CHAPTER V. THE EARLY HISTORY OF ATHENS, DOWN TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF DEMOCRACY BY CLISTHENES, B.C. 510.
Sparta was the only state in Greece which continued to retain the kingly form of government during the brilliant period of Grecian history. In all other parts of Greece royalty had been abolished at as early age, and various forms of republican government established in its stead. The abolition of royalty was first followed by an Oligarchy or the government of the Few. Democracy, or the government of the Many, was of later growth. It was not from the people that the oligarchies received their first and greatest blow. They were generally overthrown by the usurpers, to whom the Greeks gave the name of TYRANTS. [The Greek word Tyrant does not correspond in meaning to the same word in the English language. It signifies simply an irresponsible ruler, and may, therefore, be more correctly rendered by the term Despot.]
The rise of the Tyrants seems to have taken place about the same time in a large number of the Greek cities. In most cases they belonged to the nobles, and they generally became masters of the state by espousing the cause of the commonalty, and using the strength of the people to put down the oligarchy by force. At first they were popular with the general body of the citizens, who were glad to see the humiliation of their former masters. But discontent soon began to arise; the tyrant had recourse to violence to quell disaffection; and the government became in reality a tyranny in the modern sense of the word.
Many of the tyrants in Greece were put down by the Lacedaemonians. The Spartan government was essentially an oligarchy, and the Spartans were always ready to lend their powerful aid in favour of the government of the Few. Hence they took an active part in the overthrow of the despots, with the intention of establishing the ancient oligarchy in their place. But this rarely happened; and they found it impossible in most cases to reinstate the former body of nobles in their ancient privileges. The latter, it is true, attempted to regain them and were supported in their attempts by Sparta. Hence arose a new struggle. The first contest after the abolition of royalty was between oligarchy and the despot, the next was between oligarchy and democracy.
The history of Athens affords the most striking illustration of the different revolutions of which we have been speaking.
Little is known of Athens before the age of Solon. Its legendary tales are few, its historical facts still fewer. Cecrops, the first ruler of Attica, is said to have divided the country into twelve districts, which are represented as independent communities, each governed by a separate king. They were afterwards united into a single state, having Athens as its capital and the seat of government. At what time this important union was effected cannot be determined; but it is ascribed to Theseus, as the national hero of the Athenian people.
A few generations after Theseus, the Dorians are said to have invaded Attica. An oracle declared that they would be victorious if they spared the life of the Athenian King; whereupon Codrus, who then reigned at Athens, resolved to sacrifice himself for the welfare of his country. Accordingly he went into the invaders' camp in disguise, provoked a quarrel with one of the Dorian soldiers and was killed by the latter. Upon learning the death of the Athenian king, the Dorians retired from Attica without striking a blow: and the Athenians, from respect to the memory of Codrus, abolished the title of king, and substituted for it that of Archon or Ruler. The office, however, was held for life, and was confined to the family of Codrus. His son Medon was the first archon, and he was followed in the dignity by eleven members of the family in succession. But soon after the accession Alcmaeon, the thirteenth in descent from Medon, another change was introduced, and the duration of the archonship was limited to ten years (B.C. 752). The dignity was still confined to the descendants of Medon; but in the time of Hippomenes (B.C. 714) this restriction was removed, and the office was thrown open to all the nobles in the state. In B.C. 683 a still more important change took place. The archonship was now made annual, and its duties were distributed among nine persons, all of whom bore the title. The last of the decennial archons was Eryxias, the first of the nine annual archons Creon.
Such is the legendary account of the change of government at Athens, from royalty to an oligarchy. It appears to have taken place peaceably and gradually, as in most other Greek states. The whole political power was vested in the nobles; from them the nine annual archons were taken, and to them alone these magistrates were responsible. The people, or general body of freemen, had no share in the government.
The Athenian nobles were called EUPATRIDAE, the two other classes in the state being the GEOMORI or husbandmen, and DEMIURGI or artisans. This arrangement is ascribed to Theseus; but there was another division of the people of still greater antiquity. As the Dorians were divided into three tribes, so the Ionians were usually distributed into four tribes. The latter division also existed among the Athenians, who were Ionians, and it continued in full vigour down to the great revolution of Clisthenes (B.C. 509). These tribes were distinguished by the names of GELEONTES (or TELEONTES) "cultivators," HOPLETES "warriors," AEGICORES "goat-herds," and ARGADES "artisans." Each tribe contained three Phratriae, each Phratry thirty Gentes, and each Gens thirty heads of families.