Solon of Athens: Political Background to the Agrarian Crisis

By Dr. Kelcy Shannon Sagstetter
The Louis J. Kolb Society of Fellows
Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics, Oberlin College


To be a lawgiver is a sublimated form of tyranny.
—Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1886)

The legacy of Solon of Athens is far-ranging. He was the chief of the seven sages, a fierce opponent of tyranny, and a steadfastly moderate politician with the good of both rich and poor at heart; he was a philosopher, a poet, or any combination of the above. This blending of characteristics makes Solon a versatile and complicated figure, yet we have distressingly few contemporary sources about him. No source survives from the sixth century except his own poems, and his only extended appearance in the fifth century is in Herodotus, who gives his political activities a backseat to his persona as a wandering philosopher.[1] By Herodotus’ day, more or less a century after Solon’s death, he had taken on the character of a mythological wise man. By the time Plutarch wrote his
biography of Solon some seven hundred years later, he was cast as one of the seven sages of antiquity—and the only sage to make every single iteration of the canon. By the end of the fifth century and throughout the fourth, however, source after source focuses not on Solon’s wisdom, but on his constitutional reforms. Within a century, Solon changed from a wandering wise man to the political visionary whom the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia calls the father of democracy (41.2).[2] Meanwhile, he retained his reputation as a philosopher, becoming a symbol of the moral compass of Athens as a city-state.[3]

Solon is most famous for his appointment to a special magistracy (the eponymous archonship) in 594 B.C. In a rare moment of agreement between warring factions, Solon was commissioned to draw up a new code of laws in order to solve a civil crisis that was threatening the very fabric of Athens as a city-state. His goal was to stem a rising tide of class warfare, which had reached a critical point because wealthy landowners had enslaved or impoverished most of the poor farmers. To deal with this, he canceled all
debts and ended the apparently wide-spread practice of debt-slavery. Unfortunately, no one was happy with Solon’s new law code. The wealthy were upset at their losses from the debt cancellation, and the poor were not content because they wanted Solon to
redistribute land in addition to canceling debt, which he refused to do. Solon was forced to leave Athens amid the resulting unrest.

Solon garnered much praise in antiquity for his categorical refusal to use his initially widespread popularity to become a tyrant, despite the urging of various supporters—a stance he espouses in several of his surviving poems.[4] Scholars since antiquity have taken these assertions at face value, spending very little time examining the implications of the fact that the only source we have for Solon’s motives is Solon himself. This dissertation re-examines what we know of Solon, from both his own writings and those of later biographers and political historians, and re-contextualizes his reforms in the larger realm of archaic politics. Ultimately, I hope to show that Solon was operating within a political framework in which tyrants were often popular and arose out of exactly the kinds of conditions that Solon faced in Athens. The vilification of tyrants, both in his own poetry and in our later sources about him, arose from Athens’ particularly violent experience with the attempted tyranny of Cylon, necessitating a rhetorical denial of the office. I show that, despite Solon’s protests to the contrary, his attempted reforms have a more than passing similarity to those successfully employed by contemporary tyrants. I conclude that, despite his reputation and anxiety not to be labeled as such, Solon was a tyrant in all but name.

Sixth-Century Attica in Context: The Political Background

The beginning of the sixth century in Athens saw a period of unrest following several political upheavals. Around 632 B.C., a popular Olympic victor named Cylon gathered a group of young men around him, intending to make himself tyrant of Athens.[7]
With the help of his father-in-law Theagenes, the tyrant of Megara, he attempted to seize the Acropolis, but the Athenians banded together and surrounded his forces.[8] Besieged, starving, and with no chance of victory, most of the would-be revolutionaries took
sanctuary at the statue of Athena Polias. The magistrates promised them clemency if they surrendered, but then, at the urging of the wealthy and influential Alcmaeonid clan, impiously slaughtered them.[9] Plutarch elaborates that, not trusting the archons, the
erstwhile conspirators had tied a braided thread to the statue of the goddess and kept hold of it to remain under her protection, but the thread snapped when they reached the temple of the Furies. Megacles, the leader of the Alcmaeonid clan, declared this to be an omen that the goddess had denied the conspirators the rights of suppliants, and he massacred even those supporters who remained at various altars scattered throughout the city and countryside (Plut. Sol. 12). For their sacrilege and treachery, the entire Alcmaeonid family was exiled and incurred a blood curse that would haunt them for centuries. While Plutarch and others specify that the Alcmaeonids did not act alone, but rather in conjunction with their fellow archons, the lasting opprobrium attached only to the Alcmaeonids.

