Ancient History & Civilisation


Farmers and Hoplites: Models of Historical Development

Insofar as modern histories of ancient Greece have a grand narrative at all, it is almost always the story of the rise of democracy—too selective and limited even as an account of Athenian history, never mind the history of the Greek world at large. A rare exception is Victor Davis Hanson’s The Other Greeks (1995), which writes the economic, social, political, and military history of Greece as the story of the rise and fall of the independent “yeoman” or “middling” farmer and his culture of “agrarianism.” This is an admirable attempt to construct a more comprehensive model of historical development insofar as it offers an internally coherent explanation for a wide range of fundamental historical developments over a period of more than four centuries. In doing so, and in making social and economic change the primary driver of political and military change, rather than the other way round, Hanson points the way to just the sort of master narrative that Greek history needs.

But although The Other Greeks provides an account of the right kind, it seems to me that its story is in important respects wrong. I shall argue that something much like the rise of the small independent “middling” farmer posited by Hanson did occur, but only around 550/500 BC, two centuries later than he suggests, and only in some parts of Greece. The period 750–550/500, which for Hanson marks the rise and dominance of a class of small farmers and their characteristic military and political systems, was an era in fact dominated by gentlemen farmers, leisured landowners.1 They established the first republics, which were oligarchic in nature, and the first heavy infantry militias, which were small and irregular. The period 550–300 BC, which for Hanson marks the slow demise of the small independent working farmer, in fact saw first the rise and then the decline of this social and economic class, along with political and military changes. But even when and where working farmers did become a significant force, they rarely dominated politics or warfare. Leisured landowners usually retained political power and continued to claim dominance in war, while in cities that developed more democratic forms of government working farmers were only one element among a coalition of forces opposing the landed elite.

The Republic of Yeomen: Hanson’s Model

Center stage in The Other Greeks stands the “yeoman” or “family farmer,” variously described as a “small” or “middling” landowner. One of the virtues of Hanson’s account is that these terms, which other scholars tend to use quite vaguely, are precisely defined:

• The yeoman farmer owned about 10 acres (4 ha) of land, which was enough for him and his family to earn an independent livelihood.2

• A yeoman farmer’s labor force consisted of his family and “one or two” slaves.3

• Yeomen farmers constituted nearly half, and no less than a third, of the population of most archaic and classical Greek cities.4

These small family farmers typically lived on the land, outside the city walls, and rarely went into town—“mostly just to vote and go home, disgusted at the noise, the squalor, and the endless race for pelf and power.”5 They emerged as a class circa 750–700 BC and became the dominant political and military force in Greek cities until 500/490 at least.6

The rise of the yeoman farmer, Hanson argues, was the result of an economic transformation set off by population growth in the late eighth century: a predominantly pastoral economy was replaced by a regime dominated by the cultivation of cereals, olives, and vines. In the process, many families carved out a new, independent living for themselves, in particular by occupying small plots of uncultivated land on the margins of the territory and making these new farms viable by means of intensive cultivation. Apart from the families who benefited from such “internal colonisation,” there were also those who took part in external colonization, establishing themselves in new settlements abroad, and those who leased land from their richer neighbors.7

Their new prosperity and independence enabled yeomen farmers to acquire for themselves better arms and armor, specifically a large round shield and a bronze panoply of armor, which turned them into heavy infantry, and enabled them to fight hand-to-hand in a distinctive close-order formation: thus the hoplite phalanx emerged. This new military force was so successful that it drove other kinds of troops (horsemen, light-armed) out of business and reshaped warfare to fit its own interests, developing a set of “agonal” conventions that were closely tailored to the needs of a militia of small farmers.8 At the same time, yeoman farmer-soldiers started to assert themselves in politics, and managed to impose their egalitarian ideals on the whole community, creating republics governed by “broad-based timocracies” in which all adult men of yeoman status, and the small elite above them, shared equal rights. This political transformation was usually a peaceful process, though in a few cases where change did not come quickly enough yeoman farmer-soldiers supported a coup d’état by a “tyrant” to expedite the process.9

From about 500 BC onward, and especially after the Persian Wars of 480–479, Greek cities faced new military demands that traditional yeoman militias could no longer meet: first the threat of Persian invasion itself, and then the endless wars for hegemony among the Greeks that followed, required the use of navies, cavalry forces, and various types of light-armed as well as hoplites, and often required full-time soldiers rather than farmer-militias. The military role of the yeoman-hoplite shrank. Further economic developments—the development of trade, craft production, and other nonagricultural sources of income—meant that other social groups gained political influence and rights, and the yeomen lost their dominance here, too. Finally, a trend toward concentration of landownership in the hands of a few threatened the very existence of small independent farmers. After 300 BC, the yeoman farmer-soldier was no longer a significant force.10

