What we call classical ideals today, first began in the Golden Age of Greece. The ideals later on spread to Roman culture as well. The ancient Greece aimed toward perfection in body, mind and life. They believed the key for perfect body was in athleticism and the only way to accomplish perfect life and mind was to find a balance between reason and passion. They were expressing their ideals through law, logic, mathematics, philosophy, poetry, art, drama and architecture.
Solon was one of the Athenian lawmakers and poets, which tried to implement these classical ideals into everyday life and law. He thought reform is needed in order to stop economic, political and moral decline in Athene. Our knowledge of Solon is limited because his work only survived in fragments, and there are some indications that what is left contains additions from later authors. Main source of our information about Solon are writings from Herodotus and Plutarch.
His changes started with constitutional reform. Before Solon, nine archons were appointed annually to administer Athenian state. They were selected on the basis of wealth and noble birth. Athenian citizens were protected with the law, but lowest class was left to be controlled by the nobles. Solon recognized all citizens equal, and he created a court that was same for everyone. He gave people power and with that he established foundations of republic.
Closely related was Solon’s moral reform. He believed that Athens is threatened by citizens’ arrogance and greed. Problem that Solon encountered was in lawlessness throughout Attica, including slavery that often occurred in countryside. If a farmer needed a loan, or couldn’t pay off his debt he had to offer himself or his family, to provide some form of labor. It was believed that farmer had a choice, so it was not immoral for nobles to use his family members in any way they wanted. The truth was, only choices were slavery, exile or death. Solon believed the biggest problem was no one enforced the law outside of Athens. He also thought that it could be fixed by creating a society in which everyone subordinate their lives to written laws which would be well defined.
Economic reform gave people the ability to trade across Attica. Foreign tradesmen were welcome, and farmers were encouraged to cultivate more produce. These reforms stimulated foreign trade, and soon Athenian pottery and olives were exported in increasing quantities. Grains were prohibited from exporting because it was believed that would harm the poor in Attica.
Solon’s reforms were celebrated across Attica, but it was not long-lasting. Soon Solon decide to leave the country, and within 4 years his reforms started to fade. The old social differences reappeared with new complications. The chaos ended with Peisistratos instituting tyranny. Solon blamed this on cowardice and stupidity of Athenians.
Solon’s reforms were questionable. He wanted to help the poor but he harmed them as well. For example, his moral reform meant farmers could no longer get any extra credit. Economic reform and encouraging olive exporting, led to decrease in land available to cultivate grains. Scholars are questioning whether his reforms were to help the poor, or were they just being sacrificed in the need of economy.