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THE SOLONIAN REFORM


1. The Athenians considered Solon the founder of their political and social order. Since Athens was the most important city of Greece, the study of Solonís legislation has been one of the major topics of interest for historians of ancient Greece, since the first book on the subject was written in 1632 by Iohannes van Meurs.

The attention given to Solonís legislation was further increased when in 1891 there was published the text of the newly discovered Constitution of the Athenians by Aristotle, which dedicates its initial chapters to the enactments of Solon. Up to that time the main source of information had been the Life of Solon written by Plutarch. Both Aristotle and Plutarch quote passages from Solonís political poems, and two important fragments of his poems are provided also by other sources. As a result we have the unique advantage of being able to study the activity of a political figure of the sixth century B.C. on the basis of his own words. For these reasons for the last seventy years there has not been any other topic of Greek history that has received more attention, but the interpretation of the relevant texts has remained admittedly uncertain. Many books and monographs on Solon prefer to shy away from concrete questions and discuss in general the purpose and the significance of his activity, but the opinions are, as one could expect from such a procedure, sharply contradictory.

Unable to discern the purpose of Solon’s reforms, a number of historians have claimed that Solonís work was so great that the knowledge of its specific contents is immaterial. Perhaps the one who went farthest in this direction is Gundert in an essay of 1942, where he claims that the greatness of Solon is not political but metapolitical, since he gave to the polis much more than a politicial order and a certain direction—which could have been provided also by others— namely the idea of law in the abstract. In 1948 Victor Martin, teacher of Greek culture and history and the University of Geneva, issued an essay on Solon et líesprit de sa législation in which we learn that it is not important to know what Solon did specifically “since, although legislating for a specific place and for a specific time, his activity was oriented by a meditation that brought him to a deepening of the universal and eternal principles to which the human community must submit lest it be destroyed.” I could quote a number of similar statements.

The difficulty in handling the legislation of Solon results from the circumstance that scholars begin by ignoring the single most important piece of textual evidence. In 404 B.C., as a result of Athensí defeat in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta set as a peace condition that the Athenians be governed by their “ancestral constitution.” Under the pretext of conforming to this clause the Athenian democratic constitution was overthrown by the extreme oligarchs, who was established the tyranny of the Thirty; but the following year the democrats succeeded in reestablishing the earlier constituion. The democratic restoration in Athens was made possible by factional struggles within Sparta, factional struggles that were conducted around the issue of what had been the rules of the Spartan legislator Lycurgus concerning money. Lycurgus was considered to have been the founder of the Spartan political and social order, as Solon was the founder of the Athenian political and social order. Those who in Sparta were inclined to let the Athenians be free to have a democratic constitution were those who argued that Lycurgus had banned the import of gold and silver money into Sparta. This climate of opinion explains in part why the main clause of the decree that restored democracy in Athens in 403 A.D., the Decree of Teisamenos, reads:

The Athenians shall be ruled by the nomoi kai metra kai stathma of Solon and by the thesmoi of Drakon.

In the phrase nomoi kai metra kai stathma the two last terms are the original ones; the first was added later even though it acquired such importance that it came to be placed first in the text of Teisamenosí decree. From the passages mentioning Palamedesí inventions one also gathers that the invention of nomoi developed from the invention of metra kai stathma. The text indicates that the phrase nomoi kai metra kai stathma had practically the same meaning as nomoi. And in fact Andokides, from whom we get the text of the decree, resumes it by the words “and should use the Solonian nomoi.”

There were particular and general reasons for adopting this formulation. One particular reason was that at that moment those who in Sparta were opposed to an imperial policy by which a constitution would be dictated to Athens, argued that Sparta, as any other city, should conform to her ancestral rules about money. The thesmoi, “legal pronouncements,” of Dracon concerned the procedure to be followed in case of homicide and, hence, were politically relevant at that time because the Thirty had put a number of citizens to death without trial, or without proper trial. But the formulation adopted by the decree, by referring not only to money but also to weights and measures, was aimed at defining the essence of a constitutional democracy. Scholars of Athenian constitutional history have glossed over the peculiar formulation of Teisamenosí decree, but one cannot escape the conclusion that Solonís legislation must have been constituted mainly by metrological rules.

Interpreters have been completely baffled by the reference to weights and measures, because they cannot understand what they had to do with the constitution. C. Hignett in his History of the Athenian Constitution (Oxford, 1952) dedicates a special appendix to examine in detail some of the formulations of the decree and to interpret textually its implications, but he is very careful never to mention the main point: This procedure is in the general line followed by the preceding studies of Athenian constitutional history.

The main point is that the decree prescribes that Athens shall be governed according to the ancestral institutions, which are the nomoi kai metra kai stathma of Solon and the thesmoi of Dracon. It is agreed that the thesmoi of Dracon are of relatively limited importance from the constitutional point of view, so that the essence of the constitution remains the system of measures of Solon. Certainly the Solonian constitution is composed of something more than a system of measures, but the wording makes clear that the nomoi of Solon are considered only as a part of his system of measures.

Most modern classical scholars are militantly opposed to quantitative science, although the ideal of quantitative science is a product of Greek thought. For this reason they tend to forget that democracy is the result of an application of quantitative thinking to politics. This is particularly evident in the case of a Greek democracy in which political appointments were determined by lottery and not by vote; the numerical thinking is obvious in the case of the Athenian democracy in which the decimal organization of the voting population and of the magistracies was essential and where the purpose of the political procedures was to obtain a sample of public opinion that is statistically correct.

It is true that the mathematical ordering of the Athenian body politic was introduced by Cleisthenes more than half a century after Solonís legislation, but the Athenian democrats were interested in arguing that Cleisthenesí constitutional concepts were those of Solon. The question whether Solon or Cleisthenes had been the founder of Athenian democracy had been a topic of political contention. Herodotos, who wrote just before the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, deals at length with the history of Athens and mentions Solon as a wise man who had left Athens after introducing some nomoi that had not to be changed for ten years (I, 29). As an example of the nomoi of Solon Herodotos quotes only one to the effect that each citizen had to declare each year his means of subsistence and that he would be punished by death if he did not make this declaration or was found not to make an honest living (II, 177). Even though this piece of information that has the flavor of legend, it refers to economic matters. Herodotos mentions that Solon wrote a poem in praise of Aristokypros, a ruler of the island of Kypros “praising him above all other tyrants” (V, 113). If Solon had been a champion of democracy or at least of constitutional government and a bitter opponent of tyrannical rule, as he was made to appear after the events of 404-403 B.C., he would hardly have written such a poem.

