(GREEKS, DEMOCRACY and SLAVERY (650-501 BCE) – continued)

home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE


previous | next

Solon's Failure and Rise of the Tyrant Pisistratus

Solon's laws eased the sufferings of the poor and saved others from slipping into degradation. But Athens continued to be overpopulated in relation to the availability of land and the productivity of its agriculture, and common Athenian citizens continued to suffer from or feel threatened by hunger and poverty. Hoping that a rising economy would, as the saying goes, raise all boats, Solon encouraged trade. After this failed to end the unrest he tried to create a spirit of cooperation among the common people by launching military campaigns and building empire. With this, Solon instituted another intrusion by the state into the lives of people: the conscription of males from the ages of eighteen to sixty for military service.

This was not an age when people could change government through elections. When Solon's military aggressions resulted in defeat, unrest at home brought the violent uprising that the elite had long feared – after Solon and his aristocratic allies had ruled for thirty-four years. The uprising was led by a man named Pisistratus, an enterprising aristocrat whom the ruling elite of Athens had driven into exile. While abroad, Pisistratus had gained wealth in mining and timber ventures. With his wealth he had hired an army. And in 560 BCE, with this army and others who saw opportunity in joining a military force, he marched toward Athens and defeated a force that the ruling elite of Athens sent out against him.

Pisistratus took power by having his army occupy a hill overlooking Athens. As the victor over those seen as oppressors, he was popular among the Athenians, but to cut short the possibility of a future rebellion against his power he had his army disarm the populace. And for added security his army took as hostages the sons of leading families, while the head of some families fled into exile. But he left their property unconfiscated, just as the former rulers had left his property unconfiscated after driving him into exile.

Pisistratus tolerated no political party except his own, but he sought continued support from the common people. Like Solon, Pisistratus increased state involvement in social matters. He sponsored religious festivals and public games. He went further than Solon's reforms by taxing everyone equally, eliminating the privilege of lower taxes for the wealthy. And he moved to protect the common farmer from those with wealth by providing them with cheaper loans from the state. With an aggressive foreign policy he supported trade and industry, and he helped trade by building roads. He improved the city's means of obtaining fresh water. He beautified the city by sponsoring sculpture for public places and by improving the city's temples. His policies and interventions gave Athenians full employment and brought renewed prosperity, giving Pisistratus success where Solon had failed.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.