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.

The first date in Athenian history on which certain reliance can be placed is the institution of annual archons, in the year 683 B.C. The duties of the government were distributed among the nine archons in the following manner. The first was called THE ARCHON by way of pre-eminence, and sometimes the Archon Eponymus, because the year was distinguished by his name. The second archon was called THE BASILEUS or THE KING, because he represented the king in his capacity as high-priest of the nation. The third archon bore the title of THE POLEMARCH, or Commander-in-chief and was, down to the time of Clisthenes, the commander of the troops. The remaining six had the common title of THESMOTHETAE, or Legislators. Their duties seem to have been almost exclusively judicial.

The government of the Eupatrids was oppressive; and the discontent of the people at length became so serious, that Draco was appointed in 624 B.C. to draw up a written code of laws. They were marked by extreme severity. He affixed the penalty of death to all crimes alike; to petty thefts, for instance, as well as to sacrilege and murder. Hence they were said to have been written not in ink but in blood; and we are told that he justified this extreme harshness by saying that small offences deserved death, and that he knew no severer punishment for great ones.

The legislation of Draco failed to calm the prevailing discontent. The people gained nothing by the written code, except a more perfect knowledge of its severity; and civil dissensions prevailed as extensively as before. The general dissatisfaction with the government was favourable to revolutionary projects; and accordingly, twelve years after Draco's legislation (B.C. 612), Cylon, one of the nobles, conceived the design of depriving his brother Eupatrids of their power, and making himself tyrant of Athens. Having collected a considerable force, he seized the Acropolis; but he did not meet with support from the great mass of the people, and he soon found himself closely blockaded by the forces of the Eupatrids. Cylon and his brother made their escape, but the remainder of his associates, hard pressed by hunger, abandoned the defence of the walls, and took refuge at the altar of Athena (Minerva). They were induced by the archon Megacles, one of the illustrious family of the Alcmaeonidae, to quit the altar on the promise that their lives should be spared; but directly they had left the temple they were put to death, and some of them were murdered even at the altar of the Eumenides or Furies.

The conspiracy thus failed; but its suppression was attended with a long train of melancholy consequences. The whole family of the Alcmaeonidae was believed to have become tainted by the daring act of sacrilege committed by Megacles; and the friends and partisans of the murdered conspirators were not slow in demanding vengeance upon the accursed race. Thus a new element of discord was introduced into the state, In the midst of these dissensions there was one man who enjoyed a distinguished reputation at Athens, and to whom his fellow citizens looked up as the only person in the state who could deliver them from their political and social dissensions, and secure them from such misfortunes for the future. This man was Solon, the son of Execestides, and a descendant of Codrus. He had travelled through many parts of Greece and Asia, and had formed acquaintance with many of the most eminent men of his time. On his return to his native country he distinguished himself by recovering the island of Salamis, which had revolted to Megara (B.C. 600). Three years afterwards he persuaded the Alcmaeonidae to submit their case to the judgment of three hundred Eupatridae, by whom they were adjudged guilty of sacrilege, and were expelled from Attica. The banishment of the guilty race did not, however, deliver the Athenians from their religious fears. A pestilential disease with which they were visited was regarded as an unerring sign of the divine wrath. Upon the advice of the Delphic oracle, they invited the celebrated Cretan prophet and sage, Epimenides, to visit Athens, and purify their city from pollution and sacrilege. By performing certain sacrifices and expiatory acts, Epimenides succeeded in staying the plague.

The civil dissensions however still continued. The population of Attica was now divided into three hostile factions, consisting of the PEDIEIS or wealthy Eupatrid inhabitants of the plains; of the DIACRII, or poor inhabitants of the hilly districts in the north and east of Attica; and of the PARALI, or mercantile inhabitants of the coasts, who held an intermediate position between the other two. Their disputes were aggravated by the miserable condition of the poorer population. The latter were in a state of abject poverty, They had borrowed money from the wealthy at exorbitant rates of interest upon the security of their property and their persons. If the principal and interest of the debt were not paid, the creditor had the power of seizing the person as well as the land of his debtor, and of using him as a slave. Many had thus been torn from their homes and sold to barbarian masters, while others were cultivating as slaves the lands of their wealthy creditors in Attica. Matters had at length reached a crisis; the existing laws could no longer be enforced; and the poor were ready to rise in open insurrection against the rich.

