), the celebrated Athenian legislator. For our knowledge of the personal history of this distinguished man we are dependent chiefly on the unsatisfactory compilations of Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius.
The former manifestly had valuable and authentic sources of information, which makes it the more to be regretted that his account is not fuller and more distinct.
According to the almost unanimous testimonies of the ancient authorities Solon was the son of Execestides, a man of but moderate wealth and political influence, though he belonged to one of the highest families in Athens, being a descendant of Codrus. [CODRUS.] The mother of Solon was a cousin of the mother of Peisistratus [PEISISTRATUS].
The date of the birth of Solon is not accurately known, but it was probably about B. C. 638. Execestides had seriously crippled his resources by a too prodigal expenditure, which some writers were well pleased to set down to the credit of his generosity. Solon consequently found it either necessary or convenient in his youth to betake himself to the life of a foreign trader.
It is likely enough that while necessity compelled him to seek a livelihood in some mode or other, his active and inquiring spirit, which he retained throughout his life (γηράσκω δ᾽ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος
, Solonis Fragm.
20, ap. Bergk, Poetae Lyrici Graeci
). led him to select that pursuit which would furnish the amplest means for its gratification. (Plut. Sol. 2
The desire of amassing wealth at any rate does not seem to have been his leading motive.
The extant fragments of his poetry (Fr. 12, 15, 16, ap. Bergk, l.c.
pp. 327, 330) contain various dignified sentiments on the subject of riches, though a sufficient appreciation of their advantages is also perceptible. Solon early distinguished himself by his poetical abilities. His early effusions were in a somewhat light and amatory strain, which afterwards gave way to the more dignified and earnest purpose of inculcating profound reflections or sage advice. So widely indeed did his reputation spread, that he was ranked as one of the famous seven sages, and his name appears in all the lists of the seven.
It was doubtless the union of social and political wisdom which marked him in common with the other members of this assemblage and not his poetical abilities, or any philosophical researches, that procured him this honour.
The occasion which first brought Solon prominently forward as an actor on the political stage, was the contest between Athens and Megara respecting the possession of Salamis.
The ill success of the attempts of the Athenians to make themselves masters of the island, had led to the enactment of a law forbidding the writing or saying anything to urge the Athenians to renew the contest. Solon, indignant at this dishonourable renunciation of their claims, and seeing that many of the younger and more impetuous citizens were only deterred by the law from proposing a fresh attempt for the recovery of the island, hit upon the device of feigning to be mad, and causing a report of his condition to be spread over the city, whereupon he rushed into the agora, mounted the herald's stone, and there recited a short elegiac poem of 100 lines, which he had composed, calling upon the Athenians to retrieve their disgrace and reconquer the lovely island.
To judge by the three short fragments that remain, the poem seems to have been a spirited composition.
At any rate either by itself, or, as the account runs, backed by the eloquent exhortation of Peisistratus (who however, must have been extremely young at the time), it produced the desired effect.
The pusillanimous law was rescinded, war was declared, and Solon himself appointed to conduct it.
The expedition which he made was a successful one, though the accounts of its details varied. Certain propitiatory rites seem to have been performed, by the direction of the Delphic oracle, to the guardian heroes of the island.
A body of volunteers was landed on the island, and the capture of a Megarian ship enabled the Athenians to take the town of Salamis by stratagem, the ship, filled with Athenian troops, being admitted without suspicion. The Megarians were driven out of the island, but a tedious war ensued, which was finally settled by the arbitration of Sparta. Both parties appealed, in support of their claim, to the evidence of certain local customs and to the authority of Homer (Arist. Rhet.
1.16), and it was currently believed in antiquity that Solon had surreptitiously inserted the line (Il. 2.558
) which speaks of Ajax as ranging his ships with the Athenians. Some other legendary claims, and the authority of the Delphic oracle, which spoke of Salamis as an Ionian island, were also brought forward.
The decision was in favour of the Athenians. Solon himself, probably, was one of those who received grants of land in Salamis, and this may account for his being termed a Salaminian. (D. L. 1.45
The authority of Herodotus (1.59
, comp. Plnt. Sol.
8) seems decisive as to the fact that Solon was aided in the field as well as in the agora by his kinsman Peisistratus.
The latter, however, must have lived to a great age, if he died in B. C. 527, and yet served in the field about B. C. 596, or even earlier.