Plutarch tells us that Solon managed to convince the Alcmaeonids to stand trial and go into exile voluntarily (Sol. 12).[10] He also tells us that the surviving partisans of Cylon rebuilt their base of support and carried on a feud against the descendants of Megacles, which of course implies that not all the Alcmaeonids actually left Athens (Sol. 12).[11] This conflict was so violent that the entire city was on the brink of civil war, with bloody fighting in the very streets. To complicate matters further, the Megarians took
advantage of the instability to attack Athens and retake their former possession, the island of Salamis (Sol. 12). I argue that this years-long experience of bloodshed and strife at the hands of supporters and opponents of tyranny resulted in the Athenians having a very particular, and particularly violent, conception of tyrants. Solon, therefore, had to take special care not to be associated with tyranny, a degree of caution that would not have been necessary in other cities.[12]

In 621/0, after almost a decade of conflict, the Athenians appointed Drakon to draw up a constitution to quell the stasis.[13] The result was a law code so “draconian” that a sense of its harshness lingers in modern English vocabulary. Some traditions say that
death was the penalty not only for crimes like sacrilege or murder, but for offenses as petty as idleness and stealing cabbage (Plut. Sol. 17).[14] When asked why he ordained the same punishment for vegetable theft as for murder, he replied that the lesser crimes
deserved death, and he could think of no harsher penalty for the more serious ones, inspiring the witticism that Drakon’s laws were written in blood instead of ink (Plut. Sol. 17; Arist. Pol. 1274b17). Despite (or perhaps because of) Drakon’s ruthlessness, his laws
did nothing to end the strife. By 594, the situation had deteriorated so much that the Athenians appointed Solon as diallektes. He had a special commission to write another constitution to solve the problems, which he published in the Agora.[15] His particular focus was to address what amounted to class warfare between the aristocrats and the common people over the wielding of political power and inequities in landowning practices, as a result of which “the many [i.e., the poor] were enslaved to the few [i.e., the rich].”[16]

Solon’s reforms were unsuccessful, in implementation if not in concept. The rich were unhappy because of their diminished control over affairs of state, and in particular the losses they sustained under the seisachtheia, or “shaking off of burdens,” the name for
the sweeping measures that cancelled all debts and abolished the apparently widespread practice of debt-slavery.[17] The poor were unhappy because Solon failed to redistribute land along with revoking debt. The Ath. Pol. and Plutarch tell us that Solon somehow extracted a promise from all the citizenry to uphold his code, after which he took a sabbatical to escape the repeated requests by friends and foes to modify his law code in favor of their special interests.[18] After his departure, the state dissolved once more into stasis for three decades.

Solon was followed by Athens’ first real (or at least overt) tyrant. The factional leader Peisistratos rose to power in a series of attempted coups d’ état that saw him finally take control permanently in 546 B.C. After his death, his son Hippias ruled until 511,
when he was driven out of town because of the harsh retaliatory measures he took following the assassination of his brother Hipparchos in 514. In 508, the popular leader Cleisthenes instituted the radical democracy that we associate with Classical Athens.
Despite evidence that they had in fact been popular, after the democracy had taken hold in the early fifth century, the Athenians vilified the Peisistratids. At the same time, there was a corresponding elevation of Solon to almost mythical status. His law code became hallowed by a patina of antiquity, and many considered it synonymous with democracy and moderate rule, to the point of Solon being associated with the foundation of democracy in very public ways.[19]

This exaltation of Solon gained momentum in the course of the fifth century, when his laws started being cited as a precedent for all things good and democratic.[20] Their veneration became most apparent following the oligarchic coup of the Four Hundred in 411, a bloody regime that seized power after two decades of fighting in the Peloponnesian War, but which was overthrown in less than a year. Following the restoration of democracy, an otherwise poorly attested official named Nicomachus was charged with heading a board of ten anagrapheis for the purpose of recording the laws of Solon and Drakon. Several fifth-and-fourth-century speech writers, including Lysias and Andocides, attacked Nicomachus, accusing him of changing the laws and exceeding his term of office.[21] The vehemence of these accusations shows the seriousness with which the Athenians took the provisions of their ancestral lawgivers.[22]

Tyrants: Bad or Just Drawn that Way?

