After much agitation an Athenian named Draco was employed
to write out a code for the state. The laws, as published, were very severe.
The penalty for most offenses, even the smallest theft, was death. The
Athenians used to declare that the Draconian code had been written, "not
in ink, but in blood." Its publication, however, was a popular triumph and
the first step toward the establishment of Athenian democracy.
LEGISLATION OF SOLON, 594-593 B.C.
The second step was the legislation of Solon. This
celebrated Athenian was accounted among the wisest men of his age. The people
held him in high honor and gave him power to make much-needed reforms. At this
time the condition of the Attic peasants was deplorable. Many of them had
failed to pay their rent to the wealthy landowners, and according to the old
custom were being sold into slavery. Solon abolished the custom and restored to
freedom all those who had been enslaved for debt. He also limited the amount of
land which a noble might hold. By still another law he admitted even the
poorest citizens to the popular assembly, where they could vote for magistrates
and judge of their conduct after their year of office was over. By giving the
common people a greater share in the government, Solon helped forward the
democratic movement at Athens.