Continuity and Change in Athenian Social and Intellectual History
Perseus Project - Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Homer to Alexander
Perseus Project - Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Homer to Alexander
The best information about Greek social class comes from a city called Athens. People who had more of an education and more money were known as the upper class. Directly below the upper class were the Metics, or the middle class. This group of people were not necessarily known as the “middle class” they were just known to be somewhere in between the upper and the lower class. They didn't have all the opportunities of the upper class, but they were still better off than the lower class. Below them were the freemen, or the lower class. The very bottom of the social ladder consisted of slaves. I will show how the people of Athens were placed in these classes during the time period from 600 to about 300 BC. This time frame was called the Classical period.
The Upper Class
In order to be a member of the upper class in Athens there are two major requirements. You must be a citizen, which allowed you to vote if you were a man, and you aren't allowed to have a job. A member of the upper class must be free from economic tasks such as trading. An upperclassman's job was often considered owning slaves, and most of the time it was the wives' job to manage them. In turn this allows him time for politics, government, war, literature, and philosophy. The Athenians believed there must be a leisure class, or there would be no standard for good taste, no encouragement of the arts, no civilization. The aristocrats of Athens believed that a man in a hurry was not civilized. This elite class was very small. They numbered about 300 families. The Young boys from this class had the opportunity to attend school and learn about literature and philosophy. They started going to school at about age five or six. However the girls stayed home with their mothers and learned the duties of a good wife and mother. Because by the age of fifteen or so, she would be married off to start a family and raise children. Marriages of the upper and middle class were arranged by the parents. Love was not taken into consideration; it was more of a business arrangement. Ancient units of money during this time period were called talents. To be considered wealthy, a land owner needed about 20 talents.
The In-Between Class
For the most part, Athens had an upper and a lower class. However of those two classes, there were people in between. This might be referred to as a middle class. The majority of this class consisted of non-citizens. The free-men (non-slaves) of foreign birth spent their life in Athens. Because the free-men were not born in to citizenship, they had no chance of ever becoming a citizen. They were mostly professional men: merchants, contractors, manufacturers, managers, tradesmen, craftsmen, doctors, and artists. In the course of their wandering, they found in Athens the jobs they needed and opportunity to make money, which somewhat outweighed the down side of not being able to vote. These men were willing to give up their right to vote in other cities because they could not make as good of a living in neighboring cities.
The ceramic industry was owned entirely by the middle class. The non-citizens were forbidden to own land, or marry into a family of a citizen. Creating such a law allowed the citizens to buy land at a cheaper price, because outside competition for the land was eliminated. This working class made sure that the navy fleet was maintained, the empire was supported through heavy taxes, and the commercial supremacy of Athens was preserved. The upper class wanted to show the rest of the world how great they were, and used all the classes below them to do the dirty work. Men who owned between one talent and 20 minae, that is a third of a talent, were able to serve as hoplites (foot soldiers), and the wealthiest 1,000 of these 9,000 men rode horses during battle.
Women in the middle class had a lot of work to do. Usually they had less slaves to help with their chores. One of their most important jobs was making clothes. They had to spin the wool themselves, without a spinning wheel, to make the thread. Then they had to weave the fabric in order to make the material for the clothes. This was one of the first jobs that little girls learned. And this was very time consuming. It was also the woman's job to cook, clean and tend to the garden and the animals. Another job that took up a lot of time was getting water from the well. You can imagine that a woman in the middle class really had her hands full.
The Lower Class
The lower class was partly made up of freedmen, who at one time in their lives had been slaves. These people were not citizens of Athens, so the best they could have ever been were middle class, or well off lower class. There were different ways that a slave could gain his or her freedom. The slave may have been freed by his or her ransom being paid off by a relative or friend. If a slave ever earned enough money he could buy his own freedom, which was difficult because slaves did not always get paid for their services, and if they did it was usually very little. Sometimes, if they had time, he or she would have to work a second job. There was also a chance that men would be released if he were to fight in a war. And two of the more common ways to acquire freedom, were for the master to die, or if the master felt the job the slave was bought for had been completed. If a slave was bought in order to tutor a child through school, upon the child's graduation, it's more than likely that the slave was set free. Every once in a while a slave who was set free had a chance to make a better life for him/herself.
