~ 510 BC

Cleisthenes was an important Athenian leader who helped institute democratic reforms. He was the son of a very noble Athenian family, known as the Alcmaenidae, who were first allies of, then exiled by, Pisistratus. Cleisthenes, along with his clan, were instrumental in driving the tyrant Hippias out of the city. They did this by bribing the Delphian priests to persuade the Spartans to assist in the overthrow of Hippias. Once Hippias was driven from power, and the Alcmaeonidae clan was restored, Cleisthenes became the new leader and immediately instituted democratic reforms. The aristocrats who had supported Cleisthenes were not pleased at this development, and tried to have him exiled. They failed however, and Cleisthenes was free to continue his democratic reforms.

The most dramatic reform introduced by Cleisthenes was to divide the city into ten regions and have government elected locally instead of along strict tribal lines. This prevented tribal chiefs from dominating political affairs and fostered loyalties directed at the common affairs of the polis rather than clans. From the time of Cleisthenes, the Alcmaenidae family produced many important leaders of the 'democratic' party in Athens. Pericles was a grand-nephew of Cleisthenes.

Key events during the life of cleisthenes:

Alcmaeonidae family recalled to Athens from exile.
Hippias, tyrant of Athens driven out of city.
Cleisthenes assumed power and immediately instituted Democratic reforms.
  Cleisthenes is driven into exile by his enemy Isagoras, but is later recalled.
  Cleisthenes continues democratic reforms; reorganizes demes; institutes ostracism.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Of the Sons of Alcmaeon and the End of Miltiades  in  The Story of the Persian War  by  Alfred J. Church
Harmodius and Aristogiton  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Law of Ostracism  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Four Famous Men of Athens  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
Rule of Pisistratus and the Alcmaeonidae  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Short Biography
Hippias Exiled son of Pisistratus; helped lead Persian forces against Athens at Marathon.
Agariste Daughter of Cleisthenes of Sicyon; husband of Megacles; mother of Cleisthenes of Athens.
Cleomenes I King of Sparta before Persian Wars, removed tyrants from Athens, defeated Argos.
Isagoras Power Athenian Archon who opposed the reforms of Cleisthenes.
Harmodius and Aristogiton Rebels who tried to murder Hippias and his brother to save Athens from Tyranny.