For all the merits of this account, at least one problem stands out immediately: among the Greek states that do not fit the model are Sparta and the cities of Crete, which is particularly troubling since the Spartans were the soldier-citizen ideal incarnate, while Crete provides us with the earliest evidence for the emergence of republican institutions. Yet in neither case were the soldier-citizens also yeomen. Instead, they were landowners who prided themselves on not tilling the soil but having serfs labor for them. Hanson does acknowledge these anomalies, calling them “strange,” “a bizarre mutation,” and even “outside the culture of the Greek polis,” but offers no explanation.11 The greatest problem with the model of The Other Greeks, however, is that all the evidence in support of it dates from the classical period, as we shall see. In archaic sources before the late sixth century, by contrast, there is nothing to indicate the rise of the yeoman farmer as an economic, military, or political force, and much to indicate the contrary.

Archaic Landowners and Cultivators: The Evidence

There is no doubt that small family farmers with ten-acre plots were a significant group in late classical Greece: ownership of a farm of this size was a threshold for citizenship in the fourth-century Crimea and Thessaly, as well as in Athens after the abolition of full democracy in 322 BC. It seems very likely that this was the minimum property level at which one could afford to serve as a hoplite in the militia.12 The question is, however, whether there is any evidence for the existence of a significant social and economic class of this type of farmer in the early archaic period.

Homer’s Odyssey

The first yeoman farm in the Greek literary record, as Hanson reads it, is the estate of Laertes described at the end of Homer’s Odyssey. Here, old Laertes works with his own hands, cultivating vines, olives, and fruit trees on a plot that he himself has carved out on marginal land.13 Hanson is well aware, of course, that Laertes is the father of Odysseus and a former ruler of Ithaca and so hardly an ordinary yeoman, but he argues that Homer nevertheless portrays the farm as small (1995, 48, 87), cultivated by a resident owner (51, 65) with the help of only “a few slaves” who are “close, intimate, fellow manual labourers” rather than deemed far below their owner (66; cf. 48), and he concludes that Laertes serves as “a representation of an entire class of new farmers” (49).

This is not a tenable interpretation of the evidence. First of all, the labor force on the farm does not consist of “a few” slaves, but of two large groups. Inside the farmhouse itself live Dolios, a slave who joined Laertes’ household as part of his daughter-in-law’s dowry and now “keeps” the farm (4.735–37), “an old Sicilian woman,” evidently a bought slave (1.190–93, 24.211, 366), and their six sons (24.387–89, 497). Yet another son of this couple works as a goatherd (17.212–13), while a daughter is employed as a maidservant in town (18.321–23). Separate from this slave family (24.222–23) are an unspecified number of “coerced slaves” (dmoes anankaioi), who are numerous enough to be housed in a “shelter [klision] which ran all round the house” (24.208–10). The situation seems clear: Dolios’ long service has been rewarded with “a house, a plot of land and a much-courted wife, the kind of thing which a well-disposed master will give to a slave who has worked hard for him” (14.62–65). The property is his master’s, not his own, but he has the privilege of living in the house and having his own family, while ordinary slaves stay single and sleep in barracks. Since eight slaves live in the house, at least as many must surely live in the large outdoor “shelter,” and we must infer the presence of a labor force of at least fifteen to twenty men.

Relatively egalitarian relations may exist between the privileged slave family and their master, but ordinary “coerced” slaves are excluded from the story: they do not get to greet their master on his return, let alone support him against his enemies, as Dolios and his sons do. And although Dolios’ family share a meal with their owners, distinctions are observed: the slaves sit on low stools while Laertes and his family sit on chairs.14

Finally, the presence of the owner on this farm, and his active participation in manual labor, are due to exceptional circumstances. We are told that “Laertes himself acquired [the farm] once upon a time after he took very great trouble over it,” and that he took his son Odysseus to visit when the latter was still a small child (Od. 24.205–12, 336–44). Homer must surely have imagined that Laertes was at the time still living in his house in town and taking an active part in public life, since he was, after all, “ruler over the Kephallenians” (24.378). The implication is that originally Laertes had left the running of this remote farm to Dolios and his wife, as a slave bailiff in charge of a slave workforce. Only in old age, in mourning for his missing son, did Laertes retire to this farm and express his grief by dressing and behaving like a poor farmer.15 Even then he did not mingle with the rest of the workforce, but planted vines near the house while the rest went off farther afield performing heavy labor, gathering stones to build a wall (24.222–25).

