During the dark ages, Athens had been a monarchy, but it emerged as an oligarchy in the 7th century BC. The first great historical figure of that new era was Solon, general, merchant, poet and sage, who in 594 BC became chief magistrate. At that time, civil war threatened to break out between the city-state's "haves" and "have nots" (an expression from ancient Greece). Armed with almost absolute powers, Solon produced a constitution advancing the ideal of equality before the law for citizens of all classes, set up a trial-by-jury system, freed the peasantry from debt to landowners and introduced far-sighted reforms that revived the languishing economy. In the middle of the

6th century, Athens' first dictator took power. Peisistratus established a dynasty that remained in uninterrupted power for half a century. On one occasion when he was forced frompower, Peisistratus dressed a tall, beautiful country girl to look like the goddess Athena, and then entered Athens in triumph with the "goddess" leading his procession. Peisistratus, a resourceful and relatively benign tyrant, continued to steer Athens towards greatness. Under his rule, commerce and the arts flourisped: Attica's wine and olive oil were shipped to Italy, Egypt and Asia Minor in beautiful black-figure pots. The first tragedies ever written were performed at the annual

festival of the wine god, Dionysus and the standard version of Homer's works was set down.Cleisthenes, recognised by history as the true founder of Athenian democracy, took over in 508 BC. An aristocrat by birth, he introduced electoral constituencies called demes and set up a sovereign citizens' assembly and a senate, whose members were chosen by lot. The foundations of representation had truly been set. He also introduced an inspired system of "ostracism" under which any public servant who was voted inept, tyrannical or corrupt by the citizenry was banished from Athens for 10 years, though he was allowed to keep his property.