How Did Solon Change Athenian Society?

The eponymous archon Solon changed society by implementing institutional reforms to limit government corruption and build the foundation for Athenian democracy. Though contemporaneous accounts of Solon's life and work are few and sparse in detail, later authors of ancient Greece attribute many of the civilization’s fundamental laws to him.

Solon instituted many economic, ethical and constitutional reforms that fundamentally expanded Athenian democracy. Among his many known efforts, Solon made fully public the deliberative sessions of the Athenian government. He created a civilian court open to citizens of all classes to elect and prosecute government officials, an authority previously afforded only to nobility. He also lowered the requirements of being elected to public office, though the right remained attainable only for the wealthy. Solon also abolished the practice of enslaving Athenian citizens in collection of debt. All such slaves were freed, and all associated contracts were annulled and prohibited. These laws and others replaced the overly punitive laws of the legislator Draco, of which only a prohibition against homicide remained.

Solon was empowered to implement such sweeping reforms by the Athenian people as a way to preempt the total collapse of government beneath the conflicts of rival political and social factions. Athenians of all walks feared the emergence of tyrants who, in other Greek city-states, had taken advantage of civil unrest to seize absolute power.