In short, Laertes’ farm is a large estate, cultivated by a large number of slaves, which under normal circumstances would be run by a slave manager on behalf of an absentee owner who lived in town and played only a supervisory role in its cultivation. We hear of only one other farm on Ithaca, which is again on marginal land, and this is owned by the second-richest family on Ithaca, who employ hired labor. Also to be found in the more remote parts of Ithacan territory are twelve herds of goats and a troop of about one thousand pigs, owned by Laertes’ family, all managed by slaves.16So far as one can tell from Homer, then, marginal land and indeed the countryside at large is occupied, not by small independent farmers, but by the estates, herds, slaves, and hired laborers of the very rich.

Hesiod’s Works and Days

Hesiod at first sight seems to offer much more support for the idea that the yeoman farmer was a rising force around 700 BC, the probable date of his Works and Days. This poem exhorts the farmer to work hard so as to avoid “hunger,” “debt,” and “poverty,” which sounds like—and has generally been taken as—advice addressed to farmers struggling to make a living and maintain their independence by the labor of their own hands. Hanson accordingly interprets Hesiod as representing the “small agriculturalist” (1995, 97), though he allows this “middling” yeoman a somewhat larger farm and labor force than normal: up to 15 acres (6 ha) rather than 10, and “two or more male slaves” plus a hired female servant, rather than one or two (107).

This higher number of slaves means that the dependent labor force on such a farm would be about as large as the labor force provided by the family itself, and the question arises whether one can still reasonably call this a “family” farm. By the standards of modern agribusiness, it is of course a tiny enterprise, but by the standards of the ancient Mediterranean world there would have been a significant gap in social and economic status between a family farm in the proper sense—cultivated by the labor of the family alone, except for short-term additional labor in peak seasons—and a farm with a permanent workforce of at least three servants. The question becomes all the more acute because Hanson in fact underestimates the size of Hesiod’s farm and its labor force.

Hesiod’s advice assumes the presence of at least four slaves, and at least two full-time hired laborers. A man starting up a farm needs “first of all a house and a woman and a plough ox—a woman bought, not married, who could also follow the cattle” (W&D 405–6). It has been plausibly argued that this is an adaptation of a proverbial line “a house and a woman and a plough ox” in which the woman is understood as the farmer’s wife. If so, it is all the more striking that the poet decided to turn the proverb into advice to the farmer to buy a slave housekeeper even before he marries, and to employ this slave woman also in agricultural work, if necessary, to help out in plowing or in taking cattle to pasture.17 Normally, the sowing and plowing will be done neither by the housekeeper nor by the farmer himself but by two other men, ideally forty-year-olds, who are regarded as the most reliable workers (W&D 441–47): they, too, are slaves (459). A third slave follows behind the plowman and sower to cover over the seeds with a mattock (469–71).

These are all the slaves individually identified, but there may be more: Hesiod always speaks of “slaves” in the plural, and if we take literally the implication that the farmer has a range of slaves of various ages from among whom he can pick his plowman and sower, and that younger slaves waste too much time “gawping after their peers,” that is, yet more slaves (444, 447), we must infer quite a large staff. So four slaves, three male and one female, are the minimum servile workforce assumed by Hesiod.18

In addition, he recommends hiring male and female laborers at the end of the agricultural year: “when you have stored all supplies indoors, I urge you to appoint a hired man without a household [theta t’ aoikon poieisthai] and seek a maidservant [erithos] without a child.”19 The timing makes sense only if they are hired for the duration of the next agricultural cycle, that is, on a full-time rather than seasonal contract. The purpose of hiring a mere two full-time laborers to complement a slave force of at least four is not obvious, and the point of the advice is probably not that one should hire one man and one woman but that, however many men and women one hires, they should have no landholdings or children to distract them from complete commitment to their paid work. In short, Hesiod’s total full-time workforce, not counting family members, is at least six—four male agricultural laborers and two female domestic servants—and may be larger.

This is clearly no longer a “family farm” in any meaningful sense. To employ and feed so many, a 10- or 15-acre farm will not suffice. A family of four, plus six laborers, requires at the very least 20 acres (8 ha).20 Another sign that Hesiod is not imagining a small farm is his assumption that land will be left fallow (W&D 462–64), presumably on a biennial rotation, as was normal Greek practice: leaving half the land uncultivated is something only a well-off farmer could afford to do.21 Hesiod also assumes that the farmer owns a seaworthy ship, big enough to transport a substantial part of his harvest,22 and that he keeps a range of livestock. The livestock are easily overlooked because Hesiod’s account of the agricultural year features almost no animals, but the closing section on auspicious days includes good days for shearing sheep (775), building sheep pens (787), gelding goats, rams, boars, bulls, and mules (786, 790–91), taming sheep, oxen, dogs, and mules (795–97), and putting a yoke on oxen, mules, and horses (815–16). A man would yoke horses only if he owned a chariot, the Greek world’s supreme symbol of wealth.