The Constitution of the Athenians by the so-called Old Oligarch, written at the very beginning of the Peloponnesian War, does not mention Solon. Thucydides presents lengthy debates about the nature of Athenian political institutions and practices and reports speeches in which Pericles outlines the ideals of Athenian democracy, but he does not ever mention Solon. This indicats that it was at a very late date that Solon became the father of his country.

It is in the comic writers opposed to the war strategy of Pericles that the figure of Solon begins to acquire political significance. In the Clouds of Aristophanes, presented in 423 B.C., Solon is mentioned as “an ancient” who was “friendly to the demos by nature philodemos teu physin.” In the same period Solon appears as a critic of Periclean democracy in the comedies of Eupolis and Kratinos. Particularly significant is a fragment of the anti-Periclean comedy Chirones by Kratinos (fr. 228 Koch) where it is stated that after his death Solon inhabits the island of Salamis acording to the tradition “spread through the entire city of Ajax.” . The explanation of this may be that many of the farmers that lost land because of the strategy of Perkles, which required that the Attic mainland be abandoned to the Spartan invaders, were resettled in the island of Salamis; the memory of Solon was alive among these farmers because the owed to Solon the property of their land, with the result that Solon became the symbol of opposition to to a policy that caused the loss of farms. It is clear from Aristophanes that the regret for the destruction of the Attic farmland became combined with the opposition to radical democracy. As a result the author of legal reforms that had established the rightrs of Attic farmers was transformed into the author of a political constitution of moderate democratic character.

The slogan of those opposed to the continuation of the war was that the “ancestral constitution” —meaning whatever existed before the growth of radical democracy—had been perverted. It is in this climate of opinion that Solon began to appear as the founder of Athenian democracy. The radical democrats attempted to turn the tables and clamor for a return to Solon and to ancestral practices, taking over Solon as their champion and claiming that their political program was that of Solon. It is a fact that democracy was reestablished in 403 B.C. in the name of a return to the nomoi kai metra kai stathma of Solon. Masaracchia properly connects the shift in the role of the ideal of the Solonian constitution with the shift in the alighnment of the moderate party of Teramenes that at first favored the establishment of oligarchy and then turned against the Thirty and aligned itself with the defenders of the democratic constitution. As a result of these events Athenian historians began to reconstruct a constitution of Solon, but the evidence indicates that all that was clearly remembered of Solonís legal activity was his monetary reforms.

The purpose of the democrats was to trace the mathematical ordering of the constitution back to Solon; they were right in that, although Solon had not mathematized the constitution; by his legislation on money and measures he had established the principle of equality of all citizens before the law and, hence, the first element of every democratic ordering, namely, that each citizen counts for a unit. Aristotle specifically states that the arithmetical equality of the citizens is the key element of democracy and relates this equality to the nature of money. The Greek texts that relate money and measures with the political order are so clear that my task here must be that of relating to the political order the concrete and specific regulations of Solon in matters of money, measures and weights.

2. Because I believe that the words of the decree of 403 B.C. have a meaning, I shall follow a method of approach to the problem of Solonís reforms completely different from that followed up to now. In my opinion Solon introduced certain reforms concerning measurements which affected the monetary system; the reform of the monetary system determined the socio-economic ordering of Athenian society and for this reason shaped the distribution of political power, the constitution. Those who wrote the decree of 403 B.C. believed that the monetary reforms of Solon had been an instrument for the enforcement of a specific ideology. In my opinion Solon says as much himself in his poems.

The present tendency of scholarship moves in the opposite direction. In 1952 C. Hignett wrote a thick volume on the history of the Athenian constitution up to 403 B.C. in which the monetary reforms of Solon are not even mentioned. Several pages are dedicated to the decree of 403 B.C., but the mention of its text is avoided with great care. In 1958 Agostino Masaracchia published a book on Solon that is much more concerned that any preceding one with a detailed evaluation of the textual evidence; nevertheless, only three lines are dedicated to the decree of 403 B.C. The text of this “famous decree” is explained as resulting from a memory of the monetary reforms of Solon, a memory that had been preserved for a long time. Concerning these reforms Masaracchia deems fit that he should “make a reference” to them; in the page dedicated to them the only positive statement is that there had been an inflation. Masaracchia refrains from a more precise treatment because “it is tied with the interpretation of a most difficult passage of Aristotleís Constitution of the Athenians which has an obscure and involved meaning.” The assumption is that there was something wrong with Aristotleís thought or with his way of expressing it, not with the method applied to its interpretation.

Masarecchia repeats the established opinion that if the decree of 403 B.C. mentions the legislation of Solon on money and measures, it is merely for sentimental reasons. This reflects the more general view that legal technicism was unknown in Greece and that the legal texts must be viewed more as rhetorical appeals to feelings than as formal documents. Those who have investigated Greek law assuming the existence of legal formalism are only a few, as my teacher Fritz Pringsheim, as Ugo Enrico Paoli, and normally they have never found an audience outside law schools. In my opinion legal formalism was an essential element of Solonís thought and action.

My opinion is that Solon introduced a monetary reform by changing the system of measures and by this monetary reform solved a socio-economic crisis that had caused a threat of revolution. For this reason I shall consider first the monetary reform and then explain how it affected the socio-economic conflict.

3. Concerning the monetary refroms of Solon, Aristotle states (ch. X):

But even before his legislation, he had proceeded to a cutting off of debts and successively to an increase of metra kai stathma kai nomisma. For, under his rule, the metra became greater than the pheidonia metra, and the mina that before had a weight of seventy drachmai was filled with one hundred. For, the old coined piece was a didrachm. And he also established weights (stathma) corresponding to the coinage (nomisma), a talent being sixty-three minai; the stater and the other weights were increased in proportion to these three minai.