In order to have a meaningful discussion about Solon’s relationship to tyranny, we must first discuss the phenomenon itself. Robin Lane Fox called the study of tyranny “one of Greek history’s most challenging black holes.”[23] Since all of our primary sources
date from after the rise of democracy, they are filled with anachronistic assumptions and prejudices, generally portraying tyrants as evil-minded and immoral, and making their ejection by a freedom-loving populace all but inevitable. Anderson reminds us that “even
for writers of the fifth and fourth centuries, events before ca. 500 B.C. belonged essentially to prehistory. For source material these authors were forced to rely on the largely mute testimony of timeworn monuments, on the often opaque musings of early poets, and above all on the vagaries of oral traditions.”[24] Aristotle associates tyranny with operating outside the law, and tyrants develop certain stereotypical characteristics in the fifth century in particular.[25]

Herodotus gives us an ideological denunciation of tyranny in the so-called “Constitutional Debate” preceding Darius’ succession to the throne of Persia (3.80-82). In his account, the conspirators who had assassinated the usurper Smerdis meet to decide what sort of government they should institute, and each gives a speech advocating democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy in turn. Otanes, who favors democracy, gives a thorough denunciation on the evils of sole rule (3.80), with which Megabyzus agrees, though he ultimately champions oligarchy (3.81). Otanes claims that the absolute power of tyrants corrupts even the best of men, so that they become proud and envious, the result of which is violence. He elaborates that monarchs despise virtue and listen to slander, overturn the ancestral laws of the land, put men to death without trial, and rape women.[26]

Periander provides us with perhaps the best example of this type of negative portrayal. This infamous tyrant of Corinth became the embodiment of the tyrannical clichés of greed, violence and sexual depravity. According to Herodotus, he first tried to steal his friend’s buried treasure (Hdt. 5.92), then sent young boys from Corcyra to be castrated (Hdt. 3.48), and finally he murdered and sexually defiled his wife (in that order), “putting his loaves in a cold oven” (Hdt. 5.92). Herodotus also tells us of the violent tendencies of Thrasybulus of Miletus, who advised Periander to lop the heads from the tallest stalks of grain as a metaphor for executing influential citizens who might destabilize his power (Hdt. 5.91-92).[27] He also describes the sexual deviancy of Peisistratos, who married the daughter of his on-again, off-again political rival Megacles. After the bride’s mother asked her some pointed questions, Megacles discovered that Peisistratos’ marital relations with his daughter were ou kata nomon, that is, “not
according to custom.” This offense was so severe that even Megacles’ enemies joined forces with him to drive Peisistratos out of Athens (Hdt. 1.61).[28]

The abuse that tyrants received in later literature, however, is not consistent with the attitudes that we see towards them in earlier times.[29] More recent scholarship has been critical of the tradition of the “bad tyrant” and has produced a picture that is quite
different from that presented in our ancient sources.[30] Many scholars now see tyranny as an important transitional phase from traditional oligarchies to democracy, and there have been earnest attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of various individual tyrants, in particular the Peisistratids of Athens.[31] Despite the dawning realization that there were many benevolent tyrants, scholars have achieved a rare unanimity in their understanding of the nature of tyrants’ power: they were illegitimate rulers. Whatever good they may have accomplished, they were first and foremost tyrants; that is, extraconstitutional usurpers who either overturned or ignored the existing governmental systems.[32]

There are indications that this was not always the case.[33] We see hints in Aristotle’s Politics, in which he states that tyrants (including Peisistratos) were often merely demagogues with extraordinary power (1310b14-16, 29-31). We hear from multiple ancient sources that the Athenian people, both rich and poor, were eager for a tyrant to right the social ills that had befallen them. Solon himself explicitly states that he was voluntarily offered a tyranny (frs. 32.2, 33.6, 34.7-8), and Plutarch tells us, “At that time, the disparity between the rich and the poor had reached such a high point, and the city was in an altogether perilous condition; it seemed as if the only way to restore order and stop the turmoil was to establish a tyranny” (13.2; τότε δὲ τῆς τῶν πενήτων πρὸς τοὺς πλουσίους ἀνωμαλίας ὥσπερ ἀκμὴν λαβούσης παντάπασιν ἐπισφαλῶς ἡ πόλις διέκειτο, καὶ μόνως ἂν ἐδόκει καταστῆναι καὶ παύσασθαι ταραττομένη τυραννίδος γενομένης).[34] Plutarch also reports that Solon’s friends and family, when urging him to seize sole power, pointed to the virtues of the tyrants Pittacus and Tynnondas to further their
argument (Sol. 14.4):

And above all, his most intimate friends rebuked him with respect to the monarchy, for being averse to it because of a name, as though because of the virtues of the one who seized it would not straightaway become a [hereditary lawful] kingship, as had happened formerly in Euboea with Tynnondas, and as was the case now with Pittacus, who had been chosen as tyrant by the Mitylenaeans.