Given these indications of wealth, it is not surprising to find Hesiod’s farmer playing a supervisory role. “You must show an inclination to arrange [kosmein] work in due measure,” he is told (W&D 306–7, emphasis added). His job is to “tell the slaves in summer to build their winter shelters” (502–3), and in the harvest season, the busiest time of the year, he must “wake up the slaves; avoid shady benches and sleeping until dawn” (573–77). If these exhortations do not exclude the farmer working alongside his slaves, the arrangements for the summer do: the master sits in the shade, drinking imported wine, eating milk bread, beef, and lamb, while he “tells the slaves” to thresh and store the grain.23

Even more telling are the opening lines of the almanac of auspicious days: “You must announce to your slaves the days given by Zeus, observing them duly; the thirtieth of the month is the best to supervise work [erga epopteuein] and to distribute rations, when people judge truly in celebrating it” (765–67). The rest of the days then follow in more or less chronological order, starting with the first. The poet here evidently envisages a situation in which the farmer visits his land only once a month, to deliver provisions for his slaves and issue instructions about what work is to be done on which days. Even if the last day of the month was merely the “best,” not the only, day on which to visit the farm, the fact remains that advice about good moments for supervision only makes sense for a farmer who is not permanently present on the farm.

Passages that urge the farmer to work hard must be seen in this light. Hesiod may say that “your slaves and you yourself alike” (W&D 459) should plow, and that the farmer should pray to Zeus “when you put your hand on the end of the plough-handle and apply the goad to the backs of the oxen” (465–69), but the verses that immediately precede and follow explicitly describe a team of three slaves doing all the work. There is nothing left to do for the farmer himself, except supervise and lend a hand occasionally. When Hesiod tells the farmer what to do “after you have stored all your food supplies inside the house,” it is clear the storage of this grain in jars has been the work of slaves, and slaves alone; the farmer’s role is to organize the storage (597–601). Even the most emphatic exhortations to “toil at toil after toil,” to sow, plough and harvest “naked” (458–63), must therefore surely be taken as rhetorical: “toil” here means active, hands-on management of the farm, not physical labor—just as in Xenophon’s picture of a large classical estate, the landowner’s “toil” consists of walking, running, and riding from town house to farm and back again after supervising the slave workforce for a while.24

Hesiod’s apparent worries about poverty, debt, and hunger thus take on a different complexion. The need to avoid “poverty” (penia) and have a “sufficient” (arkios) livelihood is frequently stressed, and modern readers tend to assume that “sufficient” means “enough to survive” while “poverty” means falling below subsistence level. But the classical Greek definition of “poverty” was “having to work for a living,” as opposed to living off the labor of others, and there is no reason to think that Hesiod used the word differently.25 To escape “poverty” and acquire a “sufficient” livelihood, then, was to have a farm large enough to support a workforce of slaves and hired workers as well as a family of leisured owners. As for hunger and debt,26 I would argue that Hesiod’s farmers are too well-off to be seriously at risk, and that the poet evokes the worst-case scenario as the ultimate justification for his ethical advice, to which we shall return in a moment.

It should in any case be noted that warnings of poverty, debt, and hunger are only part of the picture, and are balanced by equally many references to farmers aiming for wealth, and the “excellence” and “glory” that comes with it. Hanson himself rightly makes the point, missed by many other scholars, that Hesiod’s farmer is unlike small farmers and peasants in so many other cultures, whose ambitions stop at subsistence and a fair share of what they regard as strictly limited resources. In Hesiod, the farmer aims for “untold prosperity” (376–80). He may trade his produce overseas to maximize his income (“the larger the cargo, the larger will be the profit upon profit,” 643–45), and use this to increase his landholdings (“you may buy the estate of other men,” 335–41) or his herds.27Hesiod’s famous opening analysis of the nature of “competition” (eris) stresses that to strive to become richer than one’s neighbor is a good thing, so long as the competition relies on productive work and does not spill over into deceit, perjury, and violence (11–26).

Indeed, the whole of the Works and Days is an extended exhortation to engage in “good” and steer clear of “bad” competition. For Hesiod, the crucial problem in contemporary society is that wealthy landowners adopt a leisured lifestyle and spend little time managing their estates, frittering away their property, while competing for greater wealth by illegitimate means—fraudulent litigation, theft, and force. His remedy is to tell these landowners that there is only one way to get rich legitimately and with lasting success: close and constant supervision of farm work with a view to getting the most out of one’s land and laborers. It is precisely because the poem is addressed to wealthy farmers who can in principle afford to leave the cultivation of their land to their slaves and hired men that Hesiod finds it necessary to stress the benefits of “toil,” which hardly needed to be rehearsed at length for poorer farmers. Hesiod justifies his advice on religious grounds by telling stories about Prometheus and Pandora, and the five races of mankind (42–201), both of which serve to show that it is the gods’ will that all men, not just the poor, should toil for a living, and that even the rich should not simply live off the labor of others:

Gods and men are filled with indignation at one who would live without working, his disposition like that of stingless drones who devour what the bees have toiled for, eating without working…. Whatever your fortune [daimon], it is better to work (W&D 303–7, 314).