The Greeks in general felt that all men were not created equal. To an Athenian, there was no greater disgrace than being stripped of his citizenship. Some families had lived in Greece for generations, but they still were not considered citizens. The lower classes outnumbered the upper class by an enormous number, but in the 600's BC, only the upper class citizens who owned land could vote. This meant that all the decisions were made by the upper class men who owned land, even though the rules and laws applied to all. This might look like an evil system, this oligarchy- which was the rule of the few, but it was an improvement over the traditional style of leadership, which consisted of only one person making the political decisions for everyone. By the 400's BC, Athens had a democracy and all of the men in the three classes could vote (everyone but the slaves and the metics).
The slaves of Athens were un-ransomed prisoners of war, victims of slave raids, infants rescued from exposure, and criminals. Only a number of slaves were considered barbarians because they were from a different place. The cost of a slave ranged from 50 to 1,000 dollars. Even a lower-class citizen sometimes had a slave or two, while a rich home could have as many as fifty. The Athenian government employed a number of public slaves as clerks, attendants, minor officials, or policemen. Many slaves were women who worked in the home. If a slave misbehaved he was often whipped; If he was hit in the face by a person whose rank was higher than a slave, the slave must not defend himself. If a slave were going to testify in court, he or she could only testify legally under torture, to make sure the slave told the truth. In no case could a citizen legally go as far as to kill his slave. The treatment of slaves verried. Sometimes the owners treated their slaves better than others. In these earlier times slavery was legal, but not all people agreed with this. As one philosopher noted, “God has sent all men into the world free, and nature has made no man a slave, but slavery goes on.”
The worst position for a woman was as a mistreated slave. She not only had herself to look after, but often she had the concern of her child or getting pregnant. There was hardly any medical attention for her and usually no time off to recover or take proper care of her baby. Situations were different, sometimes women had more care than others.
by Philippa Fraser
In Athens the popular viewpoint of the time was that the State and
its government were set up to benefit the individual citizen. The training of
boys, both physical and mental, should be for citizenship and for living, not
just for warfare. Such education involved the cultivation of the mind even more
than the body, and had as its goals the attainment of character, taste, and, above
all, sophrosyne, or patience, moderation, and good behavior in word, thought,
and daily actions.
In Athens, education was largely a private matter. There were, of course, exceptions. For example, certain large gymnasiums were built and maintained for public use.
Not much is known about Greek education other than the subjects taught. We do know that only boys were generally educated, and that the sons of wealthy Athenians began school earlier and stayed longer than the sons of not-quite-so-wealthy parents. These latter boys usually left school around the age of fourteen.
Little children were taught at home by their parents or by a slave, called a paedagogus. At the age of six or seven the boys were sent to primary school which was usually within the neighborhood. Elementary school teachers were always men, never women. Because of the low pay, and the Athenian aversion to taking a job, these men were themselves little educated and had little or no social standing. The money these teachers made came from the tuition fees the child's parents sent monthly. The costs of tuition and the topic of study were the choice of the teacher.
In school, the boys sat on plain benches while their teacher sat in an armchair, called a cathedra, and dictated, or read to the boys, their lessons from a book. At this time, books were very expensive. Therefore, the boys did not own copies of the books they were studying. Instead, while the teacher was reading out loud, the students would write down on tablets of wax what he was saying. Later they would memorize what they had written. In this way, entire books were memorized by Athenian students!
Interestingly enough, Greeks never read silently to themselves--always out loud. Proper enunciation of sound and clearness of words were essential and voice training was constant. Classes were taught and information was learned almost entirely from the spoken word. This is why the Greeks had a love of drama, recitations, public recitals, and contests. Paintings the Athenians put on their vases show us pictures of the school rooms. They had writing tablets, rulers, baskets full of manuscripts, and, for music, lyres and flutes. Playing the lyre, an instrument resembling a small hand-held harp, was considered so important, that if a boy couldn't play the lyre well enough, it was thought to be a sign of bad breeding.
In the better and larger schools reading, writing, and mathematics would be taught by a special teacher, called the grammatistes, lessons in music and poetry were given by teachers called the kitharistes, and physical training was directed by the trainer, or paidotribes.
