Cleisthenes gains greater control of Athens - 508 B.C.

The power struggle of Athens began, between Cleisthenes and a conservative group lead by Isagoras who was friends with the Spartan King Kleomenes I. Cleisthenes had previously been elected Chief Archon of Athens and so was barred from the position. In 508 B.C. Isagoras was elected the new Chief Archon and with now controlled the city of Athens. Something had to be done as a desperate measure Cleisthenes, 'took the people into partnership'. Cleisthenes (probably) bribed the citizen-body to support him by offering them their first real stake in the government, a government that he intended to lead by means of their block-vote. The proposal was rushed through the Assembly. For the first time ever, the people would run the government; and so, Athenian democracy finally struggled to birth.

A look at Athens Isagoras, no longer in control of the very people who elected him Archon, and seeing his power at a end, sent a message to Sparta for help.

A Spartan regiment marched into Athens; Cleisthenes and the Alcmaeonidae were expelled. They went quietly; they could afford to wait. The Spartans then blacklisted some 700 Athenian families, and attempted to install a puppet ruling council composed of conservative yes-men. At this point the newly demoncratised Athenians decided they had had enough, with no-body in firm control, there was a sudden, violent, and surprisingly successful riot. Isagoras, the Spartans, and their supporters found themselves besieged on the acropolis. The citizens of Athens had taken over the control of their city. The Spartans were allowed to leave and they smuggled Isagoras out with them, the rest surrendered, and stood trail before a people's court, which demonstrated its democratic solidarity by condemning them to death. Cleisthenes returned home in triumph, to the cheers of his supporters. This time there was no opposition. On the other hand, some large political promises had to be fulfilled, or there would be a swift reversion to factional anarchy.

Cleisthenes did more than fulfil them; once in power he proved himself a far-sighted administrator, whose various reforms were to reshape the pattern of Athenian political life for centruies to come.

Over the past 30 years and the current turmoil going on in Greece, little impression was made to the Greek mainland states regarding the fate of Polycrates and Samos, the fact that Persia now controlled a large Phoenician fleet and the softening up by Darius' generals of Thrace and the Dardanelles. Here was the writing on the wall for them that the Persians sooner or later would be enbarking on an expedition into Greece, yet few, until much later, were willing to recognise it as such.

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'The Greco-Persian Wars' by Peter Green published by University of California Press 1998



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