Athens was the ‘Father of Democracy’. It was situated in the Attica Province of Greece. When Sparta was emphasising on physical strength and war, Athens was looking after the progress of art, architecture, literature and culture.
When the rule of king became unbearable in Athens, its people tried to bring reforms in the political field. That is why democracy grew up in Athens.
The persons like Sylon, Draco, Solon, Picistratus, Cleisthenes and Pericles were responsible for the evolution of democracy in Athens.
Evolution of Democracy in Athens:
The evolution of Democracy in Athens forms a glorious Chapter in the annals of Greek history. In ancient Athens monarchy was the prevailing form of Government. In due course of time, the nobles put an end to this monarchy. In place of king, they elected Archons. Nine Archons were elected for a year.
These Archons enjoyed the powers which the kings were exercising earlier. Gradually their power increased and they became tyrant. So, the people of Athens again pulled down them from power and tried to establish democracy in Athens.
The rule of Archons had created lawlessness in Athens. The first effort to put an end to this anarchy was made in 630 B.C. by Sylon. He belonged to a noble family. He first fried to pose a challenge to the Archons and mobilised the people of Athens against them. His effort was nipped at the bud when the followers of Sylon were killed by the Archons. The citizens of Athens forgot this episode as a nightmare. They again tried to establish democracy in Athens.
Draco played a vital role in the growth of democracy in Athens. He belonged to a noble family and the people elected him as Archon. He took steps to impart justice to the common men. Prior to him the laws were remembered from generation to generation. So, the Archons could utilise those laws according to their whims and caprices.
It could not be tolerated by the people. In 624 B.C. Draco codified these laws and they were put into writing. It was published in a book. Punishment was very harsh in his law. He affixed the penalty of death even to a small crime. These laws could not remove the problems of the people and impart them proper justice.
On the other hand Draco was criticised for these hard laws. So, it was commented that ‘The Laws of Draco were written in blood instead of Ink’. Draco was unsuccessful in his mission. However, his experiments paved the way for the growth of Democracy in Athens.
When Draconian laws were not even liked by the nobles, they elected Solon as the Archon of Athens in 594 B.C. Solon was a wise man, a politician, a war leader and a man of noble character. He brought many economic and constitutional reforms. In the economic field he brought many reforms.
To relieve the common people from the oppressive money lenders, he declared all mortgages illegal. He ordered the release of all who had been enslaved by the money lenders and forbade debt slavery in future. He set a limit to land holding of a noble. By paying money to outside money lenders from the royal exchequer, he freed the people of Athens who worked under them as slaves.
He put restriction on the expenditure of a marriage ceremony, feast, cremation and other festive occasions. He stopped the export of food grains and stored the agricultural products in granaries to face famine. He framed law to export the industrial products of Athens. He made industrial training compulsory for the youths of Athens. Solon’s economic reforms were meant to enrich Athens.
The administrative reforms of Solon were praiseworthy. In fact he laid down the foundation of democracy in Athens. All citizens of Athens could be member of Ecclesia or Assembly. The citizens of Athens were divided into four classes according to the amount of property one possessed. All Archons were to be taken from the first class.
Other Civil and Military Officers were chosen from second and third class. The fourth class constituted a large number of populations who could elect Archons and vote in the Assembly. He declared that everyone is equal in the eye of law. He also brought reforms in another political organisation named Boul.
As per his declaration, the Boul consisted of 400 members, 100 being elected from each of the four classes. This Boul was later on named as Council of Four Hundred. He also brought reform in another political organisation named Areopagus and made common people its members. Due to his various reforms, he is termed as the ‘Fortune maker of Athens’. As he laid down the foundation of true democracy in Athens, he is known as the ‘Father of Greek Democracy’.
After Solon, another capable Archon named Peisistratus appeared in Athens who championed the cause of Democracy. He was a man having independent mind. The subjects who were oppressed by the nobles complained about their masters before Peisistratus. After hearing them, Peisistratus ordered those tyrant nobles to leave Athens at once and that order was carried out.
After that, the property of those nobles was distributed among the landless and poor people. Peisistratus also paid attention for the growth of agriculture, trade and commerce, art, architecture and literature. He further advanced the growth of democracy in Athens.
