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The Period of Solon

1. The class struggle

1. In VII - VI centuries B.C. the class struggle between citizens of the polis was the reasons for colonization: "the vanquished groups often had to leave their native land and seek new places for habituation". A similar moment we observe in the English revolution of XVII century, when persecutions of Puritans lead to their massive migration to the North American colonies.

Development of crafts has led to some parts of Greeks turning from agricultural to trade and crafts societies. Towns develop, which at the time were also the states. Federations of city-states start to be created, and one of the first such federations was a union of five Dorian villages into a Spartan state.

The more a given location was involved in development of trade, the greater was the influence of people who based their living upon trade and crafts. These people stood in opposition to the old land-owning aristocracy. "Upon foundation of this class struggle, in many city-states tyranny starts to appear. In this epoch 'tyrants' were called the people who seized power, seeking support in the lower strata of the population". Hence, tyranny at this time was a progressive political form as it was useful for struggle against the old aristocracy. Examples of tyrants in modern society would be Cromwell, Napoleon, Stalin, Castro. "Authority of tyrants rarely was preserved after the first generation: opposition which has always existed against the founder of the dynasty grew against his successors".

Tyranny in general can be characterized as a transitional form in development of society: "Economic prosperity which followed the overthrow of old aristocracy and which was promoted by public projects initiated by the tyrants has undermined the foundation upon which the tyrant's rule was based. The classes of tradesmen and craftsmen developed, the masses became more organized, and these forces overthrew the tyrants". In all modern tyrannies, such as those of Cromwell, Napoleon, Stalin and Castro we also observe an economic upswing, which the tyranny promotes. Such similarity between the ancient Greek process and modern process allows us to suppose that we're dealing with Revolution in Ancient Greece.

Tyrants in general pursue policy in the interest of the people: "tyrants were popular among the people", writes Khvostov. Later, tyrants are overthrown and moderate oligarchy is established. After the oligarchy is overthrown, a more democratic form of government is established. The closer we're to modern times, the less deep is the period of "Restoration". Thus, the period of reaction and restoration was the deepest in England. This country still has a monarchic form of government. In France, neither the Bourbons nor the Orleans did not hold on to power for too long in the period of "restoration". In the period of the break up of the USSR, there are some signs of the desire of some classes to restore the monarchy of Romanovs, but this is all not very serious.

Tyranny can be explained in the following way. When a country gets involved in new productive relations, the class struggle increases. Then, on the background of the old ruling class, with its established social relations, there appears a new way of life. This period we can call social dual power, or social-economic bipolarity. One person is chosen to reconcile these two competing modes of production. This person is chosen by the sum of the many vectors of Revolution. This person, like Solon, is a representative of the new progressive classes, though this figure is not unambiguous. A tyrant, because of his very nature, has to make compromises with the old ruling classes. It is sharpening of the class struggle in the period of transition from one mode of production to the next one that calls forth the tyrants.

Hence, we see the following dialectic: tyrants get rid of the monarchs, but they themselves, as they appear to be mini-"kings" are later overthrown by democracy. In the period between tyranny and democracy there is the period of moderate oligarchy, i.e. one of moderate reaction.

2. As a concrete example of tyranny we can point to reforms of Solon (The man himself is a descendant of a noble linage which has grown poor by the VII century. He himself was in the olive trade, buying and selling the olive oil. This profession, which is connected with traveling, allows him to get to know new things.) As we've said, in Attica in VII century B.C. there is a development of trade and industry. The old class structure of society, consisting of landlords and peasants, changes not favorably for the landlords. In 594 B.C. Solon undertakes a reform to reconcile the interests of landlords, peasants, traders and artisans.

The first reform, called "taking off the burden", was to cancel all debt of the peasants. Peasants who were made slaves became free again; the lands which were sold were returned to their original owners.