Plutarch (ch. XV) reports the opinion of Androtion, a fourth-century B.C. chronicler of Athens, who gives a version of the events different from that accepted by Aristotle. Aristotle had read Androtion and was aware of the disagreement; it is probably for this reason that the text of Aristotle agrees word for word with that of Plutarch, which reads:

However some, among whom is Androtion, write that the poor were benefited not by a cutting off of debts, but by having their burden lightened through the establishment of moderate interests. They say that the name of seisachtheia (“shaking off the load”) was given to this charitable act and to the increase of the metra and increase of the value of the nomisma that took place contemporaneously. For he made the mina equal to one hundred drachmai, whereas before it balanced seventy, with the result that by giving the same in number, but less in intrinsic value, those who paid derived a great benefit without damage to the recipient.

Plutarch reports the opinion of Androtion but does not accept it, since in other parts he indicates that there was a cutting off of debts. The term apokopê, “cutting off,” does not mean total cancellation, as several modern interpreters have assumed: the term is used in speaking of the amputation of limbs and in speaking of eunuchs.

Androtion argued that Solon had merely reduced the rate of interest, without cutting the amount of capital to be repaid, whereas Aristotle maintained that both the rate of interest and the amount of capital had been cut. There was a solid argument for denying that Solon had brought about a “cutting off” of debts. It was believed that the oaths that had to be sworn by public officials had been introduced by Solon himself; these oaths specifically condemned as unconstitutional measures aimed at “cutting off” debts. There has been preserved the text of one of these oaths, that to be sworn by the judges of the Court of Heliaia, and it reads as follows:

I will vote according to the nomoi and the decrees of the Athenian demos and of the Council of the Five Hundred. Neither will I vote that there must be a tyrant or an oligarchic rule. And, if somebody overthrows the power of the Athenian demos and proposes or puts to vote rules contrary to what preceeds, I will not obey. I will not vote for a cancellation of private debts or for a redistribution of the land and of the houses of the Athenians...”

This oath certainly reflects the spirit of the democratic restoration of 403 B.C., but that restoration was made in the name of Solon so that the oath could be ascribed to him. Aristotle got around the difficulty by assuming that Solonís monetary reforms antedate his general legislation.

The view of Androtion is extremely simple: the Euboic mina of 432 grams that used to be divided into 70 drachmai of 6.17145 grams (Aiginetic weight), was divided by Solon into 100 drachmai. This automatically brought about a reduction of the rate of interest, but not of the capital of the debts. This is due to the technicality that the usual rate of interest in Athens was expressed as “a drachma for a mina,” that is, a drachma a month or 12 percent a year. When the mina was divided into 70 drachmai, the same rate meant 16.66 percent a year.

The interpretation of Androtion reported by Plutarch hinges on the assumption that Solonís reforms were implemented in a single step. Aristotle uses the words meta tauta, “successively,” and Plutarch the words hama toutou, “contemporaneously.” The only commentator who has somehow recognized that there is a vital difference between the two texts is F. Blass, who has concluded that the formulation that reads meta tauta is “ambiguous and false,” and, hence, must be ascribed to an error in the manuscript. Those who scorn formalistic thinking and contend that it had no place in ancient Greece, cannot grasp that all the disagreement on the issue whether there had been a “cutting off” of debts depends on these words.

According to the version accepted by Aristotle, Solon proceeded by two steps. After having specific what the new metra are, he remarks incidentally: “For, the old coined piece was worth two drachmai.” This means that as a first step, the original stater of Aiginetic weight, which had been issued as 2 drachmai, was made by Solon equal to 3 drachmai. Something of the sort had taken place in Corinth, where the stater was equal to 3 drachmai and where there was a mina equal to 2/3 of Aiginetic mina. According to Aristotle this brought about a “cutting off” of debts. After this Solon increased the metra kai stathma kai nomisma, that is, increased the entire system of measures by abolishing the pheidonia metra based on a Roman ounce reduced by 1/21. The same development had taken place in Corinth.

The earlier system was based on a mina of 432 grams (16 Roman ounces) multiplied by 1½ and reduced by 1/21 (pheidonia metra) so as to result in a mina of 617.145 grams. This Aiginetic mina was divided into 50 staters, each of 2 drachmai. Solon first abolished the multiplication by 1½ and then abolished the reduction by 1/21. One hundred new drachmai should have been equal to 66.66 of the old, but because of the increase in the weights they became equal to 70 old drachmai (21/20 * 66.66 = 70). There was a practical reason for proceeding in two steps. Some historians have assumed that Athens could, like a modern state, withdraw the old coins and issue new coins overnight. In reality the old coins continued to circulate and new coins were issued at the slow rate allowed by ancient minting techniques. Those who had old coins could pay counting an old didrachm for 3 drachmai.

Aristotle states that Solon, having introduced a new monetary unit, a new nomisma, by which the old stater became equal to 3 drachmai, changed the units of weight, making the talent (60 minai) equal to 63 pheidonian minai and making the other weights, such as the new stater of 2 drachmai, similarly increased as 20:21.

Up to now interpreters have been mystified by the circumstance that they could not understand why a process by which there was introduced a new drachma which is 7/10 of the old, was associated by Aristotle and Plutarch with an increase of the metra or of the nomisma. They did not know that the pheidonia metra were reduced measures, based on a Roman ounce reduced by 1/21. The many solutions that have been proposed for the apparent antinomy of the texts range from mere verbiage to ingenious constructions. As an example of what scholars have been forced to imagine, I may quote the solution submitted by Seltman: “increase in the bulk of the coinage which automatically came from a reduction in the weight of the units.” This solution has the advantage of being rather simple, but it conflicts with the texts that speak of the increase not only of nomisma but also of the metra. Furthermore, nomisma means the monetary standard, not the number of coins in circulation.

That the metra were increased, abolishing the pheidonian reduction, is proved by the circumstance that the Athenian amphora contains a Euboic talent of water or wine and that all other units of volume are based on this standard. The Athenian metretes is 11/4 amphoras and is the volume of wheat weighing a Euboic talent. The Athenian medimnos is equal to 2 amphoras.

