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Ancient Greece
Cleisthenes



Cleisthenes
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 9
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.98

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    archon, deme, demoi, miasma, ostracism, pretext, prytaneis, re-organizing, trittyes, trittys, unspeakable, circa, magistrate, imminent, exile, tyrant
     content words:    Olympic Games, Four Hundred


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Cleisthenes
By Vickie Chao
  

1     Once upon a time, Cylon, a former winner of the Olympic Games, wanted to become the tyrant of Athens. To realize that dream, he sought help from his father-in-law, the tyrant of Megara, and staged a coup around 632 B.C. But the uprising was an unsuccessful one. Knowing that defeat was imminent, Cylon and his supporters took refuge in the temple of Athena. After they got the assurance that their lives would be spared, they came out of their hideout and were ready to stand trial for their crime. But they were ultimately betrayed by an archon (chief magistrate), Megacles, who broke the promise and had them killed. The circumstance was so unspeakable that the Athenians decided to send him and his entire clan (the Alcmaeonids or the Alcmaeonidae) into exile. It was said that the descendents of this powerful family carried a curse or a miasma ("stain") for generations to come.
 
2     Now fast forward to circa 510 B.C. Athens was then in the hands of a bitter, cruel ruler named Hippias. Seeing how unpopular the tyrant was, Cleisthenes (also spelled as Clisthenes or Kleisthenes) -- a descendent of the Alcmaeonids -- took a chance and overthrew the man. But he soon locked horns with Isagoras. The latter brought up the curse and used it as an excuse to banish Cleisthenes from Athens. After getting rid of his opponent, Isagoras decided to clean house. He uprooted hundreds of people on the pretext that they, too, were cursed. He then sought to dissolve the Boule (Council of Four Hundred). Both decisions made the Athenians very angry. Hence, they banished Isagoras and recalled Cleisthenes.
 
3     Upon his triumphant return to Athens around 507 B.C., Cleisthenes launched a series of reforms. One of his earliest moves was to divide the country into three regions -- city, coastal, and inland. Each region was then further divided into ten groups called trittyes (singular: trittys). Every trittys consisted of several demoi (districts or villages; singular: deme) and was named after its chief deme. Now taking one trittys from each region, Cleisthenes forged them into a tribe. Once all was said and done, Athens had a total of ten new tribes, and the Athenians began to identify themselves not by their ancestry or family ties, but by their new tribes. This particular innovation was very critical in Greek history because it helped to dilute the influence of powerful clans, which had been the root cause of tyranny in the first place.

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