Education in ancient Greece was far different from education today. The Athenian boy in school had a study program far easier than boys (and girls) have today. The Athenian boy could concentrate only on the Greek language and literature because no other languages were taught. Mathematics was basic and simple. There was little scientific knowledge in the fifth and fourth centuries (499 -300) B.C. The readings were mainly the works of Homer, Hesiod, Theognis and the lyric poets and probably, towards the end of the fifth century (499-400) B.C. the tragic plays of various authors. Especially emphasized were the poems of Homer. These poems were the very backbone of the school course.
Primary education for Athenian boys lasted usually from the ages of six to fourteen. Secondary education, for boys from the wealthier families, was from the ages of fourteen to eighteen. Then, finally, the boys entered a military training camp for two years, until the age of twenty, when they were called ephebes. Gradually this military training was decreased to only one year, and school attendance, once mandatory, later became, after the Macedonian conquest, voluntary. Toward the end of the second century B.C. (199-100), foreigners were freely admitted to the college.
In the aristocratic political structure of Athens, offices were filled
according to wealth and birth right. At first the offices were held for life.
Later, the terms were shortened to ten years.
The Athenians had nine positions in their government. They were called the Basileus, Polemarkhos, Arkhon, and six Thesmothetai. Each one of the nine officials had a different job. The Basileus had religious power. He was in charge of things such as giving his wife to the god, Dionysos. The Polemarkhos, translated “military leader”, was exactly that. He was in charge of the military.
Another office held was the Arkhon (or Archon). The official was to take care of anything administrative in Athens. The last positions were the six Thesmothetai. This position came about sometime later than the first three. These men were to record statutes (laws) and preserve them for judgment between litigants. As a unit these officials were called the nine arkhons. This term is directly translated into “leader”. Arkhon is used as the name for the administrative leader and to describe all nine of the offices held.
The Athenians claim the credit of being the first to have regular
processes of law. In the beginning the administration of justice was done by amateurs.
People were selected by lot, they presided over trials and preliminary hearings
before the popular courts. In the fifth century when rhetoric was being taught,
some became so good at persuasion, they held a distinct advantage. These men wrote
speeches for clients to use as their own. Good speeches were like advertisements
Oratory rhetoric was divided into epideictic, deliberative, and forensic. Deliberative was used to address the people in the general Assembly. Forensic was delivered in the law courts. These are usually called political oratory because they both deal with government. Epideictic or display oratory included all other oratations, such as those delivered during festivals, public rites, or moral discourses.
While under Macedonian rule oratory rhetoric languished and Athens became a provincial town. Other cities succeeded Athens, the “School of Greece” as Pericles had called her. However, oratory eventually degenerated into declamation.
The Areopagus, the popular Assembly, called the Ecclesia, and the regular magistrates or Archons all had well-recognized judicial functions. The steps in which government controlled and developed the administration of justice can be followed easier in Athens than anywhere else, because we have more information from there.
In 900-800 B.C. government was what Aristotle called a “monarchy of the heroic age.” There were no laws or tribunals. It was up to the individual to get justice for wrongs against him. Relatives and friends were always expected to help and sometimes the whole community if it concerned them all. When a person of another tribe committed an outrage, a crime, against a citizen, his fellow citizens would help him demand compensation. Because of this, communities started to seek to prevent and punish aggressors from other tribes. This is where the popular assembly came in. Anyone could appeal to it provided it was of public import.
In the case of minor disputes it was left to kings or other prominent persons whose integrity and judgment inspired confidence. This led to the belief that settling disputes was a royal prerogative. This is the justification of Aristotle's statement that “the king [in the Heroic Age] was a general and a judge and had control of religion.”
About 700 B.C. the monarchy had been gradually disappearing and the dispensing of justice had by this time become a recognized function of government. Unfortunately the chiefs who were the ruling aristocracy did not have a problem enriching themselves by accepting bribes. This and the needs of more complex social and economic organization aroused the people to demand written laws and rules of procedure to protect against corrupt judges.
“No worse foe than a despot hath a state
Under whom, first, can be no written laws,
But one rules, keeping in his private hands
The Law: so is equality no more.
But when the laws are written then the weak
And wealthy have alike but equal right.”
After the aristocratic republic came an oligarchy. Instead of kings there were magistrates elected annually on the basis of wealth and birth. Soon functions of the king were distributed among nine magistrates called “archons.” The chief was the Archon. He handled civil suits involving estates and family relations. The Polemarch exercised the military functions of the king and had jurisdiction over aliens. The remaining six were known as the Thesmothetae. They took cognizance of all cases outside the jurisdiction of the other magistrates and recorded judicial decisions. The Areopagus was the governing body of the state and served as a criminal court.
