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Who was Solon?

When it comes to the establishment of democracy in ancient Athens, Solon (one of the seven sages of ancient Greece) is often given credit for playing an important role. Born in 638 BC, Solon became a well-known Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and lyric poet. The honor of becoming one of the Seven Sages of the ancient world came on the request of a travel writer by the name of Pausanias.

In history, Solon was known for his stance against the decline of politics, morality, and the economy throughout Athens. While he created a collection of reforms, they did not succeed in the short term, however, he would later earn the recognition of developing the foundation for democracy in Athens. In the city-state, Solon served as a revered reformer and poet of his time , straying from the social and economic views of his peers.

Some of his view can be seen in the following lines of one of his poems:

“Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor;
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue’s a thing that none can take away,
But money changes owners all the day.”

The English poet, John Dryden translated his words and came to the conclusion that Solon stood on a “high moral ground.” This was not the only type of beliefs that Solon would voice. He also spoke of nationalism in Athens, as his homeland possessed many differences with its neighbor and rival located in the Saronic Gulf (Megara). At that time, Megara had taken over the island of Salamis and Solon whole-heartedly believed that the island should return to the control of Athens.

Solon wrote:

“Let us go to Salamis to fight for the island
We desire, and drive away our bitter shame!”

Around 594 or 593 BC, Solon was elected to what was known as an eponymous archon (meaning he served as a chief magistrate in Athens). Counsels of archons would create one large government body (executive rulers). During this time, Solon gained the power to reform the country as only he thought was best. A bit of conflict in accuracy of this power exists, as some scholars feel that Solon acquired the green light a couple of years after becoming archon. In any event, he gladly accepted the challenge and attempted to use this gift to create a peaceful agreement between rivals.

Solon did not lack the effort to reform the country, but without four years of Solon stepping down from the position, the old ways in society crept back that also presented a few new problems. The new government showcased inconsistencies, as some elected officials simply wouldn’t leave behind their posts. At times, important posts actually went unfilled. It was then that Solon received most of the blame.

In later years, the factionalism ended (by force). It was Peisistratos who was able to achieve this , a relative of Solon. A new dictatorship emerged that did not follow a constitution that Solon saw for Athens. He would always look back at this as a disappointing act of “stupidity and cowardice.”