μάλιστα δὲ οἱ συνήθεις ἐκάκιζον εἰ διὰ τοὔνομα δυσωπεῖται τὴν μοναρχίαν, ὥσπερ οὐκ ἀρετῇ τοῦ λαβόντος εὐθὺς ἂν βασιλείαν γενομένην, καὶ γεγενημένην πρότερον μὲν Εὐβοεῦσι Τυννώνδαν, νῦν δὲ Μιτυληναίοις Πιττακὸν ᾑρημένοις τύραννον.

In other words, even if the designation of the regime was distasteful, this was more than counterbalanced if the ruler were of excellent moral character and ability. Diogenes Laertius also tells us that, “Henceforward the demos looked up to him [Solon] and gladly would have had him rule over them as a tyrant” (2.49; τοῦ δὴ λοιποῦ προσεῖχον αὐτῷ ὁ δῆμος καὶ ἡδέως κἂν τυραννεῖσθαι ἤθελον πρὸς αὐτοῦ). In fact, tyrants made many positive contributions to society and political development.[35] If Solon were aiming to become a tyrant, it would not necessarily have diminished his popularity, since tyrants in many other poleis brought stability and peace. It is not even clear that all of the men whom history remembers as tyrants were recognized as absolute rulers by their
contemporaries, especially as some of them seem to have been elected to their positions of power, just as Solon was appointed to his special archonship.[36]

The eagerness of so many Athenians for Solon to become an acknowledged tyrant suggests that tyrants had successfully resolved stasis elsewhere. There were several tyrannies contemporary to Solon, most of which were already in a second or third generation of a dynasty—most notably, Periander of Corinth and Cleisthenes of Sicyon, with whom Solon had close dealings.[37] Just as we saw hints of negative stories about Solon in chapter 2, we also find remnants of positive stories about tyrants.[38] However, it is common for later sources writing about these autocrats to qualify any of their worthwhile achievements. Sometimes these positive contributions are part of some sort of devious power-grabbing ploy, as when Plutarch lambasts Peisistratos for pretending to be a beneficent leader of the people for his own nefarious ends, making it seem as though any real benefits the tyrant provided were incidental to his quest for power (Sol. 29). Other times authors bury or invalidate any useful actions by stressing the tyrants’ moral
depravity. For example, Herodotus first implies that Cypselus’ rule had divine sanction (5.92b-e), then, after a long recitation of Cypselus’ sins, grudgingly admits that he made Corinth extremely prosperous. Herodotus then immediately allows that Cypselus’ son Periander was “less violent than his father,” but qualifies that statement with a lengthy account of Periander’s bloodthirstiness (Hdt. 5.92g). Still other times, sources flat-out contradict themselves with little or no qualification. Diogenes Laertius, who glowingly
relates Solon’s categorical opposition to violence and the methods Peisistratos used in securing the tyranny, immediately records a letter that Solon wrote to Periander advising him to maintain his tyranny by brute force (2.49-52; 64-5).[39]

The preservation of these positive stories, despite the obvious reluctance of later authors to admit that tyrants could have accomplished anything good, suggests that the traditions were too persistent to deny. Later sources would have struggled to reconcile stories of useful contributions with what they “knew” of the character of tyrants by making them fit the stereotype of the diabolical despot any way they could. We may therefore cautiously suggest that anything beneficial about tyrants preserved in the
literary tradition, no matter how tortuously qualified, is likely genuine.[40] I will even go so far as to suggest that the more convoluted the attempt to make beneficial actions of tyrants part of some nefarious ploy, the more likely the story is to be authentic.

According to Aristotle, tyrants almost always gained power by championing the people against the rich, and often arose as part of a general trend of opposition to extreme oligarchies (Pol. 1306a6, 1308a19, 1310b12). He classifies tyrannies by four types. The
first stems from the rise of a demagogue, the second from the abuse of the prerogatives of a normal political office, the third from the breakdown of a hereditary kingship and neglect of ancestral customs, and the fourth from the voluntary delegation of power that
was previously in the hands of a narrow oligarchy to an individual. Each type, though, essentially began as a leader of the people against the elite. Different poleis also found different ways to put an end to oppressive regimes that were not necessarily considered
tyrannies, despite outward similarities.

