Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XVI.: His government moderate and popular. - Constitution of Athens
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CHAP. XVI.: His government moderate and popular. - Aristotle, Constitution of Athens [320 BC]
Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens, trans. Thomas J. Dymes (London: Seeley and Co., 1891).
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His government moderate and popular.
The tyranny of Peisistratus was at first established in this way, and experienced the changes just enumerated. As we have said, Peisistratus administered the government with moderation, and more like a citizen than a tyrant. For, in applying the laws, he was humane and mild, and towards offenders clement, and, further, he used to advance money to the needy for their agricultural operations, thus enabling them to carry on the cultivation of their lands uninterruptedly. And this he did with two objects: that they might not live in the city, but being scattered over the country, and enjoying moderate means and engaged in their own affairs, they might have neither the desire nor the leisure to concern themselves with public matters. At the same time he had the advantage of a greater revenue from the careful cultivation of the land; for he took a tithe of the produce. It was for this reason, too, that he instituted jurors throughout the demes, and often, leaving the capital, made tours in the country, seeing matters for himself, and reconciling such as had differences, so that they might have no occasion to come to the city and neglect their lands. It was on such a tour that the incident is said to have occurred about the man in Hymettus, who was cultivating what was afterwards called the ‘No-Tax-Land.’ For seeing a man delving at rocks with a wooden peg and working away, he wondered at his using such a tool, and bade his attendants ask what the spot produced. ‘Every ill and every woe under the sun,’ replied the man, ‘and Peisistratus must take his tithe of these ills and these woes.’ Now, the man made this answer not knowing who he was; but Peisistratus, pleased at his boldness of speech and love of work, gave him immunity from all taxes. And he never interfered with the people in any other way indeed during his rule, but ever cultivated peace and watched over it in times of tranquillity. And this is the reason why it often passed as a proverb that the tyranny of Peisistratus was the life of the Golden Age; for it came to pass afterwards, through the insolence of his sons, that the government became much harsher. But what more than any other of his qualities made him a favourite was his popular sympathies and kindness of disposition. For while in all other matters it was his custom to govern entirely according to the laws, so he never allowed himself any unfair advantage, and on one occasion when he was cited before the Areopagus on a charge of murder, he appeared himself in his own defence, and his accuser, getting frightened, withdrew from the suit. It was for such reasons also, that he remained tyrant for a long period, and when he lost his power easily recovered it again; for most of the upper classes and of the popular side desired it, since he helped the one by his intercourse with them, and the other by his assistance in their private affairs, and from his natural disposition could adapt himself to both. The laws of the Athenians regarding tyrants were mild in these times, all of them, and particularly the one relating to any attempt at tyranny, for their law stood as follows: ‘These are the ordinances of the Athenians, inherited from their fathers: whoever rises up to make himself a tyrant, or assists in establishing a tyranny, shall be deprived of his political rights, both himself and his family.’