The second reform was dividing up the population into 4 social classes, according to the wealth they owned. Each of the classes played a certain role in the armed forces, with the more wealthy classes given more responsibility. They also pay greater taxes and have greater political rights. Khvostov writes: "the center of gravity is transferred from clan relationships to property; now every person, disregarding his origin, has political rights according to the size of his real estate. On the one hand, there is the possibility of getting elected to the highest political post for the wealthy individuals of non-aristocratic origin; on the other hand, the real estate census is favorable to land-owning aristocracy. This points to compromise character of the reform."

The third reform of Solon was creation of council of 400 and weakening of "Areopagus", i.e. creation of the "House of Commons" and weakening of the "House of the Lords", if we're to use the names from the English history. The council of 400 prepared things for discussion by the popular assembly.

The fourth reform of Solon was a law, according to which if a citizen did not have any other means of subsistence, he should train his sons in some trade or craft, otherwise he would not have the right to claim that they should feed him in his old age. Solon attracted foreign masters to Attica to develop industry.

Solon made a resume about his own role in the class struggle of his times in the following verses (see Plutarch, "Solon"):

With a powerful shield defending one and the other, I didn't allow any

to be victorious in unjust struggle

but between them, as between the armies

I stood on the border, as a boundary pole

3. Solon didn't understand to the end and didn't remove causes of pauperization of the peasants. After his reform, the peasants fall into debt again. The discontent of the lower classes starts anew. In 580 B.C. power relationship between the parties is indicated by the following: "The number of archons (magistrates) has increase up to 10, of which 5 places belonged to wealthy landowners, three to peasants, and two to the traders and artisans".

4. As a result of the struggle of the above three named parties, the peasants win. Political expression of this is the tyranny of Pisistratus (picture on the right). The man was the head of the peasant's party. Lycurgus of Athens (don't confuse him with Lycurgus of Sparta) was at the head of aristocracy. Alemaeonid Megacle was the head of the traders and artisans.

Internal policy of Pisistratus was playing up to the interests of the lower classes, e.g. decreasing the taxes on peasants. Like Napoleon, Pisistratus has created a luxurious court which put him above the general society. External policy of Pisistratus was to obtain help of other city-states through diplomatic relations. For example, to take power in Attica, he obtained help from aristocracy of Thebes, which was struggling against Attica.

Like Napoleon, Pisistratus gradually switches from the interests of the peasants to the interests of wealthy landowners. During the reign of his sons, this tendency is deepened. This leads to conspiracy of Harmodius and Aristogiton, who have killed Hipparchus, son of Pisistratus.

Harmodius and Aristogiton, the tyrannicides. They both paid with their lives for the attempt.

Let's note following law-like tendencies: 1) the dynasty of Pisistratus doesn't stay very long after the death of its founder. 2) Briefly, the party of wealthy landowners seizes the power.  Political result of the coup is destruction of the council of 400. Parallel to this would be restoration of Bourbons after the fall of Napoleon.

5. After this we have an insurrection of the masses led by the Alemaeonids, i.e. the party of the traders and the artisans. As a result, we see the reforms of Clisthenes. Instead of 4 tribe phyles (i.e. clans), 10 territorial phyles are established. "Each phyle consisted of 3 divisions in three different parts of Attica". In this way, Clisthenes wanted to overcome the separatism of the regions, which was conditioned by the fact that the struggling parties had their backbones in different regions". In each phylae there was a considerable number of foreigners and even slaves. Thus, dominance of aristocratic clans was undermined. Each phylae was broken into demes, or regions.

2. Consciousness in the epoch of Solon

Archilochus was the poet of VII century B.C. He was the son of a slave woman and a free man. The logic of social life appeared to Archilochus in the form of a "rhythm". Hence, his attitude to life - to be a poet:

Be moderate in your joys at success, be moderate in your sorrows,

Get to know the rhythm which is hidden in human life.

Archilochus writes love poetry, and fables on the topic of class war.


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