The basis of a tyrant’s claim to power varied from city to city, as did the mechanism by which he secured power in the first place. For instance Lycurgus, though not called a tyrant, invoked the authority of Apollo when he solved Sparta’s stasis with his Great Rhetra (Plut. Lyc.). At Corinth, Cypselus rested his right to rule on his Bacchiad roots and a series of Delphic oracles (Hdt. 5.92b-e). Though ultimately unsuccessful, Drakon and Solon in Athens used their authority as elected legislators to attempt to quell civil turmoil fueled by aristocratic infighting (Ath. Pol. 1-11). Pheidon appealed to the family precedent of hereditary kingship to gain enough support to institute reforms that stabilized Argos (Hdt. 6.127; Ath. Pol. 1.10).[41] Aristotle also mentions a class of tyrants
called aisymnetes who were elected to powerful office, including Phalaris of Agrigentum and the Ionian tyrants.[42] This sounds very much like Solon’s extraordinary appointment as eponymous archon in 594, especially since Aristotle specifies that aisymnetes often arose because of social stasis.[43]

Thus we see that, despite Solon’s apparent aversion to tyranny, tyrants often (though not always) were viewed positively by archaic contemporaries. This means that Solon’s vehement condemnation of tyranny requires some explanation, which we can find in the troubles caused by the Athenians’ only experience with tyranny—the bloodshed and strife that arose as a result of Cylon’s actions. But since tyrants often managed to quell the same sort of stasis that plagued Athens, it was reasonable for Solon to desire to emulate the successful measures taken by tyrants while avoiding the politically dangerous label. After the rise of democracy, the political climate condemned tyrants, which assured that Solon’s legacy as an enemy of tyranny endured, despite the similarity of many of his reforms to those of tyrants, including those of the Athenian Peisistratos, who explicitly claimed continuity with Solon.

Solon’s Life

Given the political context in which Solon was operating, we now turn to what we know of his personal life. We are fortunate to have many more detailed sources about Solon outside of his own writings than about any of the other archaic poets. Unfortunately, though, Solon’s life has been reconstructed from much later accounts, which are also our main sources for the surviving fragments of his poetry. As always when investigating historical periods with scant written evidence, we have to establish carefully what our extant sources are, what problems are connected with them, and how we may extract as much reliable information as possible from them. Because many of the later stories about Solon became fanciful (and in some cases, outright fantastic) as time went on, we must be cautious in too firmly asserting facts about his life. Ancient authors tended to present information about poets gleaned from their own poetry as fact, or to state with confidence things which were likely interpolation or conjecture. We must remember this when we talk about the life of Solon and be aware that much of what we “know” may be the result of later embellishment. We run into further trouble when we confront our lack of knowledge about the sources for these authors beyond Solon’s poetry. In the fifth and particularly fourth centuries, he became something of what Noussia-Fantuzzi calls a “culture hero,” the subject of a wide array of legends portraying him as sage, lawgiver, and founder of Athenian democracy, attributing to him many feats also credited to other archaic figures.[44]

Though Solon makes his first extended appearance in Herodotus in the mid-tolate fifth century, his character in this work is steeped in folklore that largely ignores his political reforms, and which gives us next to no biographical details.[45] Our invaluable next source is the Ath. Pol., which details the history of Athens’ constitution from the mythical reign of King Theseus to the author’s present day, and contains a substantial section on the reforms of Solon. The Ath. Pol. gives us a very clear and precise discussion of Solon’s life and political activities, providing an excellent framework in which to view his legislation. But we must remember that the author was working in the heyday of democracy, and we see constant appeals to Solon’s poetry for explanations of his various actions.[46] Diodorus Siculus, writing in the mid-to-late first century B.C., fills his account with anecdotes and bon mots. His work, while a valuable collection of popular and current stories about Solon, is rife with contradiction and historical anachronism, and promulgates wholesale the picture of Solon the sage and misotyrannos. Diogenes Laertius, who lived in the third century AD, writes in much the same vein.

The fullest record is Plutarch’s Life of Solon, written in the late first/early second century A.D., approximately 700 years after Solon’s death. As a biographer, Plutarch is most interested in Solon as an example of how to lead a good life, which makes his account susceptible to a sort of romanticization. While the lateness of the source and its high-minded tone necessitate caution, Plutarch does preserve much valuable information about Solon’s life, laws, and poetry, particularly when we consider that he had access to many sources closer to Solon’s time that are now lost to us. But because of the highly biased nature of Plutarch’s moralizing biography, we must be careful in differentiating between what comes from preserved earlier sources and ideas in Plutarch’s own day about what constituted an ideal lawgiver and statesman.[47] We also have many passing allusions to Solon and his reforms in fourth-century oratory.