In 621 B.C. Draco gave Athens its first code. The only laws that have survived are those dealing with homicide. So severe were the punishments in his code that some said Draco wrote his laws not in ink but in blood.
In 594 B.C. Solon, the great lawgiver, threw out all of Draco's laws except the ones dealing with homicide, and gave Athens a democratic constitution with a senate and popular assembly. With the expulsion of the tyrants Cleisthenes revised the constitution in a democratic spirit.
The Ecclesia was the sovereign power of the state and composed of all citizens. Associated with it was the Council of Five Hundred, or Boule, which was a representative body chosen annually by lot from citizens of thirty years or older. Fifty were selected from each of the ten tribes into which the citizens were divided. Each of the ten was a committee called the Prytaneis. They presided over the Boule, furnished chairmen for the meetings of the government. Higher offices of the state were filled from the first three of the four classes, into which the citizens were divided on a basis of wealth.
All these bodies and officials shared in the administration of justice. However the supreme judicial authority was vested in the sovereign people. They normally dispensed justice only in the case of serious crimes or offenses not otherwise provided for by law, though they could take action in any case they wished.
Regular proceedings were called eisangeliae or “impeachment”. Much like today it was a trial before a political body. A crime could also be brought to attention by presentment. A vote of acquittal ended the matter, a vote of condemnation though without legal effect usually encouraged the prosecutor to bring the charge before a regular court. Basically it was an expression of public opinion.
Solon also started the first court of appeals. Magistrates could not be allowed to have final judgment where the people claimed the right to exercise all functions of government. the right to grant appeal went to the members of the Heliaea, a judicial assembly. Only those thirty years or older could be members. And the members were not officials of the state over the people, they were the people.
Many changes happened between Cleisthenes and the age of Demosthenes. Some were suggested by experience, others because of the progress of democracy. Some to relieve the congestion of the courts.
Some of the more significant changes were: Pisistratus set up a tyranny which endured for fifty years, he made no drastic changes and only filled offices with his friends and family. He did however appoint judges to go on circuit throughout the Attic townships, they acted primarily as arbitrators. Evidence stated to be presented in the form of affidavits acknowledged by the witnesses in court so appeals could be based on evidence in its original form.Pericles made provision for paying the jurors a small fee. In 425 B.C. Cleon made a substantial increase in that pay. Amnesty, statute of limitations, accord and satisfaction were also started by the ancient Greeks.
Homicide in 900-800 B.C. was dealt with by relatives who started blood feuds or put a price on the killer. The community did not intervene until the shedding of blood polluted the soil. the killer had to be purified or banished because he was considered polluted as well. Avoiding blood feuds and maintaining peace was an important influence in bringing about state intervention. Special courts were used to try homicide cases. The right to prosecute an alleged murderer was left to near relatives of the victim; the state did not bring cases itself.
The Areopagus is reputed to be the most ancient homicide court in Greece. In the beginning it tried all cases of homicide, but after the differentiation of voluntary, involuntary, and justifiable homicide four additional courts were instituted. Voluntary came under the jurisdiction of the Areopagus under the King Archon who actively participated in the trial. The Palladium tried cases of involuntary homicide and of killing non-citizens, i.e., slaves, resident aliens, and transient foreigners. Justifiable homicide was tried by the court of Delphinium. And the court at Preatto tried those who, while in banishment for involuntary homicide, were charged with murder or wounding with intent. All defendants were tried from a boat before the court seated on the shore to prevent pollution of the soil. The judges were composed of fifty-one special judges recruited from the membership of the Areopagus.
During the fifth century the Ephetae were replaced by regular juryman. this occurred because the Areopagus was deprived of political and judicial powers. The court of the Prytaneum, consisting of the tribal kings under the King Anchon, tried unknown slayers and animals and inanimate objects that had caused the death of a human being. Condemned objects were cast beyond the borders of Attica. A similar practice is found in Anglo-Saxon law, where condemned objects were called “deodands”.
As you can see we have a judicial system not unlike the ancient Athenians. They were the first to do many things in the ways of justice and government. Many of today's governments have copied what they did so long ago. Whether or not it is done better now or then is left to argument.
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