Solon, (died about 559 B.C.), an Athenian statesman known as one of the Seven Sages of Greece. According to tradition, he founded democracy in Athens and gave it its laws. Although only partially true, the tradition reflected the importance of Solon's accomplishments.
At the time Solon was elected archon (magistrate), about 594 B.C., Athens was in a state of crisis. Agriculture could not sustain the city-state, and many small farmers had been reduced to serfdom or slavery. Government was in the hands of noble landowners. To avoid civil war between the poor and the rich, Solon canceled many debts and freed men enslaved as debtors. He encouraged the export of olive oil and wine, a move that enabled Athens to build an economy based on trade as well as agriculture.
Solon established new qualifications for holding public office and voting that were based on wealth rather than on noble birth. Although this system was far from being a democracy, it was an important step toward self-government for the Athenians. He also rewrote the severe Draconian code of law and expanded the court system.