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Tyranny at Athens

Strife among aristocrats, combined with the continuing discontent of the poorest Athenians, lay behind the period of strife in the mid-sixth century following Solon's reforms that led to Athens' first tyranny. At this time an Athenian aristocrat named Pisistratus1 began a violent effort to make himself sole ruler with the help of his upper-class friends and the poor, whose interests he championed. He finally established himself securely as tyrant at Athens in 546 B.C. Pisistratus made funds available to help peasants acquire needed farm equipment and provided employment for poorer men while benefiting Athens by building roads and initiating major public works, such as a great temple to Zeus and fountains to increase the supply of drinking water. The tax that he imposed on agricultural production2, one of the rare instances of direct taxation in Athenian history, financed the loans to farmers and the building projects. He also arranged for judicial officials to go on circuits through the outlying villages of Attica to hear cases, thus saving farmers the trouble of having to leave their fields to seek justice in Athens, the urban center of the polis. Like the earlier tyrants of Corinth, he promoted the economic, cultural, and architectural development of Athens. Athenian pottery, for example, now began to crowd out Corinthian in the export trade.

Hippias3, the eldest son of Pisistratus, continued the tyranny after his father's death in 527 B.C. He governed by making certain that his relatives and friends occupied magistracies, but for a time he also allowed his aristocratic rivals to hold office, thereby defusing some of the tension created by their jealousy of his superior status. Eventually, however, the aristocratic family of the Alcmaeonids arranged to have the Spartans send an army to expel Hippias.4

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