In these alarming circumstances the ruling oligarchy were obliged to have recourse to Solon; and they therefore chose him Archon in B.C. 594, investing him under that title with unlimited powers to effect any changes he might consider beneficial to the state. His appointment was hailed with satisfaction by the poor; and all parties were willing to accept his mediation and reforms.

Solon commenced his undertaking by relieving the poorer class of debtors from their existing distress. He cancelled all contracts by which the land or person of a debtor had been given as security; and he forbad for the future all loans in which the person of the debtor was pledged. He next proceeded to draw up a new constitution and a new code of laws. As a preliminary step he repealed all the laws of Draco, except those relating to murder. He then made a new classification of the citizens, distributing them into four classes according to the amount of their property, thus making wealth and not birth the title to the honours and offices of the state. The first class consisted of those whose annual income was equal to 500 medimni of corn and upwards, and were called PENTACOSIOMEDIMNI. [The medimnus was one bushel and a half.] The second class consisted of those whose incomes ranged between 300 and 500 medimni and were called KNIGHTS, from their being able to furnish a war-horse. The third class consisted of those who received between 200 and 300 medimni, and were called ZEUGITAE from their being able to keep a yoke of oxen for the plough. The fourth class, called THETES, included all whose property fell short of 200 medimni. The first class were alone eligible to the archonship and the higher offices of the state. The second and third classes filled inferior posts, and were liable to military service, the former as horsemen, and the latter as heavy-armed soldiers on foot. The fourth class were excluded from all public offices, and served in the army only as light-armed troops. Solon, however, allowed them to veto in the public assembly, where they must have constituted by far the largest number. He gave the assembly the right of electing the archons and the other officers of the state; and he also made the archons accountable to the assembly at the expiration of their year of office.

This extension of the duties of the public assembly led to the institution of a new body. Solon created the Senate, or Council of Four Hundred with the special object of preparing all matters for the discussion of the public assembly, of presiding at its meetings, and of carrying its resolutions into effect. No subject could be introduced before the people, except by a previous resolution of the Senate. The members of the Senate were elected by the public assembly, one hundred from each of the four ancient tribes, which were left untouched by Solon. They held their office for a year, and were accountable at its expiration to the public assembly for the manner in which they had discharged their duties.

The Senate of the Areopagus [It received its name from its place of meeting, which was a rocky eminence opposite the Acropolis, called the hill of Ares (Mars Hill)], is said by some writers to have been instituted by Solon; but it existed long before his time, and may be regarded as the representative of the Council of Chiefs in the Heroic age. Solon enlarged its powers, and intrusted it with the general supervision of the institutions and laws of the state, and imposed upon it the duty of inspecting the lives and occupations of the citizens. All archons became members of it at the expiration of their year of office.

Solon laid only the foundation of the Athenian democracy by giving the poorer classes a vote in the popular assembly, and by enlarging the power of the latter; but he left the government exclusively in the hands of the wealthy. For many years after his time the government continued to be an oligarchy, but was exercised with more moderation and justice than formerly.

Solon enacted numerous laws, containing regulations on almost all subjects connected with the public and private life of the citizens. He encouraged trade and manufactures, and invited foreigners to settle in Athens by the promise of protection and by valuable privileges. To discourage idleness a son was not obliged to support his father in old age, if the latter had neglected to teach him some trade or occupation.

Solon punished theft by compelling the guilty party to restore double the value of the property stolen. He forbade speaking evil either of the dead or of the living.

