The Story of the Greeks
Page: 38The prize for the girls was the same as that given to the boys; but the boys took part in more games, and
The crowd of people watching the games often grew so excited that they carried the victor all around the grounds on their shoulders, while Olympia fairly re-echoed with their cries of joy.
We are also told that one old man called Chi´lo was so happy when his son laid at his feet the crowns he had just won, that he actually died of joy, thus turning his son's happiness into bitter grief.
While all the foot races took place in the stadium, the horse and chariot races were held in the hippodrome, and excited the greatest interest. There were two-, four-, and eight-horse races; and, as the horses were sometimes unruly, the chariots were liable to be overturned. Thus at times a number of horses would fall in a heap, and lie struggling and kicking in the dust, which added to the general excitement.
You have already learned that Athens was one of the greatest cities of ancient Greece, and that after the heroic self-sacrifice of Codrus the inhabitants would not allow any one to bear the name of king.
The sons of Codrus were named archons, or rulers for life,—an office which was at first handed down from father to son, but which soon became elective; that is[Pg 87] to say, all the people voted for and elected their own rulers. Then nine archons were chosen at once, but they kept their office for only one year.
As these men received no pay for serving the state, only the richest citizens could accept the office; and thus Athens, from a monarchy, or country ruled by a king, became an oligarchy, or state ruled by the rich and noble citizens.
As the rich thus held the reins of the government, they often used their power to oppress the poor, and this gave rise to many quarrels. Little by little the two parties, the rich and the poor, grew to hate each other so much that it was decided that a new code or set of laws should be made, and that they should be obeyed by all alike.
A severe archon called Dra´co was chosen to draw up these new laws (602 B.C.); and he made them so strict and cruel that the least sin was punished as if it had been a crime, and a man was sentenced to be hanged for stealing even a cabbage.
When the Athenians heard these new laws, they were frightened. Such severity had never been known before; and one and all said that the laws had been written in blood instead of ink. Some of the citizens, hoping to make Draco change them, asked why he had named such a terrible punishment for so small a crime as the theft of a cabbage. Draco sternly replied that a person who stole even the smallest thing was dishonest, and deserved death; and that, as he knew of no severer punishment, he could not inflict one for the greater crimes.[Pg 88]