Cleisthenes (ca. 570-507 B.C.)Cleisthenes (ca. 570-507 B.C.) - Who is the architect of Athenian democracy? While Solon is considered to have initiated the reforms, Cleisthenes is generally credited with making the transformation. Although, it would take another half-century after his death before democracy would really take hold. But for his work, Cleisthenes has earned the title "father of Athenian democracy" by historians. His work involved more than just political reforms. In the middle of the 6th century B.C. Athens was headed down the road to tyranny. A man named Pisistratus who took power in 546 B.C. and ruled nearly autocratically. He was succeeded by his son, Hippias, in 527, who also ruled as a tyrant. Cleisthenes was a member of an aristocratic family named the Alcmaeonids who opposed first Pisistratus, then Hippias. This opposition forced many members of the Alcmaeonids into exile during much of the rule of the two tyrants. However, in 510, Cleisthenes made a triumphal return to Athens and with the help of Sparta, ousted Hippias from power.


For the next century, through the Peloponnesian War, Athens had been fervently anti-monarchical. Cleisthenes, meanwhile, set about instituting the reforms that would lead to Athens becoming a democratic city-state. He did so with the help of the people (demos) after he failed to convince the other aristocratic families to adopt the reforms. Cleisthenes took advantage of his popularity with the Athenians after removing the unpopular Hippias from power. Seeing the groundswell of support for Cleisthenes, the aristocrats had little choice but to give in to his reforms. Incidentally, the Spartans who helped remove Hippias from power would grow to distrust this new form of rule, known as democracy. The tension ultimately lead to the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 404 B.C.. Another interesting note to consider is the date in which Athens transitioned to a democracy. 508 B.C. is the accepted year. Well if you look above on the Roman time-line, you will see that the Romans overthrew their monarch in 509, a year earlier, and established a republic (and Carthage may have been a republic even earlier). While the two forms of government are not quite the same, both offer greater freedom for their citizens, and the proximity in time is interesting.