Citizens and Citizenship in Athens

Chronology + Mediterranean Area -> Aegean  -> Athenian
Recording that Attica (and Greece) is at a cross-roads between Europe, Africa, Asia.

I – How to be a Citizen?

A – Birth and Citizenship

1) The main Characteristics of Citizenship

Source 1

« Our form of government is no copy of our neighbors laws: far from imitating others, we are an example to them. Our form of government is called a democracy, that is, power in the hands of the whole people, not just a select few. When there are disputes between individuals, everyone is equal before the law. In public affairs, people are given a position because they deserve it: they get the job because of their own talent, not just because it is their turn. No one is kept out of time light just because he is poor, if he can be of some use to the City. We are tolerant in our personal relationships, and in public life we do not break the law, because it is the law that we fear. »

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War; II.37, (extracts)

Everyone is equal before the law

Talent is much recognized than wealth or high birth
No one can be excluded because of his poverty
Citizens are free and the law gives their own limits.

=> Citizenship doesn’t deal with education, money or property

=> This political structure is called a democracy (demos = people, kratos = power).

Source 2

The simplest definition of a citizen is « one who shares in government and administration of justice ».

 Aristotle; Politics; 1275a

Source 3

In the archonship of Antidotos (451 BC) they passed a proposal made by Pericles that a man could only be a citizen if both parents were of citizen birth.

Aristotle; Constitution of Athens; 26

• Decisions are made by citizens

• to be a citizen, an Athenian had to be male, freeborn, and native to the City

=> Citizenship is obtained by birth.

2) Limits of the Athenian democracy

=> Who were the citizens?

• Men only, aged of 18, after their military service

=> This citizenship was restrictive and closed. It could be explained by several reasons:

only citizens get the power

It was kind of protection in a city-state where 40.000 persons were citizens on 400.000 inhabitant

=> Can the citizenship be given in other way?

Exceptionally, a metic that had worked a lot for the City can be chosen to be a citizen. But this is very rare in fact

=> Excluded persons

The law governing the right of citizenship stipulated that both parents had to be Atticans: citizenship was an exclusive right; any Athenian whose mother was a foreigner was deprived of it.

  • Women and minor children
  • Children did not have the name of their mother.
  • Slaves (a non-free man could be caught by any citizen to become his slave. This is also true for false citizens) whom role was to work with no rights
  • Metics (people living and working in Athens) without being Athenian or slave: for example merchants)

B – Different categories of citizens

Solon’s Law.

In 594, Solon was appointed archon with dictatorial powers to serve as a « conciliator ». He brought about emancipation of peasantry (debts on landed property were eliminated), curtailment of aristocratic power, reform of the currency, codification of the law that defined a Constitution for Athens.

  • Citizenry is organized in 4 different classes, according to the personal fortune of each citizen.
  • More than this, we have to remember of the important place of talent
  • In time of war, who can be better than the other? (Rich with special weapons or with a horse) (It is easy to understand that the one on the horse could be more famous that one of the rowers in the trireme)
  • In time of peace? (Rich too, by paying for the others or by raising money to set up patronage or sponsorship)
  • Consequences of this division are very important on public and private life
  • Taxes are not the same and only the three first classes do pay a special tax
  • Political or public functions are obviously reserved to the well-known citizens, that means to the richest

C – Geographical structure of Athens

Source 4

Map of Attica

Source 5

Map of Athens

1) The City is not the town
Athens in fact did not exist in the fifth c. We’d better speak of the City-state of the Athenians
Polis = Astu + Cora + Eschatia
In Athens, a new arrangement was established by Cleisthenes in 508 – 507.

2) Polis is the place for citizenship

=> the city-state was subdivided in 10 tribes and in each tribe, 3 regions were organized: city, country and coast. Each region was called a tritty.

• each tritty consisted of communes (demes), kind of autonomous administrative units.

• at the age of 18, a citizen was registered in his deme: « Pericles, Xanthippus’ son, from the deme of Cholardos. »

Demes, in this way, made up basis of the constitution and of the citizenship.

II – Citizens were servants of the city-state

A – The Assembly and the bodies of the Athenian Constitution

=> Each citizen was a member of the popular assembly. This assembly met 40 times a year and elected archons and the keeper of the treasury from the members of the first class. The power of the assembly increased over the year to become the real place for democracy.

Source 6

In this passage, Socrates is urging a young man not to be shy to speak at the Assembly:

« You are not shy with extremely clever people; nor are you nervous of people who have a great deal of influence. And yet you don’t have the guts to speak in front of those who are the lest clever and have no influence. Surely you are not too shy to meet cleaners and dyers, shoemakers, carpenters, farmers, merchants? Well, these are the sort of people who make up the Assembly ».

Xenophon; Memoirs; 3.7

• every citizen was able to speak because all citizens are politically equal

• Orator was sacred and no one can interrupt him (see Odysseus speaking at the assembly of the Greeks in the Trojan War)

=> Ecclesia was not the only body of the Athenian democracy

=> Other bodies existed too: the Council of Five Hundred called Boule, the Jury Courts (Heliee), the body of the Magistrates with Archons and Generals, and the Council of Aeropagus.

=> The Boule is selected (chosen, drawn) by lot and consists of 500 members, they select a chairman (prytanus) by lot.

