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SEISA´CHTHEIA

SEISA´CHTHEIA (σεισάχθεια), a disburdening ordinance, was the first and preliminary step in the legislation of Solon (Plut. Sol. 15). The real nature of this measure was a subject of controversy even amongst the ancients. Philochorus (fr. 57; Suid. and Photius, s. v.) explains it as χρεωκοπία, and this opinion is widely held: Heracl. Pont. ed. Schneidewin, p. 4, 9, Σόλων . . . καὶ χρεῶν ἀποκοπὰς ἐποίησε τὴν σεισάχθειαν λεγομένην: Dion. Halic. Antiq. Rom. 5.65, ἄφεσις χρεῶν: Plut. Sol. 15, τῶν χρεῶν ἀποκοπή--τῶν συμβολαίων ἀναίρεσις: Dio Chrysost. 31.69: D. L. 1.45; Suid. s. v. etc.; cf. also Arist. θ η ν. πολ. papyrus fr. i6 1. 14, τὴν [τῶν] χρεῶν ἀποκοπήν: συμβεβήκει γὰρ αὐτοῖς γενέ[σθαι ταπεινοῖς] καὶ πένησιν. Only Androtion and some others, whose names Plutarch does not give, describe it as a mere reduction of the rate of interest (τόκων μετριότης), a view accepted by Boeckh, Sthh. i.3 p. 159; Hermann, Griech. Staatsalterth. § 106; Curtius, Griech. Gesch. i.5 p. 318. But such results as Solon claims for his measure, viz. that the mortgage pillars were removed, and that the debtors were liberated, even those sold to foreign countries (fr. 36, and Arist. Ἀθην. πολ. i.a 50.7 ff.), could not have been brought about by a reduction of the rate of interest (see, moreover, his law, τὸ ἀργύριον στάσιμον εῖναι ἐφ᾽ ὁπόσῳ ἂν βούληται δανείζων, Lys. c. theomn. 1.18), even when coupled with a lowering of the silver standard. To achieve this, all those contracts in which the debtor had borrowed on the security either of his person or of his land had to be cancelled, and to prevent the recurrence of similar social evils it was forbidden henceforth ἐπὶ τοῖς σώμασι δανείζεν, and a limit was fixed beyond which no one was allowed to buy up land (Arist. pol. 2.4 (7 Bk.) 4). This measure of Solon (ὁμοῦ βίην τε καὶ δίκην συναρμόσας, fr. 36) seems, no doubt, hard on the rich--yet their riches were ill-gotten (fr. 4)--but it was demanded by the circumstances; he did not disturb owners in the possession of the land they had bought, and did not go nearly as far as the Megarians on a similar occasion (Plut. Quaest. Graec. 18, p. 295 D, παλιντοκία). At the same time Solon effected a reform in measures and in the coinage (Plut. l.c. ἅμα τούτῳ γενομένη τῶν δὲ μέτρων ἐπαύξησις καὶ τοῦ νομίσματος τιμή). This reform was, however, not made with a view to assisting debtors by reducing their debts 27 per cent., since 73 old drachmas were worth 100 new drachmas (Grote, Hist. of Greece, iii. p. 100 f.). Solon's object clearly was, as Köhler shows (Mitth. d. d. arch. Inst. 1885, p. 151 ff.), to open up new fields for Athenian trade. Hitherto the coinage of Athens had been on the Aeginetan system, which prevailed on the mainland of Greece, and on the Cyclades; now the Euboic system was adopted, which was confined to that island and Corinth. The trade to the Black Sea and to Egypt was in the hands of Aegina and Megara, and with these flourishing towns Athens could at that time not compete. The Chalcidians and Corinthians, on the other hand, had planted colonists north of Chalcidice and in Sicily, and thus opened up new districts to Greek trade. With these the Athenians might hope successfully to compete, and, as the result showed, their hope was well founded; hence their coinage system was adopted. From these districts they could import what Athens stood most in need of, viz. timber and grain; and thither they could export oil, which alone of all produce Solon allowed to be exported (Plut. l.c. 24), and manufactures, which he encouraged in every possible way. [L.S] [H.H]

(Appendix). This measure, which was a cancelling of all debts, both public and private (100.6), preceded Solon's legislation, and the reform of the money standard and of the system of weights and measures followed the legislation (100.10; it was not contemporary with the Seisachtheia, Plut. Sol. 15). Some particulars are given as to the monetary standard introduced by Solon: unfortunately the reform of the system of weights and measures is only mentioned as a fact without details.

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