Cleisthenes appeared as a Shinning Sun of democracy on the political horizon of Athens. He had realised that liberty is very much essential for every individual. After assuming power in 508 B.C. He gave power to all citizens to cast their vote. He put an end to the four fold class division in the society. He divided the people of Athens into ten tribes called Demes on territorial basis.
50 members were elected annually from each of the tribes to the Council. Thus the council was now called as the ‘Council of Five Hundred’. It became the supreme power in administration. He reorganised the military system of Athens by putting the army under the ‘Board of Generals’. He regulated the works of Archons through the Council of Five Hundred.
Another interesting procedure Cleisthenes adopted to safeguard the newborn democracy was ‘Ostracism’. If any Archon, noble or a member of the ‘Council of Five Hundred’ became dangerous, he was to be banished from Athenes by this Ostracism.
Once in a year if the citizen of Athenes considered a man to be dangerous, he was to be driven away from the state. For this purpose the ‘Council of Five Hundred’ and the Ecclesia were to meet and decide whether such a measure was to be taken against the person. If it was decided that the man is to be banished, then began the procedure of Ostracism. At a public place a huge pot was kept.
Each citizen of Athens was given the right to write the name of that dangerous man on a piece of pottery known as Ostrakon. Then the votes were to be collected and counted. If it was found that of votes had been recorded against any person, he was declared as culprit. Then he was ordered to leave Athens within ten days.
By this system democracy was made safe in Athens and tyranny became impossible. This Ostracism was a rare example of direct democracy which Athens experienced under Cleisthenes. For this reform Cleisthenes was regarded as the true founder of democracy in Athenes.
The progress of democracy in Athens reached the Pinnacle of celebrity during the reign of Pericles. Direct democracy grew from strength to strength during his time. Through legislature, executive and judiciary organs, he gave a new tige to Athenian democracy. The people of Athens got its benefit. Due to pericles, Athens was regarded as the ‘Mother of Democracy’.
In fact, the evolution of democracy in Athens hadcreated a glorious chapter in the history of the world. Draco, Solon, Cleisthenes and Pericles contributed a lot for the growth of democracy. In due course of time people of the world became aware about the good results of democracy.
Athens and Persian Invasion:
The growth of democracy was a glorious chapter for Athens. In a similar way its war with Persia was romantic. Emperor Darius had attacked Greece time and again. In 492 B.C. the grand navy of Darius came under the grip of a big cyclone and he returned to Persia. Again in 490 B.C. he invaded Athens.
In the battle field of ‘Marathon’ the Athenian soldiers waited for the arrival of the army of Darius. They sent a swift runner named Phillippides to Sparta to get her help. Phillippides convered 150 miles full of rivers, mountains and rough roads within two days and reached Sparta. People of Sparta gave concerts to help the Athenian only after the fool moon is seen.
Again Phillippides brought that news to the army of Athens waiting at Marathon. In the battle of Marathan Persia was defeated. Six days after the victory, the Spartan army reached Marathon. Of course by that time the battle was over. The victory of the Athenian army was really memorable.
Again Phillippides brought this news to Athens and people became happy. After giving this news, Phillippides breathed his last. To preserve the memory of Phillippides ‘Marathon Race’ has been included in Olympic Games.
After the death of Darius his son Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 B.C. King Leonidas of Sparta met Xerxes in the battle field of Thermopylae. In this battle Athens sided with Sparta. For five days Leonidas obstructed the way of Xerxes. One Athenian traitor disclosed a secret way to Xerexes.
Leonidas with his three hundred followers fought against Xerxes and were killed by him. After that the Persian army entered into Athens. The people of Athens left their country. Athens was ruined by the Persians under the leadership of the Persian hero Themistocles.
However the Greeks defeated the Persians in the battle of Salamis in 479 B.C. and destroyed their 200 warships. The fame of Athens spread inside Greece. The Delian Confederacy was formed and Athens took its leadership. This league took steps to save Greece from foreign invasion. In due course of time Athens became an empire. Its glory was enhanced when Pericles became its emperor.