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Solon and Democracy

Despite the restriction on office holding by the lowest income class, Solon's classification scheme supported further development of conditions leading to democracy because it allowed for upward social mobility: if a man managed to increase his income, he could move up the scale of eligibility for office. The absence of direct taxes on income made it easier for entrepreneurial citizens to better their lot. From Solon's reforms, Athenian male citizens gained a political and social system far more open to individual initiative and change than that of Sparta.

Equally important to restoring stability in a time of acute crisis was Solon's ruling that any male citizen could bring charges on a wide variety of offenses against wrongdoers on behalf of any victim of a crime.1 Furthermore, he provided for the right of appeal2 to the assembly by persons who believed a magistrate had rendered unjust judgments against them. With these two measures, Solon made the administration of justice the concern of ordinary citizens and not just of still predominately aristocratic magistrates. He balanced these judicial reforms favoring the people, however, by granting broader powers to the “Council which meets on the Hill of the god of war Ares,” the Areopagus (meaning “Ares' hill”). Archons became members of the Areopagus3 after their year in office. This body of ex-archons could, if the members chose, exercise great power because at this period it judged the most serious judicial cases, in particular accusations against archons themselves. Solon probably also expected the Areopagus to use its power to protect his reforms.

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