The origin of the disagreement between the view reported by Plutarch and that accepted by Aristotle is explained by the analysis of Athenian coins performed by Seltman. He has determined that the earliest Athenian coins, those with the device of the amphora, were based on a stater of 2 Aiginetic drachmai. He has established that for the striking of these stateres the Athenian mint employed 6 punch-dies and 5 anvil-dies. He has computed that in later times a Greek mint would wear out a punch-die and an anvil-die in about a year. But Seltman tries to resist the conclusion that coins were issued for a period of 5 years, more or less, before the Solonian reform, and suggests that the Athenian mint operated at an unusually low rhythm because it was a period of economic depression. In my opinion there was in Athens an economic crisis, which was the result of the rapid expansion of the monetary economy, not of economic stagnation.

Furthermore, Ravel has observed, in considering the early coinage of Corinth, that when coins are issued for the first time the demand for them is the greatest, so that the mint tends to use a large number of dies in a short period. The amphora coins may have been struck in a period as brief as two or three years. In the specialized literature three opinions are expressed:

  1. that Athenian coinage had existed for a rather long time before Solonís reforms (this is the view that Seltman tries to follow by stretching the issuance of the amphora coins over 15 years);
  2. that the coinage was introduced by Solon;
  3. that it was after his time that coins began to be issued in Athens.

But thanks to the evidence gathered by Seltman there is no need to reduce the matter to a guessing game. I would conclude that Solon issued both the staters of Aiginetic weight and the didrachms weighing 7/10 of the first weight. The interval between the introduction of one type of coin and of the other is so brief that Androtion and Aristotle could disagree on the series of events.

According to Androtion there had been in Athens only one legal monetary mina, the Euboic mina of 432 grams, which at first was divided into 70 Aiginetic minai and next into 100 Attic-Solonian minai. If this were true the debts calculated in minai would have remained untouched, but the rate of interest of “a drachma to a mina” would have been cut from 16.66 percent to 12. For this reason, Androtion claims that there was not a reduction of debts.

The view of Aristotle, which I believe to be the correct one, assumes that in Athens debts were constructed in Aiginetic minai. Probably the Athenian economy operated by Aiginetic coins that were obtained by selling Athenian products, including slaves, on the market of Aigina. The mere opening of an Athenian mint must have been a measure that relieved the predicament of debtors and may have been part of Solonís plan. According to Aristotleís words Solon issued staters weighings as much as an Aiginetic didrachm, but considered equal to 3 drachmai. At the same time he may have cut the Aiginetic mina by 1/3 making it equal to 411.4 grams. This is what happened in Corinth where the stater was equal to 3 drachmai and where the Aiginetic mina was cut to 2/3.

It is difficult to decide why in a second step Solon abandoned the pheidonia metra and increased the units by 1/20. It may have been the wish to conform with the standard of Corinth; but if it is so, there remains to be asked the question why Corinth adopted a standard 1/20 higher than the Aiginetic one. It may be that it was felt preferable to adopt a monetary standard based on the Roman ounce (3 basic sheqels) rather than to follow the odd pheidonia metra. If the Aiginetic mina is reduced to 2/3, the mina is no longer 1/50 of talent Troy and it is better to adopt the Euboic mina which is 1/60 of Euboic talent (Attic talent) and 1/15 of centenarium (Attic metretes).

4. Androtion and Aristotle do not disagree on the final result of Solonís reforms as far as the standards of measure are concerned, but indicate that the legal results as far as debts were concerned would have been different according to the details of the reform.

Solon indicates in his poems that there was at his time a social crisis caused by the greed of the rich; boundary stones (horoi) marking liens on land had been planted everywhere, and a large number of citizens with their wives and children had been reduced to slavery for debts. There was a demand for a redistribution of land, but Solon operated within the boundaries of legalism by solving the problem mainly through monetary manipulation. He adopted the policy followed by many democratic governments of our age, which, caught between the bourgeois principles of sanctity of private property and of sanctity of contracts and the spread of socialistic ideologies, have tried to solve social problems by monetary manipulations: specifically, inflation has been often used to save farmers threatened with foreclosure because of debts.

The disagreement about the technicalities of the reforms of Solon originated with his own poems. Aristotle quotes these lines that indicate that he opposed the demand for a redistribution of land:

They were coming to the plunder with rich hopes,
And each believed that he would win a great fortune
And that, though speaking gently, I would reveal harsh plans.
Their schemes were hollow. Now, angered at me,
All look at me with oblique eyes, as to an enemy,
Not justly, because what I had said, with the godsí help, I accomplished.
As to the rest, I was not wanton, nor does it suit me
To act with a tyrantís violence, nor to give of our countryís
Fat land an equal share to bad and to good.

Aristotle quotes also another verse that indicates that Solon upheld a strict legalism:

I gave the people as much privilege as it suffice them
Neither cutting nor increasing their status.
As to those who had power and were resplendent with wealth,
I contrived that they too should not suffer any indignity.
Covering both sides with a mighty shield I stood my ground,
I did not let either side win against justice.

Solon himself makes perfectly clear that at his time Athens was threatened with a social revolution and that this resulted from an oppression of the poor by the rich. Aristotle quotes the following lines:

Calm in your breasts the violence of your hearts,
You for whom wealth has reached the point of surfeit,
Moderate your haughty spirits, because we shall not yield,
Nor shall your plans meet with success.

The social and economic situation that was remedied by Solonís monetary reforms is described in detail in a poem listing his own accomplishments:

I removed her many boundary-posts implanted:
Ere then she was a slave, but now is free.
And many sold away did I bring home
To god-built Athens, this one sold unjustly,
That other justly; others that had fled
From dire constraint of need, uttering no more
Their Attic tongue, so widely had they wandered
And others suffering base slavery
Even here, trembling before their masters’ humours
I did set free.

Concerning the legal and economic structure that created this situation Aristotle says only a few sentences: (ch. II)

The poor with their wives and children were enslaved to the rich. They were called pelatai (“living nearby”) and hektemoroi (“one-sixthers”), because they cultivated the land of the rich for this misthosis. For the land belonged to the few, and if they did not pay the misthosis they were subject to seizure, they themselves and their children. In fact, up to the time of Solon, all loans were secured by the debtor’s body.

It seems to me that the entire text becomes quite simple, once it is established what is the contract of misthosis.

