Athens stumbles into democracy - 514 B.C.

For many years Pisistratus was highly successful as a tyrant in Athens, he had observed legal forms and reconciled most of his opponents while immensely strengthening the state. He was one of the beneficiaries of Athens' increasing prosperity, which eased social tensions and swelled the tax revenues; he used revenues sensibly by giving long-term loans to poor farmers, probably to help them change over from cereal to vine and olive cultivation for the export market . Like other populist dictators he also impressed and employed the population by undertaking great public works encouraging spectacular festivals, a policy that helped to make Athens the most splendid city in Greece (See Note#1). After his death in 528-7 B.C., his son Hippias became tyrant of Athens and initially he was popular.

In 514 B.C Hippias survived a coup attempt, which went wrong and killed his brother Hipparchus instead from some of the exiles his father had banished. These exiles retreated and found there way to Delphi where they took up a contract to rebuild a temple that had burnt. Being of great wealth they built the temple much more magnificently than the plan obliged them. Besides other improvements, instead of the coarse stone whereof by the contract the temple was to have been constructed, they made the facings of Parian marble. Back at Athens Hippias turned into a cruel despot, banishing anyone he could not trust, always fearing he was going to be murdered or poisoned, the grip he held over Athens was becoming suffocating.

The exiles, who were lucky to have been allowed to leave with their lives, bribed the Pythoness to tell the Spartans, whenever any of them came to consult the oracle, either on their own affairs or on business of the state that they must free Athens. This was rather embarrasing to Sparta as they were on good and friendly terms with Hippias. Even getting the small city of Plataea to allie with Athens in 511 B.C..

The exiles thought about ousting Hippias out of Athens but their first attempt to take-over flopped embarrassingly. They occupied a stonghold on Mt Parnes, in northern Attica, where some of their Athenian friends joined them. But if they expected their countrymen at large to welcome them as deliverers, they were in for a disappointment. Most people must have reasoned that there was a little to be gained by changing one noble family for another, the invasion fizzled out, but still their ambitions were not totally destroyed.


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'Histories' by Herodotus published by Wordsworth 1996
'The Greco-Persian Wars' by Peter Green published by University of California Press 1998



Note#1:Miltiades the Elder who came from a wealthy Athenian noble family, the Philaids. He is said to have opposed the tyrant Pisistratus, which may explain why he left Athens around 550 to 555 B.C. to found a colony in the Thracian Chersonese. He ruled until his death around 524 BC. He died childless, leaving his lands to Stesagoras, the son of his half-brother Kimon. Before his death he fortified the peninsula, building a wall across it to defend against incursions by hostile native peoples. By c514 B.C. his step-nephew, Miltiades the Younger, later became tyrant of the Thracian Chersonese, where he stood with Athens, Persia, Hippias or the Ionias varied from time to time and with what circumstances was going on around him.

An Athenian drinking song, composed about the end of the sixth century in honor of Harmodius and Aristogeiton: in 514 they had killed Hipparchus, the younger brother of the tyrant then ruling Athens, the song praised the liberators:
'Your fame will last forever, beloved Harmodius and Aristogeiton, because you killed the tyrant and made Athens equal in law.'




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