Athens before Solon and democracy
The center of the ancient Greek world in both place and time was Olympia. Olympic Games were initiated by the mythical hero Heracles himself, by setting the first rules, using stadion, the first measured terrain for running (192,28 meters). Officially, Olympic Games were set in the 8th century, 776 BC. Winners were considered heroes since they competed with all Greeks of their time.
So, an Athenian winner of the Games, Kylonas, tried to take power and become Athens’s ruler, a tyrant. He tried to capture Acropolis, but he failed to keep it. Athens’ Archon in that time was Megaklis, a member of the noble Alkmeonides family, as Pericles later, who sieged Acropolis in 632 BC to throw out Kylonas and his fans. People were killed from both sides, but Kylonas fans finally surrendered, and they were executed, even though they should be treated otherwise. According to many, that was a false action and insult to the gods, so until Solon took power in 597 BC, in Athens there were continuous internal fights and also diseases and all people were frightened and scared.
The era of Solon and the Seven Sages
Solon, a wealthy but highly educated and traveled person (mentioned to Plato’s work for his Egypt travels), in order to solve the internal chaos, called to Athens the famous Cretan priest-doctor-philosopher Epimenides who asked Athenians to sacrifice some sheep and establish altars around the city. Epimenides is said to have also taught medicine to Solon. After that action, Gods showed their mercy and gradually everything became normal again. In 594 BC Solon was the next Archon.
Worth mentioning here that on the opposite coast of Aegean, another philosopher was living, Thales of Miletus born in 624. It was the time that knowledge was shaping around Aegean.
Solon passed numerous reforms in Athens, to the legislative system, to the financial system, was the first to relief people from their debt, which paved the way for democracy, with the next reformers as well, Cleisthenes. After his reforms, Solon left Athens to see if the things we set could be implemented without him being present, a natural habit for legislators of their times.
From Solon and Peisistratus to Cleisthenes
Of course, Solon could not solve all problems of Athens, and power games brought Peisistratus to succeed as Athens tyrant. He was a very clever and ambitious person, and managed to exile Megacles’ supporters who were the traders, so he gained power. Before that, he had gained popularity, by leading an Athens military campaign to Megara, a city 60 kilometers away from Athens. Let’s don’t forget that Athens’ rivals at that time were Saronikos‘ islands.
He was like Odysseus in the way of thought, so one day he went to Athens agora with wounds and asked for protection in order to feel safe. Solon accused him for trying to mislead Athenians, but he was not heard. Solo was right and Peisistratus used his personal security to capture Acropolis. After he succeeded in that, he made an alliance with Megacles who cooperated with him and establishing a soft type of tyranny.
Peisistratus didn’t stayed in power for long, since Megacles through him over, but he managed to take control of Paggaion silver and gold mines, so he became rich. In 545 he fought with his mercenaries against Megacles army near Marathon, in Pallini, defeated them and gained power again. Two years later Solon died.
Peisistratus contibution to Classic Greece miracle
Peisistratus was ruling Athens, but Athenians could not stand the concept of tyranny, so after his children, democracy became the historical Athenian governance system, and marked the city’s fame.
But why Peisistratus is so important for history? First of all, during his time, Homeric poems, were written down and being documented, since that time were only transferred as an epic song. He also started the construction of Olympian Zeus temple someone can see today, which centuries later Emperor Hadrian finished. During his time also Athenian exports made remarkable growth. Moreover, the basis for the later Hadrian’s aqueduct was established. Also the concept of Drama and theater was born during his time, after Thespis, the fore runner of Greek theater, won the theatrical play competition during his era, 535 or 533 BC. Moreover, Athens had no war during his time and kept friendly relations to Delos.
Sparta intervention to Athens affairs
After his death, 527 BC, his sons ruled after him, by managing good relations with other noble Athenian families until 510 BC, until Armodios and Aristogeiton murdered Ipparhos in 514 BC. Themistocles was 10 years old at that time. Spartans interfered to Athens’ internal affairs again and moved out tyrants, actually due to diplomatic relations of Megacles Family to Delphi oracle. The other Peisistrarus’ son, Hippias, came with Persians to Marathon in 490 BC.
Actually what led to decline of Peisistratides’ tyranny is of economic nature. Furthermore, his rival family of Megacles and Alcmeonide, bribed Delphi Oracle to propagandize to Spartans to provide “assistance” to Athenians on that matter. At that time Spartan King was afraid of Athens becoming a potential threat as a Persian hand to Aegean, so he marched to Athens and besieged Acropolis in 510 BC.
After restoring Cleisthenes back in Athens’ power, Spartans regretted it and tried to bring tyrannis back in Athens. They called for a Peloponnesian council on that matter, but Corinthians prevented a further intervention it by claiming «if Spartans like tyrannies let them establish one at their homeland». But Corinthians had interest to Athens to prosper against island of Aegina (in Saronikos gulf) that was their main trade competitor at that times, not Athens. Hippias predicted that Corinthians will regret for their support to Athens…. And left Greece till he returned to Marathon and Peistratides are over from Greek history.
Later on Cleisthenes, son of Megacles in 508-507 put the basis for Democracy, that evolved to radical democracy later, causing Peloponnesian War.