Solon is said to have been aware that he had left many imperfections in his laws. He described them not as the best laws which he could devise, but as the best which the Athenians could receive. Having bound the government and people of Athens by a solemn oath to observe his institutions for at least ten years, he left Athens and travelled in foreign lands. During his absence the old dissensions between the Plain, the Shore, and the Mountain broke out afresh with more violence than ever. The first was headed by Lycurgus, the second by Megacles, an Alcmaeonid, and the third by Pisistratus, the cousin of Solon. Of these leaders, Pisistratus was the ablest and the most dangerous. He had espoused the cause of the poorest of the three classes, in order to gain popularity, and to make himself master of Athens. Solon on his return to Athens detected the ambitious designs of his kinsman, and attempted to disuade him from them. Finding his remonstrances fruitless, he next denounced his projects in verses addressed to the people. Few, however, gave any heed to his warnings: and Pisistratus, at length finding his schemes ripe for action, had recourse to a memorable strategem to secure his object. One day he appeared in the market-place in a chariot, his mules and his own person bleeding with wounds inflicted with his own hands. These he exhibited to the people, telling them that he had been nearly murdered in consequence of defending their rights. The popular indignation was excited; and a guard of fifty clubmen was granted him for his future security. He gradually increased the number of his guard and soon found himself strong enough to throw off the mask and seize the Acropolis (B.C. 560). Megacles and the Alcmaeonidae left the city. Solon alone had the courage to oppose the usurpation, and upbraided the people with their cowardice and their treachery. "You might," said he, "with ease have crushed the tyrant in the bud; but nothing now remains but to pluck him up by the roots." But no one responded to his appeal. He refused to fly; and when his friends asked him on what he relied for protection, "On my old age," was his reply. It is creditable to Pisistratus that he left his aged relative unmolested, and even asked his advice in the administration of the government. Solon did not long survive the overthrow of the constitution. He died a year or two afterwards at the advanced age of eighty. His ashes are said to have been scattered by his own direction round the island of Salamis, which he had won for the Athenian people.

Pisistratus however did not retain his power long. The leaders of the factions of the Shore and the Plain combined and drove the usurper into exile. But the Shore and the Plain having quarrelled, Pisistratus was recalled and again became master of Athens. Another revolution shortly afterwards drove him into exile a second time, and he remained abroad ten years. At length, with the assistance of mercenaries from other Grecian states and with the aid of his partisans in Athens, he became master of Athens for the third time, and henceforth continued in possession of the supreme power till the day of his death. As soon as he was firmly established in the government, his administration was marked by mildness and equity. He maintained the institutions of Solon, taking care, however, that the highest offices should always be held by some members of his own family. He not only enforced strict obedience to the laws, but himself set the example of submitting to them. Being accused of murder, he disdained to take advantage of his authority, and went in person to plead his cause before the Areopagus, where his accuser did not venture to appear. He courted popularity by largesses to the citizens and by throwing open his gardens to the poor. He adorned Athens with many public buildings. He commenced on a stupendous scale a temple to the Olympian Zeus, which remained unfinished for centuries, and was at length completed by the emperor Hadrian. He was a patron of literature, as well as of the arts. He is said to have been the first person in Greece who collected a library, which he threw open to the public; and to him posterity is indebted for the collection of the Homeric poems. On the whole it cannot be denied that he made a wise and noble use of his power.

Pisistratus died at an advanced age in 527 B.C., thirty-three years after his first usurpation. He transmitted the sovereign power to his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus, who conducted the government on the same principles as their father. Hipparchus inherited his father's literary tastes. He invited several distinguished poets, such as Anacreon and Simonides, to his court. The people appear to have been contented with their rule; and it was only an accidental circumstance which led to their overthrow and to a change in the government.