I believe that the description of Plutarch is less accurate:

All the demos was indebted to the rich. They cultivated land for them, paying one sixth of the produce, being called hektemoroi or thêtes. Having received loans by engaging their bodies, they could be seized by the lenders, being used by them as slaves or being sold abroad.

The first and last sentences of Plutarch are correct. The middle sentence is derived from an explanation of the original meaning of the term pelatai: this explanation states that they were thêtes, that is, people without land or with little land, who approached their neighbors in order to obtain a piece of land which they cultivated, paying 1/6 of the produce. This explanation of the term pelatai was valid for a period when the economy was purely agricultural, a period preceding the age of Solon. Those who did not have land could only be thêtes, which originally meant “hired hands.” At this time the best that could be obtained by the thêtes was to be allowed to become squatters that cultivated a marginal piece of land in exchange for a payment of the sixth of the produce. But by the age of Solon there had been developed a monetary economy by which there were thêtes who had some cash, whereas on the other side the landlords were interested in obtaining cash instead of a share of the produce: The thêtes acquired the land by entering into as contract of misthosis. It is the introduction of this contract that created the social crisis to which Solon put an end.

In my opinion the misthosis is a lease which has the legal form of a contract of sale in which the buyer is understood to have paid the price and borrowed its amount. As a result the rent takes the character of interest (misthos) paid on the debt.

This appears from the quoted words of Aristotle and also from this detail that he reports (ch. VI): some friends of Solonís having heard in confidence of his plans, “bought much land on borrowed money” and became rich because of the “cutting off” of debts. Plutarch (ch. XV), in reporting the same story in a more detailed form, confirms the main point: “they borrowed a good deal of money from the rich and bought a great extension of land.”

The contract of misthosis as it occurs in the papyri of Greco-Roman Egypt has been studied by Raphael Taubenschlag. He shows that it was used to dispose of land belonging to temples or churches and to the state, but it could also be employed by private parties. At times private proprietors were forced by the state to dispose by misthosis of uncultivated land next to that which they cultivated. Even though Taubenschlag speaks of lease, he mentions that the lessee has to pay the price of the land. Taubenschalg recognizes that the same type of transaction is mentioned in two documents found in a jar in a cave of Kurdistan, written in Greek in the first century B.C. under Parthian rule. Hellis H. Minns who has published these two documents, observes that they clearly speak of a sale, even though the economic purpose is to lease at a yearly canon the land to be put under cultivation. Pringsheim, in considering four Egyptian papyri of the Roman period which deal with a complicated case of misthosis, has recognized that the lease contains elements of sale. In these four documents the rent consists of 1/3 of the produce of grapes, dates and olives. Pringsheim observes that the rate of 1/3 is particularly high, but is explained by the circumstance that dates and olives required little work and that, in the specific case, the lessor had to contribute his own work to the cultivation of the grapes.

In the fourth century B.C. the contract of misthosis was used in Athens only to dispose of the estate of an orphan. The entire estate was sold at an auction and the buyer, who could be the guardian himself, promised to pay the amount when the orphan came of age, owing an interest in the interval. Apparently in the period for which we have documentation, this method of disposing of the estate of the orphan was chosen mainly when the estate consisted of moveable property that could be dissipated. For this reason the buyer had to guarantee the payment of the capital with interest by a lien on real property called apotimêma, “estimated property”; this lien was registered by planting boundary stones (horoi) on the property or properties so engaged. A number of these horoi has been found. It can be surmised that this type of contract of misthosis is a modification of a method used earlier to dispose of estates consisting of landed property; when the estate of the orphan consisted of land there was no need for apotimêma, since the lien could be marked by boundary stones on the original property.

The same type of guarantee had to be provided for the eventual repayment of a dowry. It is most significant that, whereas the usual rate of interest in Athens is 12 percent or “a drachma for a mina,” in the case of misthosis of the estate of an orphan and in the case of delay in the repayment of a dowry, the interest is called one-sixth (ephektoi tokoi) and expressed either as “seven obols to a mina,” that is, 16 percent, or “eight obols for a mina,” that is, 18 percent. This explains why those who entered the contract of misthosis were called hektemoroi or one-sixthers. Apparently Solon by his monetary reforms reduced the rate of interest which was and remained “a drachma to a mina” to 12 percent. But in the two special cases of estates of orphans and of dowry the rate continued to be one sixth a year or an Aiginetic drachma for an Euboic mina a month. Since the amount of 16.66 percent could not be expressed as a round figure according to the new coinage, it was either “seven obols to a mina” or “eight obols to a mina.”

The policy of Solon was continued by Peisistratos, about whom Aristotle reports (ch. XVI) that “he advanced money to the indigents so that they could make a living as farmers.” Aristotle reports that Peisistratos increased the cultivation of Attica and moved part of the population from the city to the land.

Isocrates (Areop. 32), in praising the moderate political rule by the Council of the Areopagos, states that in that period the rich did not oppress the poor “giving land to cultivate at a moderate misthosis.” Since Isocrates speaks of a period that follows Solon and in which independent small farmers were a paramount force in the state, it follows that there is nothing wicked in the contract of misthosis provided the amount of interest is moderate. The figure of 1/6 of the capital, as a result of which before Solon those who had acquired land were called hektemoroi, must not have been a moderate one, whereas a rate of 12 percent was such that it allowed the new farmers to become owners of their own land. In the case of land that had never been cultivated the difficult period was the initial one; once the land was under full exploitation, the farmer could repay the original value of the land. Solon had prohibited slavery for debts, so that the loss in case of financial failure was limited. Paoli argues that the term apotimêma that applies to the land on which the horoi were planted is used in the sense of the Roman datio in solutum; this would imply that the debtor in case of default could liberate himself from any further obligation by abandoning the land.

The genius of Solon consists in having understood that a redistribution of land would have destroyed the very foundations of the commercial society that was beginning to emerge. Even those who were indebted had a vested interest in the sanctity of private property and in the sanctity of contractual obligations. By monetary manipulations and by corresponding legal measures Solon made possible the acquisition of land by a class of small proprietors. At the same time he allowed enough profit for the landowners that were willing to dispose of their land. Those who had made some profit by the new non-agricultural activities could acquire land, while those who had landed property acquired capital to engage in commercial activites by disposing of the marginal parts of it to the people willing and able to put it under full exploitation.

