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Cleisthenes, fl. 510 B.C., Athenian statesman. He was the head of his family, the Alcmaeonidae, after the exile of Hippias, and with Spartan help had made himself undisputed ruler of Athens by 506 B.C. He established a more democratic constitution by weakening the clan system and the local parties and by organizing the districts into political rather than social divisions. The Alcmaeonidae thus became leaders of a democratic party, a reorientation making them anti-Spartan instead of pro-Spartan as earlier. An attempt of his rival, Isagoras, to overturn the reforms of Cleisthenes after Cleisthenes had been sent into exile failed, and Cleisthenes was recalled.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Athenian lawmaker of the sixth century B.C. From the Alcmeonid clan.

Cleisthenes headed the movement against Peisistratus, which ended in the banishment in 510 B.C. of the tyrant Hippias, Peisistratus’ son, from Athens and the elevation of Cleisthenes to virtual head of state. He introduced democratic reforms that, in the words of F. Engels, constituted a revolution, destroying “the last remnants of the gentile constitution” (K. Marx and F. En-gels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 117). Ten territorial phylae were created to replace the four clan ones (each phyle was composed of three parts representing the urban, coastal, and interior regions of Attica). In this way the influence of the tribal nobility in the new phylae was significantly reduced. The territorial demes became the administrative, economic, cultural, and political units. Other reforms of Cleisthenes also were democratic in nature, including the replacing of the Council of 400, selected on the basis of the clan phylae, by one of 500 (boule), whose members were elected from each of the ten territorial phylae. He also introduced ostracism, which was directed against the danger of a tyrannical coup. Cleisthenes created a college of ten generals (strategoi) who had governing authority and headed the Athenian troops. His reforms consolidated the triumph of the Athenian demos over the clan aristocracy.


Zel’in, K. K. Bor’ba politicheskikh gruppirovok v Attike v VI v. do n. e. Moscow, 1964.
Eliot, C. W. J. Coastal Demes of Attica: A Study of the Policy of Cleisthenes. Toronto, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Although Clisthenes had been eponymous archon in 525-431 (perhaps having presumed that with the death of Pisistratus the 'troubles' were over and it was safe to return), the family had played a leading part in securing the downfall of Hippias and could safely affirm that they had remained in exile for the entire duration of the tyranny (Hdt.
There was by then a people for whose support Clisthenes could appeal, and with whose support he became far superior to his rivals ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED] - Hdt.
When Clisthenes made his appeal for support, the People asserted itself.
No doubt some change of policy is symbolised, just as it was in Sicyon where Clisthenes, to express hostility to Argos, sought to discredit the cult of the Argive hero Adrastus; when he was forbidden by the Delphic oracle to 'expel Adrastus' (whatever that was thought to involve), he 'imported' from Thebes Adrastus' bitter foe, Melanippus, and transferred to him cult previously paid to Adrastus (Hdt.
The history of most cities in the Archaic period was probably never written down,(38) and the sort of disorders occasioned by Clisthenes at Athens which Sparta moved promptly to prevent, may well have gone totally unheeded by history in smaller states.(39) Herodotus and Thucydides knew about Spartan actions, but since it was not their business to record them, they were forgotten.
5.79.1), the actions of Clisthenes would have been deemed a threat to Athenian aristocracy.