Solon (Greek: Σόλων , c. 638 BC558 BC) was a famous Athenian law maker. Although he is considered an Athenian he was probably from Salamis.( Diodorus Siculus: en de kai Solon patros men Exekestidou, to genos ek Salaminos tes Attikes )
He was the son of Execestides. He first worked as a foreign trader, and his abilities as a poet had him lauded as one of the Seven Sages of Greece.
In the mid 590s BC he worked to promote renewed conflict against Cirrha over Salamis. In 594 BC he was made archon of Attica, in order to subdue the civil disorder that was rampant there. He introduced a set of ordinances, seisachtheia, that did much to improve conditions. His ordinances were such a success that he was given the task of rewriting the constitution, creating what was later called the Solonian Constitution.
He repealed most of the laws of Draco; introduced a timokratia, an oligarchy with a sliding scale of rights determined by property, dividing the population into four classes:
He introduced the trial by jury; military obligations were codified based on class; the Council of the Four Hundred (or Boule) and the Areopagus were established as the main consultative and administrative bodies; introduced many new laws, especially those covering debt and taxation; remodelled the calendar; and regulated weights and measures. Also, he took measures to protect children from sexual abuse. His laws were written onto special wooden cylinders and placed in the Acropolis.
Solon wrote the laws as a compromise between oligarchy and democracy, tailored to what the people would accept.
Solon presented his laws on the so.called kyrbeis and axones.
Life, Death and Litigation in the Athenian Agora, American School of Classical Studies at Athens
After having his constitution accepted he left Athens for over ten years, travelling to Egypt, Cyprus and Lydia. He is also presented by historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus in his historical accounts as a comment on human aspiration. When in Lydia he offended Croesus when asked "Who is the happiest man you have ever seen?", by answering "I can speak of no one as happy until they are dead" instead of complimenting the king. It was recalling this story which, again according to Herodotus, saved Croesus from execution when his kingdom was overcome by Cyrus's invading Persians. Some believe this illustrates the historical perspective of Herodotus.
Solon and Croesus. Gerrit van Honthorst. 1624,. Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany.
Solon returned to Athens in the 550s BC during the reign of the tyrant Pisistratus. The tyrant retained some of the constitution and showed Solon considerable respect. Solon died soon afterwards.
“Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?” This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments, “Tellus of Athens, sire.” Full of astonishment at what he heard, Croesus demanded sharply, “And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus happiest?” To which the other replied, “First, because his country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours.”
Solon, Miden Agan, "Nothing in excess"
Ronald S Stroud, The axones and kyrbeis of Drakon and Solon.
Solon of Athens : new historical and philological approaches , Josine H. Blok (Editor), Andre Lardinois (Editor), A. P. M. H. Lardinois (Editor)(Mnemosyne, Bibliotheca Classica Batava Supplementum) Academic Publishers 2006
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