Hesiod’s conjuring up of the specter of hunger and debt serves a similar purpose: it adds an economic justification for his moral advice. In practice, for the wealthy farmers whom he addresses, the threat of hunger may have been no more acute than the danger that the gods’ “indignation” would somehow actually put an end to their dronelike existence, but the vulnerability of agriculture to natural disaster means that no farmer is completely safe from hunger and debt. This allowed Hesiod to remind them of the worst that could happen and to argue that the best way to prevent this was dedication to farm management.28

So the Works and Days, like the Odyssey, reveals the existence only of gentlemen farmers, employing slaves and hired laborers, and competing for wealth by fair means and foul. Within this group, there is a distinct ruling elite, the “lords” (basileis), who according to Hesiod’s Theogony owe their status to their special eloquence and ability to settle disputes within the community. In Works and Days, however, these lords are sharply addressed as among the worst offenders in getting rich through deceit and violence.29

Solon’s Zeugitai

The laws and poems of Solon, and above all the system of property classes that he instituted or adapted in 594 BC as the basis of Athens’ political organization, constitute the most important archaic evidence for the distribution of landownership and its relation to politics and warfare. For Hanson, the third of Solon’s property classes, the zeugitai, represents the “yeoman” family farmer and hoplite, given new political rights under Solon’s reforms.30 Since the zeugitai rank below the evidently wealthy “horsemen” (hippeis) and five-hundred-bushel-men (pentakosiomedminoi), but above the evidently poor “hired men” (thetes), it seems at first glance fair enough to assume that they are a “middling” group of small farmers. This assumption, however, is incorrect, as Lin Foxhall demonstrated in a paper published a couple of years after The Other Greeks. She pointed out that the actual property qualification associated with the zeugitai, an annual harvest of at least “200 measures,” shows them to be very much wealthier than yeomen farmers.31

There are several ways of calculating the economic level implied by an income of “200 measures” of agricultural produce. A simple indication is how many people it could feed. A standard daily ration for an adult male was one choinix of barley or wheat and onekotyle of wine; 365 choinikesamounted to 7.6 measures (medimnoi) of grain, and 365 kotylai to 2.5 measures (metretai) of wine.32 One person therefore needed about 10 measures of grain and wine—which together formed the bulk of his diet—a year, and the minimum harvest of a zeugites could in principle sustain twenty adult men, though in practice we need to deduct up to a quarter of the grain harvest as seed corn for next year, and the actual number of men who could live off this income is about fifteen. Allowing for a small amount of other food and other expenses, this must still be approximately three times as much as the subsistence minimum for a family of four.

Alternatively, one can estimate what the sale value of such quantities of produce was. Although the evidence for prices is limited, the average price of barley in the late fifth and fourth century BC was 3 or 4 drachmas per medimnos, wheat 5 or 6 drachmas permedimnos, and wine probably 12 drachmas per metretes. After deducting seed corn, therefore, a zeugites might in principle sell 150 measures of barley or wheat for 450–600 dr or 750–900 dr, respectively, and his 200 measures of wine could be worth 2,400 dr. Yet at the time the minimum annual cost of feeding a family was a mere 3 obols a day, or about 180 dr a year. Even a crop of 200 measures of nothing but barley, the cheapest staple, was therefore worth at least two-and-a-half times as much as a family needed.33

Extrapolating the size of the farm from the size of the harvest is somewhat more speculative, but it can be done with a fair degree of precision by using comparative evidence for grain harvests in early twentieth-century Attica. A medimnos of barley or wheat weighed 27.5 and 33 kilograms, respectively; a metretes of wine or oil contained 38.88 liters.34 A harvest of 200 measures of barley, Attica’s main crop, thus amounted to 5,500 kg, and since modern records suggest that a yield of 800 kg per hectare was the maximum that could have been achieved in ancient Attica, this requires a minimum of 6.9 hectares, or 17.25 acres, under cultivation. We must double that amount to allow for biennial fallow, so that the minimum size of the zeugites’ farm was 13.8 ha or 34.5 acres.

