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.
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, with out 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 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.
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Now For a quiz on all the topics on sports and daily life...
DIRECTION: Fill in the blanks in the sentences with the fallowing words.
a. Palaestra b. Olympic games c. prisoners of war d. production e. wool f. weave
g. wealthy h. male
1) The _________ were the largest religious festival of Ancient Greece.
2) A __________ or Greek arena is were wrestling and Olympic training took place.
3) Only __________ citizens who owned land could vote.
4) The biggest source of slaves in Ancient Greece were the ________ __ ___.
5) In the homes girls learned to work _____ and _____, spending much of their time on the ________ of items.
6) Usually only _______ boys got the opportunity to attend school.
5) e, f, d
1. Croix, G.E.M. De Ste. THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN THE ANCIENT GREEK WORLD.
Cornell University Press: Itaca, New York. 1981
2.Garland, Robert. THE GREEK WAY OF LIFE. Cornell University Press: Itaca, New York. 1990.