Taking Sides: the Political Economy of Solon’s Law for Civil Wars

Soeren Schwuchow (Brandenburg University of Technology)
George Tridimas (Ulster University)

Abstract: In 594 BCE the Athenian statesman Solon defused a grave social crisis by introducing wide-ranging constitutional, political and economic reforms which granted various rights to a nascent ‘middle class’ and reduced the power of the wealthy birth aristocracy. Solon’s reforms included a law which perhaps counter-intuitively banned citizens from staying neutral in cases of civil conflict. After reviewing aspects of the law against neutrality debated by historians, the present paper employs the methodology of the economics of conflict to investigate the implications of the law for the stability of the constitutional order initiated by Solon. We examine a stylised model of three social classes, Rich, Middle and Poor, where the former two compete for control of the government, and the Poor may decide to stay neutral or side with either the Middle or the Rich. By solving the model we identify conditions for the Rich to accept the Solonian order or reject it and mount a coup.

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