Page 0532



the family of the Alcmaeonidae, to which Megacles belonged, to submit

their cause to trial. The court adjudged them guilty, and they were

banished from Attica. Still the Athenians were terrified at the imagined

anger of the gods, and a plague in the city was attributed to the

vengeance of those whose altars had been profaned by the shedding thereat

of human blood. Nor could the public mind be quieted until, at the

suggestion of the Delphic oracle, the Cretan sage Epimenides was brought

to Athens to purify her from pollution.

In this business, which resulted in producing comparative quiet, the

guiding hand of SOLON again appeared. To him the people of the city began

to look as to one who by his wisdom and prudence was able to save the

state from anarchy. This remarkable man was born in the year B. C. 638.

He was on his father's side descended from Codrus, and by his mother was

related to Pisistratus. In youth he learned a trade, and afterwards

traveled as a merchant in Greece and Asia. He was a poet of no mean

ability, and while yet comparatively young was reckoned as one of the

Seven Wise Men of his country. Returning from his travels, he became

interested in public affairs, and soon acquired a great reputation for

probity and learning. In B. C. 600 he rendered the state most valuable

service by commanding the Athenian expedition for the recovery of

Salamis, which had revolted to Megara. After a tedious struggle the

decision of the question was left to the arbitration of Sparta. Solon

went thither as the ambassador of Athens, and managed the cause so

skillfully as to obtain a judgment in favor of his country. Soon

afterwards his fame was further heightened by the influence which he

wielded over the Amphictyonic Council in inducing that body to declare

war against the town of Cirrha, thus precipitating the Sacred War.

At the age of Solon the Athenian commonwealth embraced three classes of

citizens. These were first the Pediaei, or wealthy class, who, living

mostly in the open country in and about Athens, were designated as the

Plain; second, the Diacrii, or poor people of the hilly districts, who

were called the Mountain; third, the Parali, or mercantile class, living

mostly on the sea-coast, and known as the Shore. These classes were

arrayed against each other politically, and a reconciliation of their

interests seemed impossible. The poor were in great distress. The rich

had loaned them money, and had charged exorbitant rates of interest. Both

the property and the person of the debtor were mortgaged to the rapacious

creditor. Payment was in most instances impossible. Many of those who had

been bankrupted had become the slaves of those whom they owed. Others had

been actually sold to barbarians: The materials of a disastrous

insurrection were ready to be fired by the first spark of agitation.

The oligarchs became alarmed, and appealed to Solon for aid. They knew

that he had the confidence of the Mountain and the Shore, as well as

their own. In B. C. 594 he was chosen Archon, and was authorized to

exercise unlimited powers in remodeling the constitution of the state.

All parties accepted his appointment as an earnest of reform: Such was

the universality of his influence that he might easily have usurped all

the functions of the government, overthrown the oligarchy, and made

himself master of Athens; but his virtue was equal to his ability, and he

rebuked those who tempted him to such a course. He entered upon his work

without the least bias of personal ambition.

As a preliminary measure he abolished all the laws of Draco except that

relating to murder. He then divided the people into classes, according to

their property assessment. This division was made the basis Of the new

political system; for a man's right to political preferment rested

henceforth on the amount of property of which he was possessed. As a

measure of present relief, he Canceled all mortgages which had been given

on the score of interest. Debtors sold into slavery were set free. The

lands of the state were freed from encumbrances. The power to mortgage

the person for debt was annulled: No general abolition of debt was

attempted; but, as a measure of relief, the standard of the coinage was

lowered about one-fourth, so that the new