ascendancy. Nor did the commons obtain relief through any commercial or colonial enterprises such as those which alleviated social distress in many other Greek states. The first attack upon the aristocracy proceeded from a young noble named Cylon, who endeavoured to become tyrant about 630 B.C. The people helped to crush this movement; yet discontent must have been rife among them, for in 621 the Eupatrids commissioned Draco (q.v.), a junior magistrate, to draft and publish a code of criminal law. This was a notable concession, by which the nobles lost that exclusive legal knowledge which had formed one of their main instruments of oppression.
2. The Rise of Athens.—A still greater danger grew out of the widespread financial distress, which was steadily driving many of the agricultural population into slavery and threatened the entire state with ruin. After a protracted war with the neighbouring Megarians had accentuated the crisis the Eupatridae gave to one of their number, the celebrated Solon (q.v.), free power to remodel the whole state (594). By his economic legislation Solon placed Athenian agriculture once more upon a sound footing, and supplemented this source of wealth by encouraging commercial enterprise, thus laying the foundation of his country’s material prosperity. His constitutional reforms proved less successful, for, although he put into the hands of the people various safeguards against oppression, he could not ensure their use in practice. After a period of disorder and party-feud among the nobles the new constitution was superseded in fact, if not in form, by the autocratic rule of Peisistratus (q.v.), and his sons Hippias and Hipparchus. The age of despotism, which lasted, with interruptions, from 560 to 510, was a period of great prosperity for Athens. The rulers fostered agriculture, stimulated commerce and industry (notably the famous Attic ceramics), adorned the city with public works and temples, and rendered it a centre of culture. Their vigorous foreign policy first made Athens an Aegean power and secured connexions with numerous mainland powers. Another result of the tyranny was the weakening of the undue influence of the nobles and the creation of a national Athenian spirit in place of the ancient clan-feeling.
The equalization of classes was already far advanced when towards the end of the century a nobleman of the Alcmaeonid family, named Cleisthenes (q.v.), who had taken the chief part in the final expulsion of the tyrants, acquired ascendancy as leader of the commons. The constitution which he promulgated (508/7) gave expression to the change of political feeling by providing a national basis of franchise and providing a new state organization. By making effective the powers of the Ecclesia (Popular Assembly) the Boulē (Council) and Heliaea, Cleisthenes became the true founder of Athenian democracy.
This revolution was accompanied by a conflict with Sparta and other powers. But a spirit of harmony and energy now breathed within the nation, and in the ensuing wars Athens worsted powerful enemies like Thebes and Chalcis (506). A bolder stroke followed in 500, when a force was sent to support the Ionians in revolt against Persia and took part in the sack of Sardis. After the failure of this expedition the Athenians apparently became absorbed in a prolonged struggle with Aegina (q.v.). In 493 the imminent prospect of a Persian invasion brought into power men like Themistocles and Miltiades (qq.v.), to whose firmness and insight the Athenians largely owed their triumph in the great campaign of 490 against Persia. After a second political reaction, the prospect of a second Persian war, and the naval superiority of Aegina led to the assumption of a bolder policy. In 483 Themistocles overcame the opposition of Aristides (q.v.), and passed his famous measure providing for a large increase of the Athenian fleet. In the great invasion of 480–479 the Athenians displayed an unflinching resolution which could not be shaken even by the evacuation and destruction of their native city. Though the traditional account of this war exaggerates the services of Athens as compared with the other champions of Greek independence, there can be no doubt that the ultimate victory was chiefly due to the numbers and efficiency of the Athenian fleet, and to the wise policy of her great statesman Themistocles (see Salamis, Plataea).
3. Imperial Athens.—After the Persian retreat and the reoccupation of their city the Athenians continued the war with unabated vigour. Led by Aristides and Cimon they rendered such prominent service as to receive in return the formal leadership of the Greek allies and the presidency of the newly formed Delian League (q.v.). The ascendancy acquired in these years eventually raised Athens to the rank of an imperial state. For the moment it tended to impair the good relations which had subsisted between Athens and Sparta since the first days of the Persian peril. But so long as Cimon’s influence prevailed the ideal of “peace at home and the complete humiliation of Persia” was steadily unheld. Similarly the internal policy of Athens continued to be shaped by the conservatives. The only notable innovations since the days of Cleisthenes had been the reduction of the archonship to a routine magistracy appointed partly by lot (487), and the rise of the ten elective strategi (generals) as chief executive officers (see Strategus). But the triumph of the navy in 480 and the great expansion of commerce and industry had definitely shifted the political centre of gravity from the yeoman class of moderate democrats to the more radical party usually stigmatized as the “sailor rabble.” Though Themistocles soon lost his influence, his party eventually found a new leader in Ephialtes and after the failure of Cimon’s foreign policy (see Cimon) triumphed over the conservatives. The year 461 marks the reversal of Athenian policy at home and abroad. By cancelling the political power of the Areopagus and multiplying the functions of the popular law-courts, Ephialtes abolished the last checks upon the sovereignty of the commons. His successor, Pericles, who commonly ranked as the “completer of the democracy,” merely developed the full democracy so as to secure its effectual as well as its theoretical supremacy. The foreign policy of Athens was now directed towards an almost reckless expansion (see Pericles). The unparalleled success of the Athenian arms at this period extended the bounds of empire to their farthest limits. Besides securing her Aegean possessions and her commerce by the defeat of Corinth and Aegina, her last rivals on sea, Athens acquired an extensive dominion in central Greece and for a time quite overshadowed the Spartan land-power. The rapid loss of the new conquests after 447 proved that Athens lacked a sufficient land-army to defend permanently so extensive a frontier. Under the guidance of Pericles the Athenians renounced the unprofitable rivalry with Sparta and Persia, and devoted themselves to the consolidation and judicious extension of their maritime influence.
The years of the supremacy of Pericles (443–429) are on the whole the most glorious in Athenian history. In actual extent of territory the empire had receded somewhat, but in point of security and organization it now stood at its height. The Delian confederacy lay completely under Athenian control, and the points of strategic importance were largely held by cleruchies (q.v.; see also Pericles) and garrisons. Out of a citizen body of over 50,000 freemen, reinforced by mercenaries and slaves, a superb fleet exceeding 300 sail and an army of 30,000 drilled soldiers could be mustered. The city itself, with its fortifications extending to the port of Peiraeus, was impregnable to a land attack. The commerce of Athens extended from Egypt and Colchis to Etruria and Carthage, and her manufactures, which attracted skilled operatives from many lands, found a ready sale all over the Mediterranean. With tolls, and the tribute of the Delian League, a fund of 9700 talents (£2,300,000) was amassed in the treasury.
Yet the material prosperity of Athens under Pericles was less notable than her brilliant attainments in every field of culture. Her development since the Persian wars had been extremely rapid, but did not reach its climax till the latter part of the century. No city ever adorned herself with such an array of temples, public buildings and works of art as the Athens of Pericles and Pheidias. Her achievements in literature are hardly less great. The Attic drama of the period produced many great masterpieces, and the scientific thought of Europe in the departments of logic, ethics, rhetoric and history mainly owes its origin to a new movement of Greek thought which was largely fostered