Soon after these events (about B. C. 595; see Clinton, Fasti Hellen. s. a.
) Solon took a leading part in promoting hostilities on behalf of Delphi against Cirrha, and was the mover of the decree of the Amphictyons by which war was declared.
It does not appear however what active part he took in the war. We would willingly disbelieve the story (which has no better authority than Pausanias, 10.37
§ 7. Polyaenus, Strateg.
6.13, makes Eurylochus the author of the stratagem), that Solon hastened the surrender of the town by causing the waters of the Pleistus to be poisoned.
It was about the time of the outbreak of this war when Solon's attention was turned more forcibly than ever to the distracted state of his own country.
He had already interfered to put a stop to the dissension between the Alcmaeonidae and the partisans of Cylon [ALCMAEONIDAE ; CYLON], and had persuaded the former to abide by the result of a judicial decision.
It was very likely also at his recommendation, and certainly with his sanction, that, when the people were suffering from the effects of pestilential disorders and superstitions excitement, and the ordinary religious rites brought no relief, the celebrated Epimenides [EPIMENIDES] was sent for from Crete. (Plut. Sol. 12
But the sources of the civil dissensions by which the country was torn required a more thorough remedy. Geographical as well as political distinctions had separated the inhabitants of Attica into three parties, the Pedieis, or wealthy aristocratical inhabitants of the plain, the Diacrii, or poor inhabitants of the highlands of Attica, and the Parali, or mercantile inhabitants of the coast.
These last, in point both of social condition and of political sentiment, held a position intermediate between the other two.
It is difficult to say how far we are to trust Plutarch, when he says that the Pedieis and Diacrii differed in being respectively of oligarchical and democratical tendencies.
The difficulties arising from these party disputes had in the time of Solon become greatly aggravated by the miserable condition of the poorer population of Attica -- the Thetes.
The great bulk of these had become sunk in poverty, and reduced to the necessity of borrowing money at exorbitant interest from the wealthy on the security of their estates, persons, or families; and by the rigorous enforcement of the law of debtor and creditor many had been reduced to the condition of slavery, or tilled the lands of the wealthy as dependent tenants. Of the rapacious conduct of the richer portion of the community we have evidence in the fragments of the poems of Solon himself. (Fr. 3, ap. Bergk, l.c.
p. 321.) Matters had come to such a crisis that the lower class were in a state of mutiny, and it had become impossible to enforce the observance of the laws. Solon was well known as a man of wisdom, firmness, and integrity; and his reputation and influence had already been enhanced by the visit of Epimenides.
He was now called upon by all parties to mediate between them, and alleviate the miseries that prevailed.
He was chosen Archon (B. C. 594), and under that legal title was invested with unlimited power for adopting such measures as the exigencies of the state demanded.
There were not wanting among the friends of Solon those who urged him to take advantage of the opportunity thus afforded him, and make himself tyrant of Athens. Plutarch (100.14, comp. Bergk. l.c. Fr.
30, 32, p. 333) has preserved some passages of the poems of Solon, referring to the feelings of surprise or contempt with which his refusal was met by those who had suggested the attempt. Indeed there can be no doubt that it would have been successful had it been made. That Solon should have had firmness enough to resist such a temptation, argues the possession on his part of a singular degree of virtue and self-restraint.
In fulfilment of the task entrusted to him, Solon addressed himself to the relief of the existing distress.
This he effected with the greatest discretion and success by his celebrated disburdening ordinance
), a measure consisting of various distinct provisions, calculated to lighten the pressure of those pecuniary obligations by which the Thetes and small proprietors had been reduced to utter helplessness and misery, with as little infringement as possible on the claims of the wealthy creditors.
The details of this measure are, however, involved in considerable uncertainty. Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 15
) speaks of it as a total abolition of debts.
This is in itself in the highest degree unlikely; and, as is acutely remarked by Mr. Grote (History of Greece,
vol. iii. p. 137), would have rendered a debasement of the coinage unnecessary and useless. On the other hand it was certainly more than a reduction of the rate of interest, accompanied by a depreciation of the currency (which was the view of Androtion ap. Plut. l.c.