Up to that time Athenian society had been based on the concept that some people are superior in virtue and hence must have higher status and political privileges; of course, the reality was that some people had a higher economic and political status and that this was explained by their greater share of virtue. Solon did not break with the idea, which remained always entrenched in Greece, that virtue is important and that some have more of it than others, but made this distinction into a private matter not to be related with economic level or political power. The following lines of Solon are eloquent on the subject:

Many wicked men are rich, many good men are poor,
But we will not trade our virtue for the lot of the rich.
For virtue is a thing that lasts forever,
While wealth belongs now to this man and now to another.

While recognizing that virtue is important, Solon does not link it with recognizable distinctions:

Wisdom is an invisible property,
the measure of which is not easily known
And yet only by it can all other things be given a standard

The principles of Solon unquestionably mean the equality of all citizens before the law. Status distinctions were no longer recognized: the earlier status distinctions were substituted by distinctions according to the amount of property. And even though Solon seems to have restricted the higher public offices to persons of wealth, he could be considered the founder of democracy, in that in the long run the logic of his system excludes formal property qualifications. The modern democratic states started with property qualifications for the right to vote, but have abolished them because the basic concept is that differences of wealth among citizens are politically irrelevant. However, property qualifications perform a transitional function in stressing the point that wealth and not ancestry makes the difference in social prestige among citizens in a bourgeois democracy.

A democratic society accepts the inequality of citizens in matters of property but for this reason it must discount the importance of wealth. Solon expounds the idea that wealth is not too important since you cannot take it with you:

Wealth is enjoyed equally by him who has silver,
And gold in quantity, with fields of wheat-bearing land,
And horses and mules too, and by him who has only this much:
Comfort for his belly, sides and feet.
This is abundance for mortals, since nobody departs for Hades
Carrying all his superfluous possessions,
A cash payment does not help in escaping this sentence of death
And cannot even spare the evils of advancing old age.

The abolition of slavery for debts corresponds to the new spirit, in that economic relations may not affect the personal status of a person. Debts are guaranteed by the property, not by the person of a citizen. A citizen may be completely deprived of any property, but not of his personal liberty, because this is the democratic conception of equality before the law.

Solon may have been responsible for the opening of the Athenian mint, but in any case he favored the development of a full monetary economy. As other Greek writers of his age, he realized that money dissolves status relations and tends to make all citizens equivalent entities as far as the law is concerned. Karl Marx was able to understand why Greek writers connect democratic institutions with measurements and with money.

The monetary reforms of Solon and the connected legislation on contracts set the foundations and the principles of Athenian society. The Athenians were correct in considering him the founder of their democratic constitution, even though he may have not passed any law concerning constitutional matters in the narrow formal sense of the word. It is quite likely that the notion that Solon established a Council of Four Hundred is the product of late speculation that ascribed to Solon all the institutions that existed in Athens before the reforms introduced by Cleisthenes at the end of the sixth century B.C.

Even if Solon had legislated only on measures, money and debts, he could be called the founder of the democratic constitution. But a great many scholars have been puzzled by the circumstance that they could not read in Solonís poems anything concerning constitutional matters: For this reason Wade-Gery has assumed that there must be at least a few lines of Solon referring to the constitution; in desperation he argued that the statement of Plutarch to the effect that Solon “believed that anchored to two councils the city could the better ride out a storm and keep her people in greater quiet,” is a paraphrase of some lines of Solon. Wade-Gery has tried to reconstruct this supposed poem; but this procedure is merely a pretext for not paying attention to the real poems of Solon, to the concrete statements of Aristotle and Plutarch, and to the decree of 403 B.C. which is the single most important utterance of Athenian constitutional law.

Whereas modern scholars go as far as presenting Solonís constitutional reforms without even mentioning his monetary reforms, Plutarch is summing up the work of Solon in the “Comparison of Publicola with Solon” states that the essence of what Solon did was to change the legal and economic structure of Athenian society by his monetary manipulations:

The cutting off of debts was peculiar to Solon: it was his great means for confirming the citizensí liberty; for a mere law to give all men equal rights is but useless if the poor must sacrifice those rights to their debtors, and if the very seats and sanctuaries of equality, the courts of justice, the offices of state, and the public discussions, be more than anywhere at the beck and bidding of the rich.

I must mention that John van Antwerp Fine takes to task Paoli for having stated that in Athens the rate of interest in the contract of misthosis was what I have mentioned; according to Fine the rate was the usual one of 12 percent. The texts of Attic orators are quite specific in stating that in the case of misthosis of the estate of orphans the rate of interest is more than 12 percent; but here there is involved a general question of methodology. Fine belongs to the school of those who are opposed to the use of technical methods in the investigation of ancient cultures; for this reason he and those of his persuasion are opposed to the application of formal analysis in the study of Greek questions of law on the ground that legal technicism was unknown among the Greeks. To further strengthen their point they claim that, when rates of interest are mentioned in Greek court speeches, the figures cannot be taken at face value, but must be ascribed to a desire to achieve rhetorical effects. In this spirit, Fine, while he claims that the contention that the rate of interest was about 18 percent has been successfully disposed of, does not deem necessary to analyze the textual evidence.

In dismissing the conclusions of those who from Boeckh to Paoli have gleaned evidence about rates of interest from court speeches, Fine merely refers to two authors who in turn refer to one author, Heinrcih Buermann, who in 1877 said that the Third Oration against Aphobos was falsely ascribed to Demosthenes. Today the prevailing opinion among scholars is that this speech is the work of Demosthenes himself, even though it may have been edited by putting together more than one speech of Demosthenes; but, even if the speech was falsely ascribed to Demosthenes, it would still provide valid information about Athenian law. But, even stipulating that this speech is to be excluded from consideration, there remains abundant evidence that in the case of the estate of orphans the rate was not the ordinary rate of 12 percent. The usual answer to this argument is that many of the passages quoted as evidence are taken from the speeches that Demosthenes wrote for his own case against his guardians in which he charged them with mismanagement of his estate, complaining that they had not disposed of it by the highly profitable contract of misthosis. It is assumed that a lawyer speaking pro domo sua would resort to greater misrepresentation of the law than if he were pleading somebody elseís case. Furthermore, it is assumed that the average Greek was not too skilful in understanding figures, so that a lawyer could present a distorted arithmetic to the judges.