For wheat, a rather greater weight, 6,600 kg, and a lower maximum yield, 630 kg/ha, mean that we require a minimum 10.5 ha or 26.25 acres of cultivated land, plus fallow, that is, a minimum farm size of 21 ha or 52.5 acres.35 For olive oil, the result is similar: to produce 7,775 liters at a maximum yield of 360 liters per hectare, the farmer needed 21.6 ha or 54 acres. Only wine could have been produced in sufficient quantities on the 10-acre farm envisaged by Hanson: 7,775 liters at a maximum yield of 2,500 liters per ha would have required only 3.1 ha or 7.8 acres.36 But wine could never have been the major crop of Attica, since it formed a relatively small part of the diet, and there is no sign that Athens ever exported wine in any quantity. The main agricultural export was olive oil—already exempted from export restrictions by a law of Solon’s—which required the most land of all.37 Again, we must conclude that the farm of a zeugites was at least three times as large as the subsistence minimum of 10 acres.

Finally, we can calculate the approximate monetary value of these farms on the basis that the minimum price of agricultural land in the late fourth century BC was 50 drachmas per plethron and that one acre is 4.4 plethra.38 Ten acres of land were thus worth at least 2,200 drachmas; 30 acres, thezeugites’ minimum, cost at least 6,600. Even a modest house and furnishings, a few slaves, and some livestock would bring the total value of such a property quite easily up to 8,000 drachmas. By implication, the next-highest property class, the hippeis, who produced 300 measures, must have owned properties worth at least 12,000 dr (2 talents), and the highest class, the pen-takosiomedimnoi, producing 500 measures or more, had estates worth 20,000 dr (3.3 tal.) or more. To put this in perspective, in the late fourth century the estimated level of wealth of the so-called liturgical class, the top 5 percent of rich Athenian families, was 3 talents or more, which coincides with Solon’s highest property class. A citizen property census of 2,000 drachmas, very close to the 10-acre minimum, was set after the abolition of democracy in 322 BC and in all probability represented the smallest viable family farm for a yeoman citizen-soldier. Zeugitai, then, were three times as rich as these yeomen, and not much less than half as rich as the wealthiest-class men in Athens. Significantly, they owned properties just above 1 talent (6,000 dr), which is the estimated level above which one was rich enough to belong to the leisure class, exempt from the need to work for a living.39

The last calculations allow us to form some idea of the absolute and relative numbers of families belonging to each property class. In 322 BC, only 9,000 households owned properties worth 2,000 dr or more, and among them approximately 1,200 households fell in the liturgical class with estimated minimum properties of 18,000 dr. If the remaining 7,800 families were equally distributed over the property range from 2,000 to 18,000 dr, the minimum census for zeugitai, which we estimated at 8,000 dr, would have been met by about 6,000 families. In practice, such a perfectly equal distribution is unlikely, and more properties will have fallen at the lower end of the range, so that we may reckon with about 5,000 families in the top three property classes, or only just over half of all families at yeoman level or above. The total citizen population of Athens in 322 BC was about 30,000, so the richest 5,000 constituted about 17 percent of citizens.40 And this was when public pay for jury and military service, and later also for attending assemblies and festivals, had done much to ensure a relatively even distribution of wealth. Under Solon, the proportion of citizens in the top three property classes must, if anything, have been smaller, and is unlikely to have been higher than 15 percent.

In short, Solon’s zeugitai belong to the same group as the farmers in Homer and Hesiod: landowners who can afford to live off the labor of their workers and whose role on the farm is essentially supervisory. It was this class of gentlemen farmers, not yeomen, who received new political rights under Solon. His property class system was designed to break up attempts to monopolize power by an even narrower elite within the class of leisured landowners, the Eupatridae, whose name implies that they claimed hereditary privileges: Solon ensured that the entire leisure class—that is, all those rich enough to be able to hold office without pay—had access to at least the lower ranks of political office.41

Solon’s Thetes

Homer and Hesiod tell us about gentlemen farmers and their slaves without revealing social and economic conditions at other levels of society, so although they do not mention the yeoman farmer, they do not positively exclude the possibility that he existed. Solon’s property classes and the fragments of his laws and poetry, by contrast, do paint a picture of the condition of the nonleisured classes—and the yeoman has no place in it.

In Solon’s scheme, the property class below the zeugitai, which embraces at least 85 percent of the population, is called thetes, “hired laborers.” They are, in other words, people who do not have enough land to make an independent living and therefore need to hire themselves out as laborers to those who have land in abundance. Between these free laborers and the leisured elite no other group—no body of yeomen family farmers—is given a recognized status. If a sizable group of yeomen did exist, they were ignored, insultingly lumped together with the poorest, and granted no political role beyond attending assemblies, a privilege shared by all adult males. Alternatively, landownership may have been so uneven and polarized that there really were virtually no small independent farmers at all, just a yawning socioeconomic gap between the estate-owning elite and the mass of wage laborers with little or no land.

