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Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4

Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4 Discussion of Term 1 Lecture 2 Sixth Centry BC Key Questions

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  1. *Just how democratic were Solon’s reforms?* * *Though hailed a champion of democracy, Solon's reforms themselves weren't inherently democratic by any means. The wealth-based class system was retained, if remoulded, as were the exclusive offices and priesthoods held by the aristocracy. To dismiss the reforms as undemocratic is limiting however; they were contributors and sparks for the greater social change to come, and they had a positive effect on the lives of the poor masses (particularly with regard to debt bondage). No, they didn't give the everyman a vote and share in government, but given the context they were positive changes. *Do you see Peisistratus as a harmful or beneficial force in Athens’ history?* I agree with what the majority have been saying on this question - though a tyrant and inherently a dangerous figure ideologically, the Agora and other important buildings can be credited to him. The Agora being perhaps the most important in the context of this module given it was a democratic hub later. *Would an Athenian citizen in 520s BC have considered themselves in a radically different political system to other Greek poleis?* * * With tyranny still a threat and an undoubtably patchy knowledge of how other Poleis were run in detail, it is difficult to assume a definite sense of individuality in the political spectrum of ancient Greece. The Athenian would likely have felt the cultural benefits that their system accomodated and allowed to thrive, but I imagine this would be the only palpable individuality the average Athenian would have felt societally. Later writers acknowledge the 6th century Athenian politics as important but this opinion is loaded with hindsight. Things maybe not have seemed so radical at the time.
  2. As most people have already stated, though Stolons reforms were not particularly democratic, they were what was considered a "fair" improvement for the lower classes of society. It definitely marked a step towards a more democratic and egalitarian society. However since most of the power was reserved for the nobility, his reforms would not classify as "democratic".
  3. At least in the modern sense, Solon's reforms were not truly democratic. His division of the Athenian populace into four groups meant that citizens did not participate as political equals. Additionally, there were still extensive restrictions on who could become a citizen, which further deepens the sense of political inequality in the period. I don't think Athenian citizens would fundamentally have considered themselves to be in a radically different political system from neighbouring poleis. While it's true that Solon had public support when he came into office and he encouraged reforms that enabled Athenian citizens to have a greater say in government, ultimately an all-powerful ruler still presided over Athens. There seem to have been few mechanisms to ensure that such rulers were accountable to the people, for example.

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