The Roles of Men, Women, and Slaves in Athens

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In 594 B.C.E. an Athenian Statesman named Solon enabled political reform which affected the roles of men, women, and slaves in Athens. He divided the population into four political groups based on wealth. Men from the three wealthiest groups were allowed to hold political office. The higher offices, however, were reserved for the two wealthiest of the groups. The office of Archon was one such position. Although the fourth group, known as “thetes,” could not participate in politics, they were represented in the “boule” (Levack, Muir & Veldman, 2011, pg. 83.). This was a council of 400 male citizens which represented all four groups. Positions in the court were also determined by wealth, though all classes, even that of the “thetes,” were allowed to serve on the court created by Solon (Levack et al, 2011, pg. 84.).

In 512 B.C.E., a nobleman by the name of Cleisthenes reorganized Athenian political groups into 10 units called tribes. He increased the size of the “boule” to 500 citizens taking 50 from each tribe. They were responsible for creating the agenda for the assembly, consisting of only male citizens of Athens. These male citizens were concurrently able to hold public office (Levack et al, 2011, pg. 84.).

In 461 B.C.E. another man named Pericles helped begin the rise of democracy in Athens to what would be its peak. The period following, until his death, was known as the “Age of Pericles” (Levack et al, 2011, pg. 92.). During this time there were approximately 40,000 male citizens of which only free men over 18 were allowed to be involved in politics. Bureaucratic positions, including “generals” and “administrators,” totaled up to be around 1,500 officials (Levack et al, 2011, pg. 93.).

Pericles also chose to empower women more in the role of Athenian life. He mandated that only native Athenian parents could give birth to citizens of the polis, or city-state. This gave women their only pride in the polis, as they were not...
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