Solon’s own poetry tells us that he was an Athenian by birth, though Diogenes Laertius claims that he was born on Salamis.[48] Plutarch tells us that he was of a noble family and related to the Peisistratids, both of whom claimed descent from Kodrus, the last Athenian king, through whom they were related to Neleus and ultimately Poseidon.[49] Plutarch tells us that, although from an aristocratic family, he was of modest means, which obligated him from a young age to take up a career in commerce.[50] We can identify two periods during which Solon may indeed have spent time abroad, inferred from two vague references in his poems.[51] All our sources agree that Solon left Athens immediately after implementing his law code, the completion of which is usually dated to the archonship of Eukrates in 592/1. Solon extracted a promise that his laws would not be changed for either one hundred years (according to the Ath. Pol. and Plutarch), or ten years (according to Herodotus).[52]


  1. All dates are B.C. unless otherwise specified. Aristophanes mentions Solon briefly in Clouds (1187), where Pheidippides explains to his father how they can exploit a law of Solon’s to avoid creditors, on which see p. 164 n. 441. Other than a few scattered references like this, he is absent from any surviving fifth-century source except Herodotus. Szegedy-Maszak (1993: 203-05) argues that Solonian philosophy and motifs are present in Thucydides, going so far as to wonder if Solon is Thucydides’ model for his depiction of Pericles, but this is a very tenuous assertion based on perceived similarities between
    Thucydides’ discussion of the Spartan constitution and generalized statements opposing tyranny and civil discord.
  2. Henceforth Ath. Pol. Though passed down under his name, this work was probably not by Aristotle; rather, it was likely written by an associate who was intimately familiar with Aristotle’s political philosophy. For a summary of the debates on the authorship of the Ath. Pol. and a convincing argument that the author was one of Aristotle’s associates rather than Aristotle himself, see Rhodes (1993: 61-63). Day and Chambers assume the work to be genuine, but not without reservation. For a summary of the inconsistencies and arguments for and against authenticity, see Day & Chambers (1962: 1-4).
  3. This is not necessarily a contradiction. Pelling (2006: 104-05) describes how Herodotus (and presumably his readers of the fifth and fourth centuries) did not distinguish moral from political; therefore, Solon’s morals and philosophy were indicative of his skill as a politician.
  4. Most notably, frs. 32, 33, and 34. All references to Solon’s poems use the numbering in West 1972.
  5. N/A
  6. N/A
  7. Hdt. 5.71, Thuc. 1.126, and Plut. Sol. 12, 17; see also Podlecki (1984: 120-21).
  8. Thucydides tells us that Cylon thought he was acting on instructions from Apollo via the oracle at Delphi, who had told him to seize the Acropolis during the grand festival to Zeus. Being a champion athlete himself, he assumed that the god referred to the Olympics. Apparently, though, the oracle had meant the festival to Zeus Melichios that took place in the Attic countryside, a misunderstanding that led to Cylon’s defeat and death (Thuc. 1.126.4-6). See Podlecki (1984: 121).
  9. Herodotus claims that Cylon was among the murdered suppliants, while Thucydides tells us that Cylon and his brother escaped.
  10. On the implausibility of the story of Solon and the Alcmaeonids, see Podlecki (1984: 141). The blood curse, however, was a genuine problem for the Alcmaeonids right through the fifth century. The Athenians’ refusal to “drive out the curse of the goddess” (i.e., exile the half-Alcmaeonid Pericles) was one of Sparta’s pretexts for declaring hostilities at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War (Thuc. 1.126). Cf. Diog. Laert. 1.10.
  11. This implication is further supported by the late fifth-century inscription listing archons from the sixth century, which contains the names of aristocrats from the Alcmaeonid family (SEG 28.19, 33.23 = ML 6 = Fornara 23). On the archon list, see Meiggs & Lewis (1988: 9-13); see further p. 185 n. 478.
  12. N/A
