|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THE LAST KING OF ATHENS
 YOU remember how Cecrops came to Attica and built a city so
beautiful that the gods marvelled, and how Athene made the
first olive-tree and was therefore awarded the honour of
naming the city and becoming its patron. The olive-tree was
now said to grow on a rock in the stronghold or Acropolis of
In ancient days Sparta was a more important city than the
beautiful one built by Cecrops, but little by little, as the
years passed, Athens became supreme in Greece and the most
glorious city of the world.
At first Athens, like Sparta and the other States, was
governed by kings. But while Sparta continued to be a
monarchy, Athens became an oligarchy—that is, she was
governed by a few, and these few were nobles.
When Codrus, the last king of Athens, was on the throne, the
State was invaded by the Dorians. An oracle had declared
that unless the Athenian king was slain in the camp of the
enemy, Athens would be taken.
Codrus loved his city and determined to save it from the
enemy. So he disguised himself as a peasant and went to the
camp of the Dorians, where he killed the first soldier he
met. The comrades of the dead man at once fell upon Codrus
and, as he had hoped, he was speedily slain. Then as the
oracle had foretold Athens was saved from the enemy.
The Athenians resolved that they would no longer have kings
to rule over them, because they were sure that they could
never find any worthy to follow Codrus who had
 died for the
sake of his country. This seems a strange reason for which
to overturn the monarchy. In most countries it is the bad
conduct of their kings which makes the people wish to get
rid of them.
As Athens would not have another king, the son of Codrus was
given neither the power nor the title of royalty. He was
named merely archon, or ruler. An archon ruled only for ten
Soon the Athenians determined to choose nine archons each
year, for they thought it would be well to divide the power
among these men rather than entrust it to one ruler.
The archons were obliged to consult a council of nobles
before they made a new law, while the council had to lay
their plans before the assembly of the people.
In this way Athens became before long an oligarchy governed
by a few nobles. The nobles often proved harsh rulers,
taking from the people the rights that had been theirs when
Athens was a monarchy.
At length the people grew so angry that they determined to
destroy the nobles who treated them so cruelly. But as they
were helpless without a leader, they were glad to follow any
ambitious noble who would place himself at their head and
lead them to fight against their oppressors. Too often the
deliverer seized the supreme power himself and oppressed the
people more than had the oligarch.
The usurper was called by the Greeks a tyrant. But the word
tyrant did not mean to them, as it means to us, a cruel man.
It meant simply one who had seized a power to which he had
no real right.
Some of the tyrants were cruel, but others used the power
which they had seized for the good of the State.
The years 700 B.C. to 500 B.C. are known as the Age of the
Tyrants, because there were few States, save Sparta, which
did not fall under the power of a tyrant during those years.
Often the people learned to hate a tyrant as greatly as they
had hated the nobles under whose harsh treatment
 they had
groaned. But it was not easy to get rid of him, for he
usually had hired soldiers to help him keep the citizens
from rebelling. One of the wisest and best of the tyrants
was named Pisistratus, and he was a cousin of Solon, the
greatest lawgiver of Athens.
Solon was not a tyrant, although had he wished he might have
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