Their fall was occasioned by the conspiracy of Harmodius and Aristogiton, who were attached to each other by a most intimate friendship. Harmodius having given offence to Hippias, the despot revenged himself by putting a public affront upon his sister. This indignity excited the resentment of the two friends, and they now resolved to slay the despots at the festival of the Great Panathenaea, when all the citizens were required to attend in arms. Having communicated their design to a few associates, the conspirators appeared armed at the appointed time like the rest of the citizens, but carrying concealed daggers besides. Harmodius and Aristogiton had planned to kill Hippias first as he was arranging the order of the procession outside the city, but, upon approaching the spot where he was standing, they were thunderstruck at beholding one of the conspirators in close conversation with the despot. Believing that they were betrayed, they rushed back into the city with their daggers hid in the myrtle boughs which they were to have carried in the procession, and killed Hipparchus. Harmodius was immediately cut down by the guards. Aristogiton died under the tortures to which he was subjected in order to compel him to disclose his accomplices.

Hipparchus was assassinated in B.C. 514, the fourteenth year after the death of Pisistratus. From this time the character of the government became entirely changed. His brother's murder converted Hippias into a cruel and suspicious tyrant. He put to death numbers of the citizens, and raised large sums of money by extraordinary taxes.

The Alcmaeonidae, who had lived in exile ever since the third and final restoration of Pisistratus to Athens, now began to form schemes to expel the tyrant. Clisthenes, the son of Megacles, who was the head of the family, secured the Delphian oracle by pecuniary presents to the Pythia, or priestess, henceforth, whenever the Spartans came to consult the oracle, the answer of the priestess was always the same, "Athens must be liberated." This order was so often repeated, that the Spartans at last resolved to obey. Cleomenes, king of Sparta, defeated the Thessalian allies of Hippias; and the tyrant, unable to meet his enemies in the field, took refuge in the Acropolis. Here he might have maintained himself in safety, had not his children been made prisoners as they were being secretly carried out of the country. To procure their restoration, he consented to quit Attics in the space of five days. He sailed to Asia, and took up his residence at Sigeum in the Troad, which his father had wrested from the Mytilenaeans in war.

Hippias was expelled in B.C. 510, four years after the assassination of Hipparchus. These four years had been a time of suffering and oppression for the Athenians, and had effaced from their minds all recollection of the former mild rule of Pisistratus and his sons. Hence the expulsion of the family was hailed with delight. The memory of Harmodius and Aristogiton was cherished with the fondest reverence; and the Athenians of a later age, overlooking the four years which had elapsed from their death to the overthrow of the despotism, represented them as the liberators of their country and the first martyrs for its liberty. Their statues were erected in the market-place soon after the expulsion of Hippias; their descendants enjoyed immunity from all taxes and public burdens; and their deed of vengeance formed the favourite subject of drinking songs.

The Lacedaemonians quitted Athens soon after Hippias had sailed away, leaving the Athenians to settle their own affairs. Clisthenes, to whom Athens was mainly indebted for its liberation from the despotism, aspired to be the political leader of the state but he was opposed by Isagoras, the leader of the party of the nobles. By the Solonian constitution, the whole political power was vested in the hands of the nobles; and Clisthenes soon found that it was hopeless to contend against his rival under the existing order of things. For this reason he resolved to introduce an important change in the constitution, and to give to the people an equal share in the government.

The reforms of Clisthenes gave birth to the Athenian democracy, which can hardly be said to have existed before this time. His first and most important measure was a redistribution of the whole population of Attica into ten new tribes. He abolished the four ancient Ionic tribes, and enrolled in the ten new tribes all the free inhabitants of Attica, including both resident aliens and even emancipated slaves. He divided the tribes into a certain number of cantons or townships, called DEMI, which at a later time were 174 in number. Every Athenian citizen was obliged to be enrolled in a demus, each of which, like a parish in England, administered its own affairs. It had its public meetings it levied rates, and was under the superintendence of an officer called DEMARCHUS.