  13. Ath. Pol. 4, Plut. Sol. 17. On Drakon’s law code, see generally Stroud 1968 and Gagarin 1989 and 1981. Though no ancient source explicitly lists Cylon’s conspiracy as the reason for Drakon’s appointment as lawmaker, the closeness in chronology leads most scholars to assume this was the case. See Gagarin (2008: 94-95). Humphreys (1991: 21-22) makes this connection most explicitly; see also Stroud (1968: 70-74) (with references), Thür (2002: 397-404), and Forsdyke (2005: 84-90). For problems associated with the wording of the Ath. Pol.‘s description of the chronological relationship between Cylon’s attempted tyranny and Drakon’s law code, see von Fritz & Kapp (1950: 8 ff. and 152-53).
  14. For the law on idleness, see Diog. Laert. 1.55 and Pollux 8.42. On Drakon’s penalties for theft, see also Xen. Oec. 14.4 and Philodemos Oec. col. 7.14-21. Gell. NA 11.18.3, Paus. 9.36.8, and Athen. 13.569d also report that Drakon declared it legal to kill a man caught in the act of adultery with a female relative. Gagarin (1981: 116-21) has argued that Drakon probably did not set death as the penalty for most crimes, and that traditions of his severity descend from stipulations for atimia (“outlawry”), where death was the penalty for not going into exile. See Stroud (1968: 77-82) for the authenticity of a Drakonian code and for
    evidence for Drakon’s laws other than that on homicide, which was supposedly the only law of Drakon’s that Solon kept in force, and which was re-inscribed in 409 B.C.
  15. Plut. Sol. 25.
  16. Ath. Pol. 5; cf. Plut. Sol. 13-14.
  17. Harris (2002: 415-30) distinguishes between debt-slavery and debt-bondage, and argues that Solon only abolished enslavement for debt, not the institution of debt-bondage.
  18. Ath. Pol. 11.1. Plutarch adds the detail that he left the city to pursue commercial ventures (Sol. 2.1).
  19. See also Shear 2011.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Lysias 30.2 (in 410) and Andocides 1.82 (in 403).
  22. Ruschenbusch does not believe that Solon’s reputation took off until 356 B.C. (when Philip II of Macedon began playing a large part in Greek politics), observing that there were only 4 citations of Solon’s laws among Attic orators, while after 356 there are 32. See Ruschenbusch (1958: 398-424). For Solon’s rise to his reputation as “father of democracy,” discussed more fully in ch. 3, see also Mossé (1979: 425-37), Szegedy-Maszak (1993: 201-14), and Hansen (1989: 71-99). Hignett (1952: 2-8) argues that Solon was regarded as a hero of democracy in the fifth century, as does Shear (2011: 19-69).
  23. Lane Fox (2000: 38).
  24. Anderson (2005: 174 n. 2). See also McGlew (1993: 2-13). For difficulties with the reliability of sources for the archaic period, see Raaflaub (1988: 197-225) and Osborne (2009: 4-15). On specific problems with sources for tyrants, see Osborne (2009: 192-97) and Dewald (2003: 25).
  25. On equating tyranny with lawlessness: Arist. Pol. 3.1285a18-19, 4.1292a7-30, 1292b5-10, and 1259a1-24. On stereotypical behavior of tyrants: Arist. Pol. 5.1311a36-1313a17; see also Anderson (2005: 174, esp. n. 2), and Stein-Hölkeskamp (2009: 101, 112-14).
  26. See Lateiner (1989: 164-67) on Herodotus’ programmatic characterization of tyrants, and 167-170 on the constitutional debate in particular. He refutes Waters (1985), who argues that Herodotus does not employ this sort of patterning and that the characteristics of monarchs and tyrants are naturally repetitious. See also Hartog (1988: 325-39), who argues that Otanes speaks from a Greek perspective, and sees monarchy/tyranny as a form of government that directly opposes the ancestral customs (patrios politeia). Darius, on the other hand, speaks from a Persian perspective, and sees democracy as contradicting the traditional forms of government (326-7). Waters (1971: 41) uses Darius’ speech to argue that there is no theory of tyranny in Herodotus’ day, and that the historian himself shows no antipathy toward tyrants.
  27. Aristotle tells the same story in Pol. 3.1284a and 5.1311a, but with the roles reversed.
  28. Herodotus tells us that Peisistratos committed this grave insult as a way to avoid fathering children with familial ties to his political rivals.
  29. See below p. 150, n. 399 for positive associations with tyranny. See Andrewes (1956: 20-30), Podlecki (1984: 130-34), and McGlew (1993: 52-61) on the changing definition of a tyrant from Homeric through Classical times, and Anderson (2005: 203-11) on the fluctuating connotations of the word in the early poets. 30.
