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Ancient Athenians – The Role of Theseus & Solon
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  2/19/12
By: Yona Williams

The Athenians were the primary rivals of the military-centered Spartans. The culture first sprout around 1300 with Theseus leading the way. He came from the city of Troezen, which was across from the Saronic Island of Poros. In this article, you will learn more about two men who greatly influenced the history of Athens, which became the center of arts, education and democracy in Greece.

The Athenians tell a story of their early days that blends fact and fiction. Theseus was believed to be the son of Aegus, who was the king of Athens and the daughter of Troezen's King. When he turned 16 years old, he was entrusted with the task to lift a heavy stone that his father had placed a sword and sandals underneath. Theseus was able to complete the task and afterwards, he walked to Athens to find his father.
Along the way, he had to defeat monsters and fight evil. Once he made it to Athens, he was seen as a hero. He volunteered to go to Crete and defeat the Minotaur. However, when he returns to Athens, he forgets to remove the black sail of death from the ship. King Aegeus believes that his son has died on his quest and throws himself into the sea. This is how the Aegean Sea got its name.

When Theseus makes it back, he does away with the monarchy and declares Athens a democracy. The scattered villages of Attica now become unified. He puts into place a host of policies, including one that gives assistance to the weak and helpless. He is written of in tales that include Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, the Amazons, as well as the Underworld.

Theseus is later overthrown and murdered while in exile on the island of Skyros. He is a figure that the Athenians related to and respected. During the 5th century, the Athenians would look at the accomplishment of Theseus and use as a measure to how they have performed or behaved as an Athenian. He is viewed as the founding father of Athens.

Athenian democracy underwent reform in 594 with the help of King Solon. He served the same role as Lycurgus did in Sparta. His reformations allowed Athens to dig out of a declining time period and bring them into the Golden Age. Solon mediated various groups at odds with one another. He put in place reforms that brought the economy of the land back to life. The society started to see a fairer distribution of power and privilege. Four social classes emerged and birthright was no longer a prerequisite to running for office – it was no based on how much property you owned. The lowest class (the laborers) could take part in the general assembly, but were not allowed to run for office.

Athens grew more prosperous under Solon's guidance, especially with the economic reforms that he enacted. One thing he did was ban the export of all agricultural products with the exception of olive oil. He started to offer citizenship to others, which helped attract some of the best craftsmen of Greece to Athens. Being unemployed were a crime, so everyone had to contribute something to the civilization.

It took time for Solon's reforms to elevate Athenian society. However, the city-state reaped the benefits for many years to come. Eventually, Athenian democracy was a thing of beauty. Laws were written into record. Unfortunately, when Solon was no longer a guiding force for Athens, the Athenians started fighting amongst themselves. Without a true leader, the city fell into a period of anarchy that lasted two years.


 

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