The establishment of the ten new tribes led to a change in the number of the Senate. It had previously consisted of 400 members, but it was now enlarged to 500, fifty being selected from each of the ten new tribes. The Ecclesia, or formal assembly of the citizens, was now summoned at certain fixed periods; and Clisthenes transferred the government of the state, which had hitherto been in the hands of the archons, to the senate and the ecclesia. He also increased the judicial as well as the political power of the people; and enacted that all public crimes should be tried by the whole body of citizens above thirty years of age, specially convoked and sworn for the purpose. The assembly thus convened was called HELIAEA and its members HELIASTS. Clisthenes also introduced the OSTRACISM, by which an Athenian citizen might be banished without special accusation, trial, or defence for ten years, which term was subsequently reduced to five. It must be recollected that the force which a Greek government had at its disposal was very small; and that it was comparatively easy for an ambitious citizen, supported by a numerous body of partisans, to overthrow the constitution and make himself despot. The Ostracism was the means devised by Clisthenes for removing quietly from the state a powerful party leader before he could carry into execution any violent schemes for the subversion of the government. Every precaution was taken to guard this institution from abuse. The senate and the ecclesia had first to determine by a special vote whether the safety of the state required such a step to be taken. If they decided in the affirmative, a day was fixed for the voting, and each citizen wrote upon a tile or oyster-shell [OSTRACON, whence the name OSTRACISM] the name of the person whom he wished to banish. The votes were then collected, And if it was found that 6000 had been recorded against any one person, he was obliged to withdraw from the city within ten days: if the number of votes did not amount to 6000, nothing was done.

The aristocratical party, enraged at these reforms called in the assistance of Cleomenes, king of the Lacedaemonians. Athens was menaced by foreign enemies and distracted by party struggles. Clisthenes was at first compelled to retire from Athens; but the people rose in arms against Cleomenes, expelled the Lacedaemonians, who had taken possession of the city, and recalled Clisthenes. Thereupon Cleomenes collected a Peloponnesian army in order to establish Isagoras as a tyrant over the Athenians, and at the same time he concerted measures with the Thebans and the Chalcidians of Euboea for a simultaneous attack upon Attica. The Peloponnesian army, commanded by the two kings, Cleomenes and Demaratus, entered Attica, and advanced as far as Eleusis; but when the allies became aware of the object for which they had been summoned, they refused to march farther, and strongly protested against the attempt to establish a tyranny at Athens. Their remonstrances being seconded by Demaratus, Cleomenes found it necessary to abandon the expedition and return home. At a later period (B.C. 491) Cleomenes took revenge upon Demaratus by persuading the Spartans to depose him upon the ground of illegitimacy. The exiled king took refuge at the Persian court.

The unexpected retreat of the Peloponnesian army delivered the Athenians from their most formidable enemy, and they lost no time in turning their arms against their other foes. Marching into Boeotia, they defeated the Thebans and then crossed over into Euboea, where they gained a decisive victory over the Chalcidians. In order to secure their dominion in Euboea, and at the same time to provide for their poorer citizens, the Athenians distributed the estates of the wealthy Chalcidian landowners among 4000 of their citizens, who settled in the country under the name of CLERUCI.

The successes of Athens excited the jealousy of the Spartans, and they now resolved to make a third attempt to overthrow the Athenian democracy. They had meantime discovered the deception which had been practised upon them by the Delphic oracle; And they invited Hippias to come from Sigeum to Sparta, in order to restore him to Athens. The experience of the last campaign had taught them that they could not calculate upon the co-operation of their allies without first obtaining their approval of the project; and they therefore summoned deputies from all their allies to meet at Sparta, in order to determine respecting the restoration of Hippias. But the proposal was received with universal repugnance; and the Spartans found it necessary to abandon their project. Hippias returned to Sigeum, and afterwards proceeded to the court of Darius.

Athens had now entered upon her glorious career. The institutions of Clisthenes had given her citizens a personal interest in the welfare and the grandeur of their country. A spirit of the warmest patriotism rapidly sprang up among them; and the history of the Persian wars, which followed almost immediately, exhibits a striking proof of the heroic sacrifices which they were prepared to make for the liberty and independence of their state.