Solon paved the way for the development of Athenian democracy. Its beginnings were not easy.

Article bay
6 min readNov 22, 2023

Truly democratic solutions were introduced in Athens under Cleisthenes. However, they were based on legal changes that had been introduced earlier by Solon.

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Why did the Greeks invent democracy — the “best of possible systems” known to humanity? And how did it manage to develop and survive in a world dominated by powerful monarchies such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, and Persians? It is worth knowing the role played by the legislator Solon in this process.

After the experiences of Hitlerism and Stalinism, as well as terrorism in the 1960s and 70s, democracy in Europe was often seen as a vulnerable system in the face of internal and external enemies. Vulnerable because it was politicized and internally divided.

Even more instructive may be the experience of Athens, the greatest democracy of antiquity. It not only resisted the most powerful world empire — Persia but also created a modern state with astonishing efficiency. A state so effective that it quickly became a local empire, mercilessly ruling over other Greeks.

What does the word “democracy” mean?

However, let’s start with the fact that it is difficult to say what democracy meant at all. The word “democracy” (from the Greek “demokratia”) means “power” (Greek “kratos”) of the “people” (Greek “demos”). The problem is that “demos” has two meanings in Greek, just like the word “people” in Polish. It can mean either the entire body of citizens, like “Polish people,” or the masses, and even the rabble.

This second meaning, contrasting “demos” with the elite, of course, belonged to the language of the Greek aristocracy. The earliest texts in which the term “democracy” appears date from much later than the beginnings of Athenian democracy. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether this word originally had a positive or negative meaning. We do know, however, that for subsequent generations, “democracy” was already a distinctly positive political slogan. It described the power that the “common people” had taken from the aristocrats.

If we come to the conclusion that “democracy” was originally an ugly word used polemically by the enemies of…