aristotle – Part 7 of the ‘Constitution of Athens’
Next Solon drew up a constitution and enacted new laws; and the ordinances of Draco ceased to be used, with the exception of those relating to murder. The laws were inscribed on the wooden stands, and set up in the King’s Porch, and all swore to obey them; and the nine Archons made oath upon the stone, declaring that they would dedicate a golden statue if they should transgress any of them. This is the origin of the oath to that effect which they take to the present day. Solon ratified his laws for a hundred years; and the following was the fashion in which he organized the constitution. He divided the population according to property into four classes, just as it had been divided before, namely, Pentacosiomedimni, Knights, Zeugitae, and Thetes. The various magistracies, namely, the nine Archons, the Treasurers, the Commissioners for Public Contracts (Poletae), the Eleven, and Clerks (Colacretae), he assigned to the Pentacosiomedimni, the Knights, and the Zeugitae, giving offices to each class in proportion to the value of their rateable property. To who ranked among the Thetes he gave nothing but a place in the Assembly and in the juries. A man had to rank as a Pentacosiomedimnus if he made, from his own land, five hundred measures, whether liquid or solid. Those ranked as Knights who made three hundred measures, or, as some say, those who were able to maintain a horse. In support of the latter definition they adduce the name of the class, which may be supposed to be derived from this fact, and also some votive offerings of early times; for in the Acropolis there is a votive offering, a statue of Diphilus, bearing this inscription:
The son of Diphilus, Athenion hight,
Raised from the Thetes and become a knight,
Did to the gods this sculptured charger bring,
For his promotion a thank-offering.
And a horse stands in evidence beside the man, implying that this was what was meant by belonging to the rank of Knight. At the same time it seems reasonable to suppose that this class, like the Pentacosiomedimni, was defined by the possession of an income of a certain number of measures. Those ranked as Zeugitae who made two hundred measures, liquid or solid; and the rest ranked as Thetes, and were not eligible for any office. Hence it is that even at the present day, when a candidate for any office is asked to what class he belongs, no one would think of saying that he belonged to the Thetes.
The Tyranny of the Pisitratids
Pisistratus and his sons (Hippias and Hipparchus) over numerous attempts eventually gain control of the government of Athens, reigning as autocrats after disarming the population of Athens. The Alcmeonids, an opposing family, eventually prevail upon Cleomenes, a king of Sparta, to intervene and banish the tyranny. Hippias flees to the Troad.
The Government of Cleisthenes
Aristotle – Part 21 of ‘The Constitution of Athens’
The people, therefore, had good reason to place confidence in Cleisthenes. Accordingly, now that he was the popular leader, three years after the expulsion of the tyrants, in the archonship of Isagoras, his first step was to distribute the whole population into ten tribes in place of the existing four, with the object of intermixing the members of the different tribes, and so securing that more persons might have a share in the franchise. From this arose the saying ‘Do not look at the tribes’, addressed to those who wished to scrutinize the lists of the old families. Next he made the Council to consist of five hundred members instead of four hundred, each tribe now contributing fifty, whereas formerly each had sent a hundred. The reason why he did not organize the people into twelve tribes was that he might not have to use the existing division into trittyes; for the four tribes had twelve trittyes, so that he would not have achieved his object of redistributing the population in fresh combinations. Further, he divided the country into thirty groups of demes, ten from the districts about the city, ten from the coast, and ten from the interior. These he called trittyes; and he assigned three of them by lot to each tribe, in such a way that each should have one portion in each of these three localities. All who lived in any given deme he declared fellow-demesmen, to the end that the new citizens might not be exposed by the habitual use of family names, but that men might be officially described by the names of their demes; and accordingly it is by the names of their demes that the Athenians speak of one another. He also instituted Demarchs, who had the same duties as the previously existing Naucrari,–the demes being made to take the place of the naucraries. He gave names to the demes, some from the localities to which they belonged, some from the persons who founded them, since some of the areas no longer corresponded to localities possessing names. On the other hand he allowed every one to retain his family and clan and religious rites according to ancestral custom. The names given to the tribes were the ten which the Pythia appointed out of the hundred selected national heroes.
Themistocles in the time of the Persian War
Pericles in the time of the Peloponnesian War
The Rule of the 400 and the new Oligarchy (411 BC)
The Surrender to Sparta and the institution of the 30 (404BC)
Lysander and Pausanias or the Spartans require the long walls and the Piraeus to be dismantled, and a council of thirty upper class Athenians to take control. The Athenian citizens are disarmed. Kritias and Theramenes quarrel over the assassination of prominent citizens, and Theramenes is eventually executed as a threat to the thirty. Recorded by Xenophon here.