Source 7

« The Council passes judgment on most of the government officials, especially those who handle public funds […] The Council, then, does not have supreme power, but it does discuss beforehand everything that is brought before the people. The people (= the Assembly) cannot vote on anything which has not been previously discussed by the Council »

Aristotle; Constitution of Athens; 43-5

=> the main role of the Boule is to prepare everything that will be discussed by the Assembly.

=> The Jury Courts are a sort of tribunal. This system, very common today, was first tried in Athens.

Source 8

« They say that the thing which gave most power to the masses was the right to appeal to a jury court. »

Aristotle; Constitution of Athens; 9

Source 9

« Pericles was the first to introduce pay for the people in the jury courts. This was an attempt to make himself popular. Some people criticize Pericles and say that the courts began to deteriorate because it was the common people rather than the respectable ones who were keen to draw lots for the duty »

Aristotle; Constitution of Athens; 27

=> The pay for the jury was very reduced but permitted people who got it not to be dependent of a lobby.

=> Unlike nowadays, the juries had to give their verdict by voting immediately.

=> The Magistrates are a group elected (and not drawn by lot) annually, in which we find generals (stratêgoi) and archons:

• 10 generals were in charge with the army. At the fifth century, they are powerful and Pericles, for example, was the most important of them. After the elimination of his opposition, he has been reelected 14 times and an historian, Thucydides, told us that a

« democracy in name, Athens was in reality the monarchy of the first citizen »

• 9 archons at first held office for life but later this was changed to ten years and then to one. They were selected by lot out of the 500 who had been previously selected. They give their name to the year. For example: In the archonship of … They were responsible for several religious events.

=> The Aeropagus was responsible for keeping watch over the laws. It was a body of former archons.

B – Citizen is a responsible man

=> Citizens deal with everything in the life of the City, but they are individually responsible for their acts before the law.

• in the court law, a citizen must prove his accusations against someone. If not, they risk receiving the same judgment as if they are guilty.

Source 10

Every month there is a vote to see whether the generals seem to be doing their duties properly. If the vote goes against any of them, he is put on trial in the court. If he is convicted, the people decide what the penalty or fine are to be; but if he is acquitted he takes up his duties again.

Aristotle; Constitution of Athens; 61

• When the others rejected a citizen for some reasons, they organized in the Assembly a special vote called ostracism. To ostracize or to exclude, banish somebody, citizens had to write the name of the citizen they wanted to refuse in their city on a broken piece of pottery called « ostrakôn »

Source 11

To give a citizen outline, the procedure was as follows. Each man took an ostrakôn and wrote on it the name of the citizen he wished to be removed from the city. He then took it to a place in the Agora, which was marked off with a wooden railing. The archons first counted the total number of the vote casts. (If there were fewer than 6000 voters, the ostracism was void.) Then they separated the names and the man whose name had been written by the most people was proclaimed an exile for ten years, though he was allowed to receive the income from his property.

Plutarch; Aristeides; 7

C – Citizens are warriors

=> Most of the time (66%) Greek Cities were at war. To serve in the army so appeared at the first and main duty of a citizen.

1) Knights, hoplites, rowers

=> There was no permanent army

• each citizen aged of 20 had to serve for 2 years in the army

• Mercenary groups or slaves can be enrolled

• the chiefs were the generals elected for one year (except Pericles)

• Citizens pay for the war effort according to their own fortune

=> Why is it so important to fight?

• to preserve liberty of the city-state

• to preserve Greek culture and civilisation against Persian (Persian Wars from 500 to 479)

2) War and democracy

=> Poets use to sing the most brilliant moments of the wars and venerate brave warriors like heroes

• Marathon was a victory of the hoplites in 490

• Salamine was a victory of the rowers in 480

=> The strategies used in the conflicts give responsibility to each citizen that refers to the notions of ISONOMY (= equality of political rights for all citizens)

=> 478: League of Delos (= Delian League)

• Union of Athens and others cities as a defense against the Persian danger

• the role of Athens increased very quickly and at the end, Athens was ruling a true Empire.

• the allies had to make financial contributions to Athens and the city became the leading economic power of Greece.

• In 460-457, Athens built the Long Walls that made Athens the greatest fortress of Greece.

• Most of all, Athens moved the Treasury of the League from Delos to Athens and used it in its own interest.

=> The Peloponnesian War (431-404)

• Athens and Sparta became in struggle because Athens discontinued the alliance with Sparta and instead concluded a Treaty with Argos, the Archenemy of Sparta.

• Financial sources in Sparta at this time were lacking but Sparta, after a broken peace (for 50 years), succeeded in assuring itself of Persian financial assistance (412)

• In 411 Athens introduced Oligarchy (Council of 400, popular Assembly of 5000 propertied citizens) to sign peace with Sparta but this program was refused and in 404 Sparta attacked Athens and force the city to the capitulation: the long walls were razed, the Delian league dissolved, Democracy taken off. Spartan hegemony was established, but the real final victor was not Sparta but the Persian Empire.

D – The Citizen is a religious man

1) public holidays (official ceremonies)

• for men

• for women (Thesmosphories…)

=> Those feasts got important significations, and the most important role was to ensure the cohesion of the City

2) The panathenian feast

=> this public holiday was the most famous one in Attica

• it concerned the whole citizenry

• Feast have to be done in honor of Athena

• The Parthenon frieze stays our best and famous source