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Who made the greatest contribution to the Athenian Constitution?

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

GCSE Classical Civilisations Coursework It is a quiet day on Mount Olympus in 423 BC. The mighty and all-powerful king of the gods, Zeus is seated atop his throne, looking unto his daughter, Athena, goddess of wisdom. They are arguing over the best way to organise the human race, a race so stubborn and hard-headed that they often ignore the best course of action, choosing instead to further their own wealth and power, rather than acting for the benefit of society. The topic has turned to Athena's home city, and the two immortals discuss which citizen has made the greatest contribution to the Constitution of Athens. To settle the matter, they call up from Hades the shades of Solon, Peisistratos, Cleisthenes and Pericles. Each shade is given ten minutes in which to make a speech, clearly enumerating their contributions to the Athenian Constitution. As Zeus and Athena settle comfortably in their seats, the four shades begin their speeches. Solon: Your Highness, I am Solon, and I come before you today to outline my contribution to the Constitution of Athens. I first acquired the status of Eponymous Archon in 594 BC, and my first reform was called the Seisachtheia - "Shaking off of burdens" (1 p. 181). This entailed several things, the first being that the practice of having to pay 1/6th of one's produce to the landowner was abolished (1 p. 181). Secondly, it became forbidden to force a man into slavery in order to repay his debts. All those who had been enslaved and/or sold abroad under this system became free men, and could return to Attica to reclaim full citizenship (1 p. 181). These reforms were made to alleviate the poverty of farmers, and in order to ensure that the population did not starve I made it forbidden to export all agricultural products (apart from Olive Oil) (1 p. 182). Finally, I encouraged my people to learn new skills and crafts, aside from farming, so that we could increase trade with other Mediterranean people. ...read more.

Middle

Pericles also introduced the system of payments for citizens who served one of the political institutions, which was fantastic for poorer citizens who were suddenly allowed to play a fuller role in democracy. Thus, it was a good contribution to the Athenian constitution. Furthermore, using the contributions of the Delian league, the First Citizen to protect and maintain various buildings in Athens. This was beneficial for the citizens, and for democracy because it meant that Pericles seemed like a great leader, renovating and preserving the places most dear to his people. As a result, the people would be more open to change, knowing they had a leader who had their best interests at heart, and who knew what he was doing. He also forced the members of the league to adhere to Athenian Law, as well as carry out their commercial transactions through the Athenian courts. Although this was not directly democratic (as the countries and nations did not choose to be a part of the Athenian system), it did help expand the horizons of Athenian democracy, and show the citizens of the surrounding lands that the system did work, and functioned well. Finally, because Athenian citizenship was highly valued, Pericles tightened up the system so that only the legitimate sons of an Athenian mother and an Athenian father would be able to apply. This was good in the sense that only the correct people could claim citizenship, but mostly not a good idea, as it discriminated against people due to their birth, and would have excluded eminent Athenians such as Themistocles. Now that Athena has offered her wisdom on the advantages and disadvantages of the actions of the four citizens, it is the turn of Zeus, king of the gods, to judge the victor. Using his eye of providence, he now examines the future implications of the four leaders' reforms and sheds some light on how successful they were in the long run. ...read more.

Conclusion

This may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was actually worse overall (as Athena has stated) because several prominent Athenians would be excluded from citizenship. Also, the system is not really feasible in modern society - for example, in the UK, around 50% of children born are illegitimate, and thus 50% of the future population would not technically be citizens. This is not really democratic, and therefore, has no place in 21st Century Britain. Having heard the shades of the four citizens give the facts about what they did, having heard Athena's analysis and approval (or otherwise) of their actions, and having heard Zeus' insight into the future repercussions of them, it is now time for the decision to be made as to who really was the greatest contributor to the Athenian Constitution. Zeus shall now use his infinite wisdom and power to pass judgements upon the four citizens. The real question here is that who is the greatest contributor to the Athenian Constitution. Through my all-seeing eyes, Peisistratos and Pericles can be removed from the table instantly. True, they did make several long lasting reforms which allowed Athens to become a democratic state, but their contributions pale in comparison to those of Solon and Cleisthenes. Some would say that Solon, being the first step in the direction of democracy, should deserve the honour of being the biggest contributor. However, though his reforms set the foundation for it, they were not truly democratic and it required the work of the other three to modify them to an acceptable level. Thus, in conclusion, Cleisthenes is the biggest contributor to the Athenian constitution. His consolidation of many of Solon's reforms is commendable, as is his reorganisation of the deme and tribal systems to create a fairer society. He also increased the powers of the Assembly, introduced the Boule and founded Ostracism. All of these reforms show that he, and only he, is worthy of the title of the Greatest Citizen. ...read more.

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