), The extant fragments of the poems of Solon imply that a much larger amount of relief was afforded than we can conceive likely to be produced by a measure of that kind, even if (as Thirlwall supposes; see Hist. of Greece,
vol. ii. p. 34) the reduction of interest was made retrospective, which is in fact only another way of saying that certain debts, or portions of debts, were wiped off. We gather from Solon himself (Fragm. 35, ap. Bergk l.c.
p. 335; Plut. Sol. 15
), that he cancelled all contracts by which the land, person, or family of a debtor had been pledged as security, so that the mortgage-pillars were removed, slave-debtors released, and those who had been sold into foreign countries restored.
But it does not seem necessary to suppose that in every such case the debt
was cancelled, as well as the bond,
though such may have been the case with regard to some of the most distressed class.
At the same time Solon abolished the law which gave the creditor power to enslave an insolvent debtor, or allowed the debtor to pledge or sell his son, daughter, or unmarried sister, excepting only the case in which either of the latter was convicted of unchastity. (Plut. Sol. 23
). Most writers (comp. Thirlwall, l.c. ;
Wachsmuth. Hellen. Alterthumskunde,
§ 56, vol. i. p. 472) seem to admit, without any question, the statement that Solon lowered the rate of interest.
This, however, rests only on the authority (or conjecture) of Androtion, and as his account is based upon an erroneous view of the whole matter, it may fairly be questioned whether any portion of his statement is to be received, if the essential features of his view of the whole measure be rejected. On the whole we are disposed to deny that Solon did any thing to restrict the rate of interest. We know that Solon's measures introduced a lasting settlement of the law of debtor and creditor at Athens, and so far from there being any evidence that the rate of interest was ever limited, we find that the rate of interest was declared free by a law which was ascribed to Solon himself (Lysias cont. Theomn.
A. § 5. p. 360, comp. 356). To have introduced a restriction as a temporary measure of relief would have been merely a roundabout mode of wholly or partially cancelling debts, and would have required it to be retrospective, and not prospective.
But for this last view of the case there is no authority whatever.
With respect to the depreciation of the coinage, we have the distinct statement that Solon made the mina to contain 100 drachmae instead of 73 ; that is to say, 73 of the old drachmae produced 100 of the new coinage, in which obligations were to be discharged; so that the debtor saved rather more than a fourth in every payment. (Comp. Böckh, Metrologische Untersuchungen,
c. xv. p. 276; Dict. of Antiq.
For the grounds on which Mr. Grote disputes the statement that Solon altered the weights and measures, see Classical Museum
No. 1.) Respecting the story about the abuse made by three of the friends of Solon of their knowledge of his designs see CALLIAS [Vol. I. p. 566].
The probity of Solon himself was vindicated, as he was a considerable loser by his own measure, having as much as five talents out at interest, which he set the example of giving up.
Though some of those who lost most through the operation of the Seisachtheia were incensed at it, as was natural, its benefits were so great and general that all classes united ere long in a common festival of thanksgiving, which was also termed Seisachtheia. Wachsmuth (l.c.
§ 56, vol. i. p. 472) asserts very confidently that one effect of the Seisachtheia was to transform the serfs, or villein tenants, into landed proprietors. Of this there is no proof. Another measure of relief introduced by Solon was the restoration of all who had been condemned to atimia to their full privileges as citizens, except those who had been condemned by the Ephetae, the Areiopagus, or the Phylo-basileis, for murder, homicide, or treason. (Plut. Sol. 19
It seems that in the first instance nothing more was contemplated in the investment of Solon with dictatorial power than the relief of the existing distress.
But the success of his Seisachtheia procured for him such confidence and popularity that he was further charged with the task of entirely remodelling the constitution.
As a preliminary step to his further proceedings he repealed all the laws of Draco except those relating to bloodshed.
With our imperfect knowledge of the earlier political constitution of the people of Attica it is impossible to estimate with any certainty the magnitude of the change which Solon effected. Till it can be settled whether the division into four tribes was restricted to the Eupatridae, or included the Geomori and Demiurgi, it is impossible to ascertain in what position the ruling class stood to the unenfranchised demus,
and consequently how far the latter was affected by the legislation of Solon.
