The Fall of the Tyranny
Despite the many achievements of Peisistratos, the aristocrats resented the loss of their traditional power and influence. Although Peisistratos himself was able to repress them by the force of his charismatic personality, after his death his two sons, Hipparchus and Hippias, were not able to command the same respect. In 514 two young men, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, stabbled Hipparchus while he was taking part in the Panathenaic procession. The surviving brother, Hippias, acted defensively and imposed harsh repression on the city, driving the powerful Alkmeonids into exile. Although the murder of Hipparchus had been a "crime of passion" the assassains came to be regarded as "tyrannicides" struggling for liberty.
In 510 the Alkmeonids returned to Athens with the Spartan king Cleomenes and Spartan troops, and drone out the tyrant. There followed a period of instability during which two potential leaders struggled for power, Isagoras, who was archon in 508-7, and Cleisthenes, the son of Megakles, the Alkmeonid. Isagoras tried to invite the Spartans back again to remove the Alkmeonids, but by that time Cleisthenes had proposed a series of aocial and political reforms which proved popular, and Isagoras lost his influence.
The Reforms of Cleisthenes
Cleisthenes abolished the four traditional Attic tribes, through which traditional aristocratic influence and patronage had been exercised, in favour of ten artificial new ones. Each new tribe was divided into three thirds: one third of its people living in the city, one third along the coast, and one third on the inland plain. Thus each tribe was made up of farmers, fishermen and townsmen, so that no tribe represented any particular single interest against the others.
In order to prevent the rise of a new tyrant, Cleisthenes also introduced the practice of ostracism. If the assembly so decided, a vote would be held to exile someone. Each citizen could choose the name of a single person to instcribe on a postsherd or ostrakon. If a total of 6,000 votes were cast, then the person most frequently named on the ostraka would be exiled from the city for ten years.
Thus were the foundations of Athenian democracy laid.
© John L. Tomkinson