What we can gather from the fragments of Solon’s poetry supports the second scenario. After his reforms, he prided himself on having resisted calls for the redistribution of land (fr. 34.7–9), but it is revealing that such calls were issued at all: only when wealth is very unevenly distributed and a large proportion of people simply do not have enough income to survive will such radical measures be demanded. Although stopping short of a full-scale redistribution, Solon did “liberate the earth” by “removing boundary markers planted everywhere,” which in my view means that he restored illegally occupied or confiscated land to its rightful owners or to common use (fr. 36.3–7).42 The other major demand, to which Solon did accede, was for a cancellation of debts, since indebtedness had got to the point where “the poor” (penichroi) were sold abroad into slavery by their creditors, or else left the country in order to avoid slavery. Others remained in Attica, “trembling at their masters’ whims,” evidently in a highly vulnerable position (frs. 4.23–25; 36.8–15). Solon stressed that it was only thanks to his reforms that the crisis did not escalate into bloodshed, for which both the rich and poor were fully prepared (fr. 36.20–25), and that “the people” had wanted him to go much further than reform: they expected him to seize sole power in Athens and force through more radical changes (frs. 32, 33, 34, 37).

Solon may have overstated his case, but his poems nevertheless offer clear evidence that Athens’ thetes were being viciously exploited in the years around 600 BC and were on the brink of mounting a violent rebellion against the exploitative landed and leisured elite—including the zeugitai.43Classical evidence further fleshes out the picture with the information that many of the poor were pelatai, “clients” and dependants, of the rich, and worked on the land of the rich as hektemoroi, “sixth parters,” which Hanson rightly understands as sharecroppers who were rewarded with only one-sixth of the harvest—a highly exploitative form of sharecropping, given that the most common sharecropping contracts divide the harvest fifty-fifty between cultivator and landowner.44 Thetes would hardly have tolerated such conditions unless there was no other way to gain access to land because “all the land was in the hands of few” ([Arist.] Ath. Pol. 2.1, 4.1). Everything thus points to a situation in which the top three property classes monopolized most of the land, while the bulk of the population made do with tiny plots or no land at all. If everyone below the leisure class was labeled a “hired laborer,” it was because there were indeed no independent yeomen farmers to speak of.45 It is no coincidence that when Solon mentions farming in a poem counting the ways in which people try to make a living, his agricultural worker is not a small struggling landowner, but a hired laborer on an annual contract.46

Much like Hesiod, Solon acknowledges in his poetry that no amount of wealth is ever enough, since even the very rich want to be richer still, and that it is perfectly acceptable to “yearn for wealth,” so long as one acquires it by legitimate means only. It is because the elite of Athens knew no such restraint but indulged in greed and hybris, arrogant aggression, according to Solon, that they had reduced the rest of the community to actual or virtual slavery and brought Athens to the brink of civil war.47 He therefore helped thethetes by imposing limits on existing forms of exploitation, creating new kinds of legal protection, restoring usurped land to private and public ownership, and reducing incentives to compete for wealth by enacting sumptuary laws and a ban on most agricultural exports. The elite could console themselves with their new access to political office, in compensation for these economic and legal restrictions.48

A similar situation prevailed at Sparta a little before Solon’s time. A line of an archaic poem that became proverbial warns that “love of wealth” might destroy Sparta, and a poem by Tyrtaeus alludes to calls for the redistribution of land in the late seventh century. In Sparta, too, large numbers of people were evidently falling below the subsistence minimum while others accumulated great wealth. Elsewhere, poets throughout the archaic period express concern about the consequences of competition for wealth, and we find stories in classical and later sources about civil conflicts that opposed landowners against dependent rural laborers, not independent smallholders. Debtors and clients rioted in Megara, circa 600; a bloody civil war between the rich and their agricultural laborers nearly ruined Miletus, probably in the late seventh century.49

Theognis’ Rustics and Phocylides’ Middling Men

Three snippets of verse dating to about 540 BC are Hanson’s only other archaic evidence for the rise of the yeoman farmer. The first is a lament by Theognis of Megara (53–58):

Cyrnus, this city is still a city but its people now are other men, who previously knew no courts or laws, but wore threadbare goatskins on their backs and grazed like deer outside this city. And now, son of Polypaos, they are good men, and those who used to be fine men are now worthless. Who could bear to see such things?

Hanson interprets this as a reference to “agrarians [who] had so … completely replaced birth by material success … that … now they wandered outside the walls of the polis with pretensions to actually being agathoi,” that is, members of the elite (1995, 109–10); they are “new farmers who … rarely come into town, but “pasture like deer” on their isolated farms” (120), and have changed the social order by means of “not wealth, but work” (121).