The opinion of Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome,
vol. i. note 1017, vol. ii. p. 304), which is supported by Mr. Maiden (Library of Useful Knowledge, History of Rome,
p. 144), was, that the division into phylae, phrariae,
was restricted to the Eupatridae. All analogy confirms this view, which certainly is not opposed by more numerous or authentic testimonies on the part of ancient writers than are the universally acknowledged views of Niebuhr with respect to the Roman curie and tribes. If it be the correct one, the demus in Attica must have been destitute of any recognized political organization, and must have profited by the legislation of Solon in very much the same way as the plebs at Rome did by that of Servius Tullius.
The distinguishing feature of the constitution of Solon was the introduction of the timocratic principle.
The title of citizens to the honours and offices of the state was regulated (at least in part) not by their nobility of birth, but by their wealth. All the citizens were distributed into four classes. (If the tribes
included only the Eupatridae, it will be a mistake to speak of these classes as divisions of the citizens of the tribes ; they must have been divisions in which the Eupatrid tribes and the demus were blended, just as the patricians and plebeians were in the classes and centuries of Servius Tullius.)
The first class consisted of those who had an annual income of at least 500 medimni of dry or liquid produce (equivalent to 500 drachmae, a medimnus being reckoned at a drachma, Plut. Sol. 23
), and were called Pentacosiomedimni.
The second class consisted of those whose incomes ranged between 300 and 500 medimni or drachmae, and were called Hippeis (Ἱππεῖς
), from their being able to keep a horse, and bound to perform military service as cavalry.
The third class consisted of those whose incomes varied between 200 and 300 medimni or drachmae (see Grote, l.c.
vol. iii. p. 157, note,
for reasons for rejecting Böckh's estimate of the lowest pecuniary qualification of the third class at 150 drachmae), and were termed Zengitae (Ζενγῖται
The fourth class included all whose property fell short of 200 medimni or drachmae. Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 18
) says that this class bore the name of Thetes.
p. 158) questions whether that statement is strictly accurate.
There is no doubt, however, that the census of the fourth class was called the Thetic census (Θητικὸν τέλος
The first three classes were liable to direct
taxation, in the form of a graduated income tax.
The taxable capital of a member of the first class was estimated at twelve times his yearly income, whatever that was.
The taxable capital of a member of the second class was estimated at ten times his yearly income; and that of one of the third class at five times his yearly income. Thus upon any occasion on which it became necessary to levy a direct tax, it was assessed at a certain per centage on the taxable capital of each.
It is not correct, however, to say that the taxable property of one of the pentacosiomedimni was estimated at 6000 drachmae.
It was at least that, but it might be more.
In like manner, the taxable capital of one of the Hippeis might range from 3000 to 5000 drachmae, and so on. (Böckh, Public Economy of Athens,
b. iv. ch. v.; Grote, l.c.
p. 156). A direct
tax, however, was an extraordinary, and not an annual payment.
The fourth class were exempt from direct taxes, but of course they, as well as the rest, were liable to indirect
To Solon was ascribed the institution of the βουλή
, or deliberative assembly of Four Hundred. Probably he did no more than modify the constitution of an earlier assembly of the same kind (Dict. of Antiq.
) Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 19
) says that the four hundred members of the Boule were elected (ἐπιλεξάμενος perhaps
implies an election by the popular assembly), one hundred from each of the four tribes.
It is worth noting that this is the only direct statement that we have about the Boule of Solon's time.
It must be settled whether the the Boule is an ἀρχή
, and if it is, whether it is one of the ἀρχαί
spoken of by Plutarch (100.18), and Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 2.9.2
), before it can be affirmed that a member of any of the first three classes might belong to it, but not one of the fourth, or that it was elected by the popular assembly. Plutarch does not say that the members of the Boule were appointed only for a year, or that they must be above thirty years of age.
In fact we know nothing about the Boule, but that its members were taken in equal proportions from the four genealogical tribes, and that the popular assembly could only entertain propositions submitted to it by the Boule. Here again we feel greatly the want of more certain knowledge regarding those genealogical tribes, with the internal organisation of which Solon does not seem to have interfered. We are strongly inclined to the opinion that even Mr. Grote represents the Boule of Solon's constitution as a far less aristocratical assembly than it really was, and that in point of fact it was an exclusively Eupatrid body, closely analogous to the Roman senate under the constitution of Servius Tullius.
