Aristotle: Athenian Constitution

(320 BCE)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In parts 1 through 42, the Athenian Constitution traces the history of Greek rulers and their constitutional reforms up to the year 403 BCE. Parts 42 through 69 are an account of the Athenian constitution in Aristotle's own day. Only a short fragment of Part 1, beginning in midsentence, survives. Beginning with Part 2, however, the document is complete.

Parts 2–4

In parts 2 through 4, Aristotle documents the political situation in Athens prior to and during the time of Draco, who instituted a law code in 621 BCE. Athens was ruled by an oligarchy, so few people participated in the political process. For farmers, the economic situation was hard. The geography of Greece made trade difficult, so even though farmers tended to be self-sufficient, their farms were usually small, and one poor harvest could cast a farmer into debt. To satisfy this debt, the farmer and his family were often reduced to the condition of slaves, or at best serfs;...

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Columns of Olympieum (Temple of Olympian Zeus) with Acropolis in background (Library of Congress)

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