Paoli declares, speaking of this and similar passages of Demosthenes: “Those who know the mathematical procedure by which the contendants presented their case to the judges will never be induced to believe” that Demosthenes was merely resorting to “rhetorical exaggeration.” The argument of Paoli is valid for those who believe that the Greeks were capable of formalistic thinking, whether legal or mathematical, and there the matter rests.

I would conclude that the social situation in the time of Solon was not that of a feudal society: we are not dealing with an oppressed class of serfs threatening a Jacquerie or a Bundschuh. But I do accept the contrary opinion defended among others by Woodhouse, who dedicated a book to the question, that a class of independent owner-farmers had become indebted because of poor crops or receding prices; the Athenian tillers of the soil were not in a situation similar to that of the American farmers before the legislation of 1932, and Solon was not a forerunner of F.D. Roosevelt. It is clearly stated in the texts that the land belonged to a few. I would compare the Athenian situation with the great transformation of land tenure in southern Italy in the second half of the last century, when plots of grazing land and woods were bought and put under cultivation by people with small capital, such as returned emigrants, small traders, shopkeepers and sundry urban dwellers, such as lawyers, doctors, priests and government employees. In modern Greece frequently those who have accumulated some money, such as emigrants, traders, workmen or sailors, have had as their fondest final dream that of buying some piece of land in order to make a farm out of it. In Athens in the first half of the sixth century the development of the economy was accompanied by an increase of population. As a result, those who had gathered a little capital bought from the old landholders parcels of land that used to be uncultivated. In a poem Solon lists how the poor made a living: going to sea, being a craftsman, being a poet, a physician or a seer, or engaging oneself by the year to work for those who own well-planted plowland. This last case excludes the cultivation of land under misthosis, since this concerned land to be put under cultivation. Only those who had put aside some money could try to buy land under the contract of misthosis. It is possible that before the development of monetary economy the landholders allowed squatters to develop land in exchange of 1/6 of the crops. The development of the monetary economy created a need or a greed for cash among the landholders, so that they proceeded to sell marginal plots of their land under a contract by which the buyer had to pay 1/6 of the value as interest. The payment was guaranteed not only by a lien on the land, but by a personal obligation of the debtor or his family. Considering the desperate desire for a piece of land among the common people of Mediterranean countries today, it is not surprising that the buyers were willing to risk their liberty and that of their families. It is quite possible that the creditors became much harsher in enforcing personal execution for debts, once they found that cash could be obtained by selling slaves on the foreign market.

Those who bought the land were not starving peasants. Solon while decrying the greed of the landholders, ascribes a desire for profit also to those who were bound by the contract of misthosis. In fr. 2 he refers to those “who grab by stealth here and there without respecting lands that belong to the gods or to the community and without taking heed of the holy foundations of justice.” The text seems to indicate that these lines do not refer to the old landholders but to the members of the demos who were eager to seize any piece of land. The “holy foundations of justice” could be a reference to boundary stones.

Solon changed the monetary system so that the debts were cut by 30 percent and the misthos was reduced to 12 percent. At the same time he abolished personal execution for debts. As a result those who had entered a contract of misthosis were able to become full owners of the land, removing the boundary stones.

A great issue has been made of the point that those who cultivated the land under the contract of misthosis were called peletai, “living nearby.” The use of this term has been interpreted as implying some sort of feudal relation, a status of personal dependence. It is a fact that Greek writers of the Hellenistic age used peletai to translate the Latin clientes, but what we know for certain about the economic status of the Roman clientes is so little that it would be sounder to draw inferences from the Greek material in order to explain the Roman situation than to do the opposite. On the basis of the papyri illustrating the practice of misthosis in Egypt, it can be concluded that pelatai were those who were given to cultivate marginal land surrounding the established estates, pieces of land that were called eschatai, “extremities.”

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Eustration in the introduction to his commentary to Aristotleís Nicomachean Ethics states taht the art of lawgiving (nomothetike) deals with souls toi” ojrqw'” keimevnoi” novmoi” mevtrw/ kai; kanovni crwmevna” kai; katAeaujtou;” politeuomevna”, “that make use of correctly established nomoi measure and rule and govern according to them.” Here one finds the usual set of three terms defining the system of measures, with the only variation that one of them is kanwvn, “measuring cane, rule.” This term of Semitic origin (from an Akkadian qanu, derived in turn from a Sumerian GIN) means first of all a rod used to measure length and by extension any model or standard.

* * *

Solon went into exile for ten years after the passing of his laws.

Herodotus did not lower the date of Peisistratos, but introduced the concept that the final establishment of Peisistratosí rule was preceeded by 10 uncertain years in which Peisistratos twice took power and twice lost it.

* * *

hat Periandros was the author of Corinthian coinage is highly credible, since he established colonies on the coast of Epirus which controlled the silver mines of Damastion; it may have been the silver of Damastion that allowed Corinth to strike coins.

Ancient historians place Periandros in the generation that corresponds to the 40 years from 626 to 586 B.C. But this date appears to have been obtained by inference, assuming that he must have lived in the generation preceding Solonís legislation that introduced the Corinthian monetary standard into Athens. In is in fact a purely fictitious dating obtained by counting a generation of 40 years. Beloch, Mazzarino and Lenschau have argued that the tyranny of Corinth may not date earlier than the sixth century B.C. Probably Corintian coinage dates from the period in which Periandros established colonies on the coast of Epiros in order to obtain control of the silver mines of Damastion.

Aristotle mentions a Pheidon of Corinth as “one of the most ancient lawgivers” who would have set a limit to the number of the citizens of Corinth. It is possible to understand how this tradition may have related to the version according to which Pheidon tried to kill the choicest youth of the city and was instrumental in conceiving the migration of Corinthians to the colonies.

Since the story of the plot to eliminate the flower of the citizen body is connected with the name of the tyrant Periandros, perhaps the conclusion could be drawn that the Corinthian coinage that embodies thjje pheidonia metra began to be issued under his rule.