The most authentic and valuable statement that we have respecting the general nature of Solon's constitutional changes is that of Solon himself (ap. Plut. Sol. 18
, Fragm. 4. ap. Bergk, l.c.
p. 322), from which it is clear that nothing can be more erroneous than to speak of Solon's institutions as being of a democratical
character. To the demus
he gave nothing more than a defensive
power, sufficient to protect them from any tyrannous abuse on the part of the noble and wealthy classes, with whose prerogatives, in other respects, he did not interfere (Δήμῳ μὲν γὰρ ἔδωκα τόσον κράτος ὅσον ἐπαρκεῖν
, τιμῆς οὔτ̓ ἀφελὼν οὔτ̓ ἐπορεξάμενος: οἳ δ᾽ εἶχον δύναμιν καὶ χρήμασιν ἦσαν ἀγητοὶ
, καὶ τοῖς ἐφρασάμην μηδὲν ἀεικὲς ἔχειν
According to the view commonly taken of the four tribes, there seems no reason why a large proportion of the Boule might not have been members of the demus, for it is not credible that the Attic demus was entirely included in the lowest class, and if (according to the common view) the Boule was elected by the ecclesia, where the fourth class would be the most numerous, it seems that the result must almost necessarily have been, that the Boule should be little more than the exponent of the feelings and will of the demus.
In the most moderate view of the case the constitution and working of such an assembly must have been a large infraction of the previous power and prerogatives of the Eupatrids, and seems equally inconsistent with the passage of Solon quoted above, and with the statement of Plutarch (Plut. Sol. 19
) that the Boule was designed as a check upon the demus. Both these statements, and all that we learn of the innovations of Cleisthenes, become far more intelligible on the hypothesis that the four Ionian tribes were Eupatrid tribes, and the Boule of Solon an Eupatrid body, whose action, however, was so far controlled by the demus, that its measures required the ratification of the popular assembly to make them valid. Mr. Grote (vol. iii. p. 97) expresses an opinion that before the time of Solon there was but one aristocratical council, the same which was afterwards distinguished from the Council of Four Hundred as the Upper Council, or the Council of Areiopagus.
But his remark that the distinctive title of the latter, "Senate of Areiopagus," would not be bestowed until the formation by Solon of the second senate or council, seems at variance with the quotation from one of the laws of Solon himself, by which Plutarch shows that the council of Areiopagus was not instituted by Solon. We incline more to the opinion of Dr. Thirlwall (Hist. of Greece,
vol. ii. p. 40), that the Boule of Solon was only a modification of a previously existing institution.
There was no doubt a public assembly of some kind before the time of Solon, though probably possessed of but little more power than those which we find described in the Homeric poems. Solon undoubtedly greatly enlarged its functions.
He gave it the right of electing the archons and other magistrates, and, what was even more important, made the archons and magistrates accountable directly to it when their year of office was expired.
He also gave it what was equivalent to a veto upon any proposed measure of the Boule, though it could not itself originate any measure. Nor does it seem at all likely that, as constituted by Solon, it even had the power of modifying any measure submitted to it. Every member of all the four classes might vote in the popular assembly (Dict. of Antiq.
), and all votes seem to have had the same weight, which forms an important point of difference between the Ecclesia of Athens and the Comitia Centuriata of Servius Tullius.
Plutarch (Sol. 19
) remarks that it was an error to attribute to Solon the establishment of the council of the Areiopagus (Dict. of Antiq.
He does not seem even to have made any change in its constitution, though he enlarged its powers, and entrusted it with the general supervision of the institutions and laws of the state, and the religion and morals of the citizens.
Athenians in the age of unmitigated democracy were extremely fond of speaking of all their institutions either as originated by Solon, or as the natural expansion and application of his principles. Some even carried them back to Theseus.
