Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, born about 638 B. C, died in Athens about 559. He was a lineal descendant of Cedrus. In his youth he visited many parts of Greece and Asia as a merchant, gained distinction by his poems, and from his reputation for political wisdom was reckoned one of the seven sages. Returning to Athens, he began, his political career by recovering Salamis from the Megarians. The Athenians had repeatedly failed in their attempts upon this island, and had prohibited any citizen on pain of death from proposing a renewal of the enterprise. Solon counterfeited madness, and in apparent frenzy read in the agora a short poem, the effect of which was that the law was rescinded, war was declared, and he himself was appointed to the command of it. In a single campaign (about 600) the Megarians were expelled from the island, but a tedious conflict ensued, which was finally settled in favor of Athens by the arbitration of Sparta. Soon after, in the Amphictyonic council, he moved the decree by which the Athenians espoused the cause of the Delphian oracle against Cirrha. In 594 he was called by all parties to the archonship, with powers substantially dictatorial, and chiefly with authority to confirm, repeal, or modify the Draconian laws.
The constitution of Solon (see Athens, vol. ii., p. 55), which made property instead of birth the title of citizenship, and which was the prelude to the subsequent democracy, was by a solemn oath of the government and people declared valid without alteration for ten years. He obtained leave of absence for that period, visited Egypt, and went thence to Cyprus, where he persuaded the prince of .Aepea to change the site of the town, and himself made the regulations for the prosperity of the new establishment, which in his honor was called Soli. He returned to Athens prior to the first usurpation of Pisis-tratus (560), and amid violent dissensions was, respected by all parties, but was unable to overrule the popular favor of his kinsman. - The chief sources for the biography of Solon are the compilations of Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius. The extant fragments of his verses are usually contained in the collections of the Greek gnomic poets, and there is a separate edition of them by Bach (Leyden, 1825).