  30. Ibid. On the relationship between desire, sexual domination, and tyranny, with particular reference to this episode, see Hartog (1988: 331-32).
  31. On the necessity of tyranny as part of the transition from rule by the elite to democracy, see Anderson (2005: 174-75), Stein-Hölkeskamp 1989, and De Libero 1996. For an excellent re-evaluation of the activities of Peisistratos in economic, political, social, and military spheres, see Sancisi-Weerdenburg 2000.
  32. Drumann 1812 gave one of the first methodological studies on ancient tyranny in which he presented tyrants as illegitimate monarchs, which has remained the basis for the modern consensus; see Andrewes (1956: 7), Finley (1970: 107), Snodgrass (1980: 96), and Murray (1993: 137), to name a few examples. For further analysis of the “legality” of tyrants’ regimes, see p. 19.
  33. For fuller discussion of the ways tyranny arose naturally out of the existing aristocratic system, see McGlew (1993: 8-10) and Anderson (2005: 173-222).
  34. Cf. Ath. Pol. 11.2, which suggests that the people were discontented with Solon because he had not done as they expected, which seems to indicate that they had wanted him to take up a tyranny.
  35. See below p. 150, n. 399.
  36. See below p. 19.
  37. For Solon’s association with Periander and Cleisthenes, see below p. 171. For a more dubious connection between Solon and Periander in an odd sort of “wisdom contest,” see ch. 2, pp. 58-59.
  38. On the tradition of the “good tyrant” in later literature, see Osborne (2009: 196-97).
  39. See below p. 148 n. 386 for citations of specific legal measures of tyrants that were characterized as negative despite positive consequences.
  40. See also Salmon (1997: 62) on the likelihood of the authenticity of stories about positive contributions of tyrants.
  41. Pheidon possibly only instituted informal changes in the distribution of power, since there is no evidence of lingering alterations in the Argive constitution. Likewise the Orthagorid dynasty at Sicyon seems to have instigated few formal changes in the constitution until Cleisthenes. On the Orthagorid dynasty, see further Stein-Hölkeskamp (2009: 104-07).
  42. For aisymnetes, see Arist. Pol. 5.1301b18-20, 25-28; 3.1285a31-34; cf. 3.1285b25-26.
  43. For more examples of elected tyrants see Salmon (1997: 62). Goušchin (1999: 21-22) discusses the elective tyrannies of Pittacus (Arist. Pol. 1.1285b25-26) and Dionysius of Syracuse (Arist. Rhet. 1.1357b30-36), the latter based on his being appointed a bodyguard similar to Peisistratos’ korynephoroi. Goušchin also suggests that Solon was actually elected as a tyrant but turned it down in favor of taking the position of a diallektes, though as we shall see the difference between the two positions was mostly semantic.
  44. Noussia-Fantuzzi (2010: 3).
  45. Other fifth-and-fourth-century sources include scattered references in Aristophanes and small fragments in other comic poets; see Martina (1968) for a full collection of references. See Monedero (2001: 156-207, 208-10) on Solon in other comedians, Plato, and various fourth-century orators.
  46. N/A
  47. On differentiating between reliable tradition and Plutarch’s ideas about proper statesmanship, see de Blois (2006: 429-40).
  48. Sol. fr. 2; Diog. Laert. 3.1, quoting Thrasylos.
  49. Plut. Sol. 1.1 mentions his relationship with Peisistratos; Diog. Laert. describes his descent from Kodrus (1.53).
  50. That he was from an aristocratic background but of only moderate wealth is something on which our sources concur (see, for example, Ath. Pol. 5.3 and Plut. Sol. 1.2). It is possible, though, that this is an invention, since Plutarch and the Ath. Pol. both “prove” this using fragments of Solon’s own poetry that criticize the wealthy as well as the poor. See further below, p. 152 n. 408.
  51. Fr. 19, which refers to a voyage on a ship, and fr. 28, which mentions the mouth of the Nile.
  52. The Ath. Pol. (7.2) and Plutarch (Sol. 25.1) give the length of time as one hundred years; Herodotus (1.25) tells us it was ten years. This may have been an element inserted later to make Solon fit the stereotype of the lawgiver leaving after the implementation of his laws, on which see ch. 2, p. 63.

From Solon of Athens: The Man, the Myth, the Tyrant?, by Kelcy Shannon Sagstetter, Publicly Accessible Pen Dissertations (2013)