The orators of course were not slow to fill in with this popular prejudice, and various palpable anachronisms in their statements show how little reliance can be placed on any accounts of the institutions of Solon that come from such a source. For instance, the oath of the Heliastic dicasts, which is quoted by Demosthenes and ascribed to Solon (cont. Timocr.
p. 746), mentions the Cleisthenean senate of Five
hundred. Several other curious examples of similar anachronisms are collected by Mr. Grote (vol. iii. p. 163, note 1) who has some excellent remarks on the practice of connecting the name of Solon with the whole political and judicial state of Athens, as it existed between the age of Pericles and that of Demosthenes; many of the institutions thus referred to the great legislator, being among the last refinements and elaborations of the democratical mind of Athens. We entirely coincide in his opinion that the whole arrangement of the Heliastic courts and the transference to them of the old judicial powers of the archons bespeaks a state of things utterly inconsistent with the known relations of the age of Solon. " It would be a marvel, such as nothing short of strong direct evidence would justify us in believing, that in an age when even partial democracy was yet untried, Solon should conceive the idea of such institutions : it would be a marvel still greater, that the half-emancipated Thetes and small proprietors for whom he legislated -- yet trembling under the rod of the Eupatrid archons, and utterly inexperienced in collective business -- should have been found suddenly competent to fulfil these ascendent functions, such as the citizens of conquering Athens in the days of Pericles -- full of the sentiment of force, and actively identifying themselves with the dignity of their community -- became gradually competent, and not more than competent, to exercise with effect." (p. 165.)
The term Heliaea he thinks was in the time of Solon no more than the name of the popular assembly, which is in fact the original meaning of the word.
The number of 6000, which was that of the whole body of dicasts in after times, had reference to the Cleisthenean division into 10 tribes.
It is to be observed, that Plutarch, who after all is our best authority, says nothing of any such dicastic organisation as that of the later Heliaea. Mr. Grote even questions the statement of Plutarch (Sol. 18
), that Solon allowed an appeal to the ecclesia from the sentence of an archon, considering that Plutarch has been misled by the recollection of the Roman provocatio
The idea of the periodical revision of his laws by the Nomothetae being a part of Solon's plan is even in contradiction to. the statements of our authorities (Hdt. 1.29
; Plut. Sol. 25
The institution of the Nomothetae was one of the most ultra-democratical that can well be imagined.
It was a jury appointed by lot
out of a body of dicasts who were appointed by lot, with power to rescind any law with which any one could find sufficient fault to induce an assembly of the people to entertain the idea of subjecting it to revision.
It is to be observed too that Demosthenes (cont. Timarch.
p. 706) and Aeschines (cont. Ctes.
p. 429) mention, in connection with this procedure, as one of the regulations appointed by Solon
to be observed by the proposer of a new or amended law, that he should post up his proposed law before the Eponymi, that is, the statues of the ten heroes from whom the ten tribes of Cleisthenes derived their names (comp. Grote, l.c.
Besides the arrangement of the general political relations of the people Solon was the author of a great variety of special laws, which do not seem to have been arranged in any systematic manner.
Those relating to debtors and creditors have been already referred to. Several had for their object the encouragement of trade and manufactures. Foreign settlers were not to be naturalized as citizens unless they carried on some industrious pursuit. If a father did not teach his son some trade or profession, the son was not liable to maintain his father in his old age.
The council of Areiopagus had a general power to punish idleness. Solon forbade the exportation of all produce of the Attic soil except olive oil.
The impulse which he gave to the various branches of industry carried on in towns had eventually an important bearing upon the development of the democratic spirit in Athens. (Plut. Sol. 22, 24.
) Solon was the first who gave to those who died childless the power of disposing of their property by will.
He enacted several laws relating to marriage, especially with regard to heiresses (Plut. Sol. 20
). Other regulations were intended to place restraints upon the female sex with regard to their appearance in public, and especially to repress frantic and excessive manifestations of grief at funerals (l.100.21
An adulterer taken in the act might be killed on the spot, but the violation of a free woman was only punishable by a fine of one hundred drachmae, the seduction of a free woman by a fine of twenty drachmae (l.100.23
). Other laws will be found in Plutarch respecting the speaking evil either of the dead or of the living, respecting the use of wells, the planting of trees in conterminous properties, the destruction of noxious animals, &c. (l.100.21, 23, 24.
Comp. Diog. Laert 1.55, &c.).
The rewards which he appointed to be given to victors at the Olympic and Isthmian games are for that age unusually large (500 drachmae to the former and 100 to the latter).
The law relating to theft, that the thief should restore twice the value of the thing stolen, seems to have been due to Solon. (Dict. of Ant.
art. κλοπῆς δίκη
He also either established or regulated the public dinners at the Prytaneium. (Plut. Sol. 24.