2. Coins of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver that occurred in Asia Minor, began to be issued in the second half of the seventh century by the Kingdom of Lydia and by the Greek cities of the coast of Asia Minor and the neighboring islands. These issues are computed by the ouce overdepois: the largest pieces, called stateres, are half-ounces of 14.175 grams. The stateres were divided into

* * *

3. Coins of Aigina. It may be considered certain that the earliest silver coins were issued in the island of Aigina and were followed by those of Corinthos and Athens. A number of ancient texts say that the first coins were struck by Pheidon at Aigina, but some ancients had already objected that the coins of Aigina are not the first coins to have been struck. But there are technical details taht suggest that the coins of Aigina are older than those of Corinth: Aiginetic coins are lumpy and crudely impressed, whereas Corinthian coins are flat disks with fine details of design, but the difference could be ascribed to the technical superiority of Corinth which is well indicated by the pottery. Athenian coins are later than the Corinthian ones, but they imitate Aiginetic issues and are at the same technical level.

The only certain starting point for the dating of the first silver coins is the date of Solon since the coinage of Atens was initiated by Solon or began two or three years before his legislation. The conventional date is 594 B.C., but this date was obtained by a numerological computation; I shall discuss this question in detail in my study of ancient chronology, but here I shall accept the date of

* * *

Since Ravel analyzed in the finest details the design of the Pegasos on Corinthian coins, there is a hope that the date of the first issues of the coins may be established by comparing the design of the Pegasos with its representation on vases. At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts there is a famous Protocorinthian arbyballos of the second black-figure style that portrays a Pegasos that is definitely of the type that appears on the coins. Seltman jumps to the conclusion that the aryballos and the earliest coins are contemporary; but this conclusion is hasty, as indicated also by his stressing the significance of the “hogged mane” which actually does not occur either on the vase or on the coins. Edouar Will observes that the Pegasos of the aryballos is similar to, but definitely more archaic in style than, the Pegasos of the coins. By considering the available representations of the Pegasos he concludes that the coinage may have started in the last quarter of the seventh century B.C. I would consider the Greek cities in Italy which depend on the date of the foundation of syrakousai; but I will show that these dates depend on the identification of the Pheidon of Korinthos with the Pheidon of Argos and, hence on the imaginary date of the latter, which is in turn based on the date of the Makedonian Pheidon. Scholars have accepted at face value the date of 736/5 B.C. as the beginning of Korinthian colonization, whereas this date was put forth by ancient historians who counted a generation, 40 years, from the imaginary date of the First Olympic Games.

The Korinthian drachma was 2/3 of the drachma used in Athens. In Athens, after Solonís reforms, there was used as monetary unit the Euboic mina divided into 100 Attic drachmai and as merchanise unit the Aiginetic mina. In Korinthos not only there is a monetary drachma that is 2/3 of the Attic one, but also a merchandise mina which is 2/3 of Aiginetic mina.

Mongait (krotkia Sobbschcheniia, Institut Istorii Materialnoi Kultury, 14 (1947), 69) brilliantly proved that in Russia there had been used a pound of 397 grams/. This conclusion has been rejected as providing an aberrant datum by Ianin (p. 28), but about the same time as

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Next, he states that the presentation of Solonís reforms in matter of farms and of property rights “meets with serious difficulties,” and as a result he states little or nothing on this topic.

But, whereas at least Masaracchia does pretend a knowledge he does not have, the general tendency has been to cover the lack of precise information by uttering the most grandiose and sweeping statements. According to the recent Griechische Geschichte of Bengston, “Solon created the first truly modern state

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vague as to its object

“If one inflicts hybris upon a person, either child or woman or man, either free or slave, or does something contrary to nomos against anyone of these...”

The fact that the law of Thasos connects the dikê biaiôn with usury, allows to understand what was the original purpose of the lawsuit in Athens. The legislation of Solon was directed against usury, and we are told that Solon abolished the practice of giving persons as security for loans. Solon claims that before him farmers with their wives and children were reduced to slavery for debt. From the sources (Harpokration and Suidas, s.v.) one learns that the main characteristic of this lawsuit in Athenian law was that it allowed prosecution to anmy person, even when it was not the injured party. The penalty was divided between the prosecutor and the treasury. From Ploutarchos (Solon 18) and Aristotle (Const, Ath. 9) we learn that this lawsuit was one of the “most democratic” aspects of the Solonian constitution. In Demosthenes (Mid. 47) one finds the text of the nomos concerning the dikê biaiôn; this must be the text according to the edition of Solonian nomoi that was issued after the reestablishment of democracy in Athens in 403 B.C. The text, as reported by Demosthenes, is not...

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The Mishnah prohibits the sale of future crops (B.B. 5, 7): “No bargain may be made over produce before its market price is known... If he was the first to reap his crop he may make a bargain with his fellow over grain stacked (on the threshing floor) or over grapes in their harvesting baskets, or over olives in the vat.” The Thasian decree allows the highly speculative sale of the crop as a whole, but only after a certain date.

We do not know which was the position of the month of Plynterion in the Thasian calendar. In Athens, where the calendar is similar to that of the Ionian cities, the festival Plynteria was celebrated

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As far as the actual money in circulation is concerned, Solonís reform consisted, first of all, in giving a higher value (tou’ nomivsmato” timhvn) to the two drachma pieces (divdracmon) in circulation and, in a second moment, issuing new coins based on the drachma of which was 70/100 in weight of the old drachma. As a result, there happened to be in circulation on the Athenian market two drachmae, one heavier (pacei'a dracmhv) and one lighter. There is no information to the effect that Solon tried to withdraw the old drachmae from circulation; on the contrary, by stating that Solon increased the value of the old coins, Aristotle and Plutarch seem to exclude it.

There is, however, a passage which can be understood to mean that the tyrant Hippias tried to withdraw the old drachmae from circulation by ordering citizens to bring them to the mint to have them melted and issued again according to the new standard

[Arist.] Ćcon. 1347a
tov te novmisma t; o[n AeAqhnaivoi” ajdovkimon ejpoivhse, tavxa” de;


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