In 594 B.C, Solon becomes archon and begins to write laws for Athens. If you are unclear about the role of an archon , keep in mind that they replaced kings as rulers in Athens. Nine of them were chosen and they never got a chance to enjoy a lengthy time in office. Their role also did not come with the same privileges as a king. In this article, you will learn more about Solon.
Plutarch would later say of Solon’s life , ” Such power I gave the people as might do, Abridged not what they had, now lavished new. Those that were great in wealth and high in place, My counsel likewise kept from all disgrace. Before them both I held my shield of might, And let not either touch the other’s right.”
Solon first made his mark during the time that Athenians were warring with Megara for the possession of Salamis. At that time, the people elected Solon as the eponymous archon around 594 BC. This honor probably also took place around 20 years later. On his list of “things to do,” Solon faced the hard task of elevating the status of farmers and various others , like laborers who were locked into bondage over unpaid monies. The middle classes that were not part of the government were also in need of Solon’s help. To boot, he still had to please the rich individuals that owned the land and aristocracy.
During the 8th century, the wealthiest of farmers started to export the majority of their goods, which includes olive oil and wine. However, these sorts of cash crops needed an initial investment that was pretty steep in the cost. Since the farmer with hardly any funds had a limited selection in the type of crops he could produce, he was at a great disadvantage.
The mortgaging of land at this time dealt with stone markers that were situated on the land to call attention to the amount of debt a farmer owed. During the 7th century, these markers started to grow and the poorer farmers (like the ones that concentrated on growing wheat) lost their land. When it came to laborers , free men who were expected to pay out 1/6th of everything they produced , they most certainly failed to survive when the year brought about a poor harvest.
Times got pretty rough and in order to put food on the table for their families and self, laborers used their bodies as collateral to borrow from those they worked for. To make matters worse, the interest that accumulated was outrageous and the entire situation made it nearly impossible to pay back anything. Basically, free men were sold into slavery through their poverty. The idea of a tyrant or at least a revolt started to make more and more sense to the poor. This is when the Athenians decided to give Solon the opportunity to mediate the situation.
Solon thought it best to cancel all of the pledges associated with a man’s freedom. He freed all debtors from bondage and passed a law against enslaving debtors. He also set limitations to how much land one person could own at one time. In the end, Solon was able to create democratic changes throughout Athens and was successful in keeping an organized society in Attica. His influence was great and when his archonship ended , conflict and political disagreements arose.