) One of the most curious of his regulations was that which denounced atimia against any citizen, who, on the outbreak of a sedition, remained neutral. On the design of this enactment to shorten as much as possible any suspension of legal authority, and its connection with the ostracism, the reader will find some ingenious and able remarks in Grote (l.c.
iii. p. 190, &c.).
The laws of Solon were inscribed on wooden rollers ἄξονες
) and triangular tablets (κύρβεις
), in the βουστροφηδόν
fashion, and were set up at first in the Acropolis, afterwards in the Prytaneium. (Plut. Sol. 25 ;
Harpocr. s. vv. κύρβεις -- ὁ κάτωθεν ϝόμος
; Pollux, 8.128; Suidas, s. vv.
The Athenians were also indebted to Solon for some rectification of the calendar. Diogenes Laertius (1.59) says that "he made the Athenians regulate their days according to the moon," that is to say, he introduced some division of time agreeing more accurately with the course of the moon. Plutarch (Sol. 25
) gives the following very confused account of the matter : "Since Solon observed the irregularity of the moon, and saw that its motion does not coincide completely either with the setting or with the rising of the sun, but that it often on the same day both overtakes and passes the sun, he erdained that this day should be called ἕνη καὶ νέα
, considering that the portion of it which preceded the conjunction belonged to the month that was ending, the rest to that which was beginning.
The succeeding day he called νουμηνία
According to the scholiast on Aristophanes (Nub. 1129
) Solon introduced the practice of reckoning the days from the twentieth onwards in the reverse order. Ideler (Handbuch der Chronologie,
vol. i.p. 266, &c.) gathers from the notices that we have on the subject, that Solon was the first who introduced among the Greeks months of 29 and 30 days alternately.
He also thinks that this was accompanied by the introduction of the Trieteris or two-year cycle.
We have more than one statement to the effect that Solon exacted from the government and people of Athens a solemn oath, that they would observe his laws without alteration for a certain space -- 10 years according to Herodotus (1.29
), -- 100 years according to other accounts (Plut. Sol. 25
According to a story told by Plutarch (Sol. 15
), Solon was himself aware that he had been compelled to leave many imperfections in his system and code.
He is said to have spoken of his laws as being not the best, but the best which the Athenians would have received.
After he had completed his task. being, we are told, greatly annoyed and troubled by those who came to him with all kinds of complaints, suggestions or criticisms about his laws, in order that he might not himself have to propose any change, he absented himself from Athens for ten years, after he had obtained the oath above referred to.
He first visited Egypt, and conversed with two learned Egyptian priests -- Psenophis of Heliopolis, and Sonchis of Sais.
The stories which they told him about the submerged island of Atlantis, and the war carried on against it by Athens 9000 years before his time, induced him to make it the subject of an epic poem, which, however, he did not complete, and of which nothing now remains. From Egypt he proceeded to Cyprus, and was received with great distinction by Philocyprus, king of the little town of Aepeia. Solon persuaded the king to remove from the old site, which was on an inconvenient and precipitous elevation, and build a new town on the plain.
He himself assisted in laying out the plan.
The new settlement was called Soli, in honour of the illustrious visitor.
A fragment of an elegiac poem addressed by Solon to Philocyprus is preserved by Plutarch (Sol. 26 ;
p. 325). We learn from Herodotus (5.113
) that in this poem Solon bestowed the greatest praise upon Philocyprus.
The statement of the blundering Diogenes Laertius (1.51, 62) that Solon founded Soli in Cilicia, and died in Cyprus, may be rejected without hesitation.
It is impossible not to regret that the stern laws of chronology compel us to set down as a fiction the beautiful story so beautifully told by Herodotus (1.29
; comp. Plut. Sol. 27, 28
) of the interview between Solon and Croesus, and the illustration furnished in the history of the latter of the truth of the maxim of the Athenian sage, that worldly prosperity is precarious, and that no man's life can be pronounced happy till he has reached its close without a reverse of fortune [CROESUS]. For though it may be made out that it is just within the limits of possibility that Solon and Croesus may have met a few years before B. C. 560, that could not have been an interview consistent with any of the circumstances mentioned by Herodotus, and without which the story of the interview would be entirely devoid of any interest that could make it worth while attempting to establish its possibility.
