The political economy of Solon’s law against neutrality in civil wars

Soeren C. Schwuchow, George Tridimas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


In 594 BCE, the Athenian lawgiver Solon, called upon to resolve a deepening social crisis, introduced a new constitution and mandated that in civil conflicts, no citizen is to remain apathetic and must take sides. Because the law seemed to support strife, it presents a puzzle. The paper offers a political economy rationale for Solon’s law against neutrality, modeling social conflict as a rent-seeking competition. We divide society into three groups, a hereditary aristocracy, which monopolized power before the Solonian constitution, a rival wealth-based commercial elite, called the new Solonian elite, and the poor, who are enfranchised only partly. We then identify the conditions under which the third group is better off by allying with one of the other groups, protecting the Solonian constitution. In our framework, Solon’s ban on neutrality is an attempt to change the payoffs from violent redistributions of rents, so that conflict is avoided. Accordingly, the ban should not only impede excessive rent seeking, but also prevent the exclusion of any social group
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-272
Number of pages24
JournalPublic Choice
Early online date26 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose. No funds, grants, or other support was received.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Ancient Athens
  • Solon
  • Political non-neutrality
  • Rent seeking
  • Intra-elite competition
  • Political apathy
  • Civil war
  • Inclusive institutions


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