In ancient Greece, citizens were known by various names depending on their social status and political rights. The concept of citizenship in ancient Greece was quite different from what we have today. In this article, we will take a closer look at what citizens were called in ancient Greece and their significance.
Athens – Birthplace of Democracy
When we talk about ancient Greece, Athens immediately comes to mind. Athens was the birthplace of democracy in the 5th century BCE, where all male citizens had the right to participate in politics and decision-making. But not everyone who lived in Athens was considered a citizen.
Metics and Slaves
Metics were foreigners who lived in Athens but were not considered citizens. They were free people but did not have any political rights. On the other hand, slaves were people who had no rights whatsoever and were considered property.
Citizens – The Elite Class
Citizenship in ancient Athens was an exclusive club, only granted to free-born males who were born to Athenian parents. Women, children, foreigners, and slaves could not become citizens.
Eupatridae – The Aristocrats
Within the citizen class, there was a hierarchy based on wealth and ancestry. The eupatridae or noble families were at the top of this hierarchy. They claimed descent from the original inhabitants of Attica (the region around Athens) and held most of the political power.
Zeugitae – The Middle Class
The zeugitae formed the middle class among Athenian citizens. They owned enough property to afford a pair of oxen for plowing and hence their name (zeugos meaning yoke). They could participate in politics but had limited influence compared to the eupatridae.
Thetes – The Working Class
The thetes were the lowest class of Athenian citizens. They were mostly manual laborers, artisans, and small farmers who owned no land. They had the right to vote but could not hold public office.
Sparta – A Different System
While Athens was a democracy, Sparta had a different system of government. Sparta was an oligarchy where power was concentrated in the hands of a few elite families.
Spartiates – The Elite Warriors
Spartiates were the ruling class in Sparta. They were full citizens who had undergone rigorous military training from childhood and were expected to serve in the army till they turned 60. They owned large estates worked by helots (slaves).
Perioikoi – The Non-Citizen Allies
The perioikoi were free people who lived in Sparta but were not considered citizens. They formed a buffer zone between the Spartiates and their enemies and provided essential services like trade and crafts.
Helots – The Enslaved Class
Helots were a subjugated population that formed the backbone of Spartan society. They worked as agricultural laborers and domestic servants for Spartiates and perioikoi alike. Helots had no rights whatsoever and were treated brutally by their masters.
Thus, we see that ancient Greek citizenship was not universal but restricted to certain groups based on birth, wealth, and social status. Citizens enjoyed privileges like voting, holding public office, and protection under law while non-citizens had limited or no rights at all. Understanding these distinctions helps us appreciate the complexities of ancient Greek society and its impact on our modern world.