Solon

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Classical Athens,
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Birthplace
Classical Athens,

Solon, an Athenian poet, politician, and legislator, is regarded as the individual whose constitutional reforms established democracy in Athens. He was the social reformer who introduced moderation into the Athens social, economic, and political system by allocating citizens to four income brackets in accordance with their yearly earnings, thereby securing political privileges for each group. Prior to Solon, Athens was plagued by forced labor and slavery; the first reform he instituted was the cancellation of the debts of enslaved citizens. He also instituted novel means of subsistence, such as the distribution of fresh coins and the exportation of olive oil. His poetry served as a vehicle through which he conveyed his messages and cautions to the populace. With the exception of the fact that he was a merchant for a significant portion of his youth and belonged to an influential family, little is known about his private life. Solon’s name is highly regarded on the Greeks’ ‘Seven Wise Men’ list, which was compiled prior to the end of the 5th century. These individuals significantly impacted the intellectual and political development of their nation.

Infancy and Early Life

Solon, who was born in Athens around 638 B.C., belonged to a prominent Attic family. Little is known about Solon’s personal life, particularly his youth because the Greeks had not yet begun to record history at the time of his life.

An Occupation About Solon

The fragmentary accounts of his biography were compiled in the fifth century, primarily using data extracted from his poetry and laws. Solon may have been a merchant during his youth due to his extensive travels. Solon rose to prominence around 600 BC when the Athenians were devastated by their defeat in a conflict with Megara’s neighbors and Megara’s eventual acquisition of the island of Salamis. The Athenians recommenced hostilities against Megara and successfully seized the island this time around as a result of Solon himself performing his poem in public. This eloquent performance inspired the Athenians to sacrifice their dignity and devote their utmost effort to the conflict.

The political system in Athens during the reign of Solon was troubled due to the dominance of aristocracy and the political monopoly of expatriates, which entrapped impoverished farmers in debt. The populace was marginalized by the government. People sought Solon’s counsel in order to obtain moderate resolutions to their concerns, given that he advocated for a society in which each social class had a clearly defined role and function, rather than one that advocated revolution.

Solon was appointed annual chief administrator in 594 BC, and twenty years of service preceded his recognition as a legislator. One of the initial reforms he implemented was the absolution of the slave citizens from their debts.
Solon, among other initiatives, facilitated the adoption of alternative vocations among the populace; for instance, he promoted the trade and export of olive oil.

Although he was opposed to land redistribution, he ensured that sufficient maize was produced to sustain the population. Additionally, he promoted the use of coined currency, which was developed during his lifetime.
The result was an economic expansion facilitated by the regular export of Athens-made goods, including pottery and olive oil. While these reforms did not entirely eradicate destitution, they did yield noteworthy advancements.

A significant political reform implemented by Solon in Athens was the categorization of the populace into four income groups based on their yearly earnings. The degree of political privilege bestowed upon each group was determined indiscriminately, irrespective of birthplace. Solon established the building blocks of democracy through the ‘Council of Four Hundred’, an institution where individuals from impoverished sectors were elected for a duration of one year. This system ensured that all social classes were represented in the governing body.

The enactment of Solon’s code of laws accelerated the social, political, and economic development of Athens. He revised and humanized the “Darco law.” His code of legislation served as the cornerstone of Athenian statutory law.
While Solon’s reforms provided the citizens of Athens with a welcome respite, they fell short of universal approval, as various factions of society lodged complaints regarding the substandard service they received during his reign.
He made the decision to embark on a decade-long journey because he did not wish to defend the motivations behind his reforms. It was his companion Peisistratus who had transformed into a tyrant upon his return; he had previously cautioned everyone against this development.

Notable Works About Solon

The legal reforms instituted by Solon are regarded as one of his magnum opus. For the convenience and reference of the people, these laws were engraved on sizable wooden slabs affixed to a series of axles that stood erect in the Prytaneum.

Individual Life and Legacy

Following the completion of the reforms, Solon relinquished his extraordinary authority and embarked on a decade-long journey. His initial destination was Egypt, where he made acquaintance with Egyptian ministers Psenophis and Sonchis and the Pharaoh of Egypt, Amasis II. Additionally, he traveled to the capital of Lydia, where he visited with Croesus and counseled the Lydian king. Croesus later acknowledged the counsel he provided, solidifying Solon’s reputation as a sage.

The old social divisions reappeared within four years of Solon’s departure; Peisistratos, a relative of Solon, was compelled to put an end to the factionalism. Peisistratos instituted a despotism that violated the Constitution. Solon accused the Athenians of cowardice and folly upon his return, claiming that they had permitted this to occur. Solon, upon his return to Athens, vowed to oppose Peisistratos assiduously. Clad in full armor, he assembled in front of his residence and exhorted all to stand in opposition to the would-be tyrant.

Nevertheless, his endeavors were in vain; he passed away in close proximity to the time when Pisistratus forcibly seized the autocratic authority. At the age of eighty, he passed away in Cyprus, and his remains were interred throughout Salamis, the island of his birth.

Estimated Net Worth

Solon was a poet, statesman, and constitutional legislator for ancient Athens. Particularly remembered are his legislative efforts to combat political corruption. Solon has a $5 million net worth.

Trivia

Solon founded brothels in Athens that were publicly funded with the intention of democratizing access to sexual gratification. Limited documentation exists regarding Solon’s laws, consisting of fragmentary quotations and remarks extracted from literary sources, including Plutarch’s work.