The whole pith and force of the story would vanish if any interview of an earlier date be substituted for that which the episode in Herodotus requires, namely one taking place when Croesus was king (Mr. Grote, l.c.
p. 199 shows that it is a mere gratuitous hypothesis to make Croesus joint king with his father), at the height of his power, when he had a son old enough to be married and command armies, and immediately preceding the turn of his fortunes, not more than seven or eight years before the capture of Sardis. " In my judgment," observes Mr. Grote, "this is an illustrative tale, in which certain real characters --Solon and Croesus, -- and certain real facts -- the great power and succeeding ruin of the former by the victorious arm of Cyrus, together with certain facts altogether fictitious, such as the two sons of Croesus, the Phrygian Adrastus and his history, the hunting of the mischievous wild boar on Mount Olympus, the ultimate preservation of Croesus, &c. are put together so as to convey an impressive moral lesson."
During the absence of Solon the old oligarchical dissensions were renewed, the Pedieis being headed by Lycurgus, the Parali by Megacles, the Diacrii by Peisistratus.
These dissensions were approaching a crisis when Solon returned to Athens, and had proceeded to such a length that he found himself unable, to repress them. For an account of the successful machinations of Peisistratus, and the unsuccessful endeavours of Solon to counteract them, the reader is referred to the article PEISISTRATUS.
The tyrant, after his usurpation, is said to have paid considerable court to Solon, and on various occasions to have solicited his advice, which Solon did not withhold. We do not know certainly how long Solon survived the overthrow of the constitution.
According to Phanias of Lesbos (Plut. Sol. 32
), he died in less than two years after.
There seems nothing to hinder us from accepting the statement that he had reached the age of eighty (D. L. 1.62
There was a story current in antiquity that, by his own directions, his ashes were collected and scattered round the island of Salamis. Plutarch discards this story as absurd.
He himself remarks, however, that Aristotle, as well as other authors of credit, repeated it. Diogenes Laertius (1.62) quotes some lines of Cratinus in which it is alluded to.
The singularity of it is rather an argument in its favour.
Of the poems of Solon several fragments remain. They do not indicate any great degree of imaginative power, but the style of them seems to have been vigorous and simple.
Those that were called forth by special emergencies appear to have been marked by no small degree of energy. Solon is said to have attempted a metrical version of his laws, and a couple of lines are quoted as the commencement of this composition; but nothing more of it remains. (Plut. Sol. 3
). Here and there, even in the fragments that remain, sentiments are expressed of a somewhat more jovial kind than the rest.
These are probably relics of youthful effusions. Some traced them, as well as Solon's some-what luxurious style of living, to the bad habits which he had contracted while following the profession of a trader. (Plut. Sol. 3.
The fragments of Solon are usually incorporated in the collections of the Greek gnomic poets, as, for example, in those of Sylburg
, and Boissonade
. They are also inserted in Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci. There is also a separate edition by Bach (Lugd. Bat. 1825).
Letters ascribed to Solon
The select correspondence of Solon with Periander, Peisistratus, Epimenides, and Croesus, with which Diogenes Laertius has favoured us, is of course spurious.
Solon and the Arrangement of the Homeric Poems
Respecting the connection of Solon with the arrangement of the Homeric poems, see the article HOMERUS (p. 507).
Solon and Thespis
The story told by Plutarch (Sol. 29,
comp. D. L. 1.59
) respecting Solon and Thespis cannot be true, since dramatic entertainments were not introduced into Athens till 20 years (B. C. 535) after Solon's death.
It is related that Solon asked Thespis, after witnessing one of his pieces, if he was not ashamed of telling such untruths before so large an audience. Thespis replied, that as it was done for amusement only, there was no harm in saying and doing such things. Which answer incensed Solon so much that he struck the ground vehemently with his staff, and said that if such amusement as that were to be praised and honoured, men would soon begin to regard covenants as nothing more than a joke.
Inscription in honor of Solon
An inscription on a statue set up in honour of Solon spoke of him as born in Salamis (D. L. 1.62
This can hardly have been the case, as Salamis was not incorporated with Attica when he was born.
The statue was set up a long time after Solon's death, and probably by the Salaminians themselves.
Plut. Solon. ; D. L. 1.45
, &c.; K. F. Hermann, Lehrbuch der griech. Staatsalterth.
§§ 106 -- 109; Grote, Hist. of Greece,
vol. iii. c. xi.; Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece,
vol. ii. pp. 27-56.