This is a very strained reading of the passage. Clearly, those who used to live outside the town, according to Theognis, are no longer in the countryside but have moved into the city, and do not merely have a high opinion of themselves but have replaced the old elite. The claim that new men have gained dominance is repeated later, with the addition that their rise involved them marrying into the old elite on the strength of wealth, not work:

Cyrnus, the good men of the past are now bad men, and those who used to be bad men are now good men. Who could bear to see such things: the good men less respected, worse men treated with respect? And the fine man courts the offspring of the bad one (1109–12). A fine man does not mind marrying a bad woman [born] of a bad man so long as [this man] gives him much wealth, nor does a woman refuse to be the wife of a wealthy bad man, but she wants riches instead of a good man. They respect wealth. (185–89).

There is no question here of a new agrarian middle class, but of high upward social mobility that turned poor country dwellers into rich city dwellers. Perhaps such high mobility really did occur or else Theognis merely slandered his rivals by claiming that they belonged to families of very low status. Either way, his underlying image is of a society divided between an urban elite and a group of rural poor who are so far removed from the trappings of civilization that they are more like animals than like humans: from his point of view, at any rate, this is still a polarized society without a middle class.50

Whatever Theognis thought of country dwellers, his verses show that a rural population did exist. But it does not follow that these were yeomen farmers, let alone that they were numerous. When Homer mentions “rustics” (agroiotai), they are always herdsmen, not farmers, and, if identified further, specifically herdsmen in the service of a rich owner.51 Two fragments of Sappho, circa 600 BC, which gently mock an uncouth “country girl” and a rural wedding probably suggest farmers, but we cannot tell whether these are independent family farmers or dependent peasants. Theognis’ reference to “grazing” suggests that, like Homer, he was primarily thinking of herdsmen as a group of particularly low status.52

The other two snippets of archaic poetry adduced by Hanson are couplets by Phocylides of Miletus. “If you seek wealth, take care of a fertile farm, for a farm, as they say, is a horn of plenty” (fr. 7) according to Hanson (1995, 111) refers to “homestead agriculture,” but it is simply a very concise version of Hesiod’s advice (as is fr. 9) and does not imply a small farm any more than Works and Days does. More interesting is the second couplet: “Those in the middle have many great assets; in the middle of the city I wish to be” (fr. 12). For Hanson, this is an expression of a long-lived “middling” ideal, established by yeomen farmers in the eighth century and still shared in the fourth century, most notably by Aristotle, who is cited at length (1995, 110, 114–19). Other scholars have adduced further evidence for this ideal, which advocated moderation and approved of those who were content to remain in the middle of the social hierarchy. Aristotle in particular argued that “middle people” (mesoi) provided balance and stability to communities that were in danger of being torn apart by the struggle between the rich and poor.53

Whereas the classical evidence is quite abundant and clear, however, an archaic concept of a “middling” lifestyle, let alone a “middling” social class, proves almost nonexistent. Some poets, like Hesiod and Solon, urged “moderation” in the pursuit of wealth, but this was not conceived of as a “middle” way. The closest Solon comes to using the concept of the middle is when he says that he “stood like a boundary marker in the space between the lines of battle” in a looming civil war (37.8–9). The image evokes political neutrality at a time of conflict, as do a few lines of Theognis that explicitly speak of staying “in the middle” (219–20, 331–32). Only once in Theognis is “the middle way” (mesa) used to mean “moderation” (335–36)—a significant conceptual innovation, but without any implication that such moderation was characteristic of a broader “middle” group. No such group appears anywhere else in Theognis, who, like Solon, sees the world strictly in polarized terms of upper-class “good men” (agathoi) and lower-class “bad men” (kakoi).54

Phocylides’ couplet is in fact the sole archaic text that speaks of “those in the middle” as a group, and as a permanent element of the city as a whole. Who form this “middle class” is far from obvious: they may be a new class of yeomen farmers, or they may be the lower strata of the landed elite redefining themselves as a “moderate” middle class at a time when the very rich raised conspicuous consumption to new levels of extravagance. Hanson cites Aristotle’s occasional association of the “middle” with a class of working farmers, but one cannot simply project classical idea(l)s onto Phocylides, and even less onto other archaic poetry. Even if one did, one would have to remember that Aristotle did not associate the “middle” with working farmers alone but was quite happy stretching the middle so wide that it could include, for instance, the lawgiver Lycurgus on the basis that he was regent of Sparta, not king. Moreover, Aristotle also conceded that almost nowhere in the Greek world had there ever been a middle class large enough to balance the forces of rich and poor.55 So we cannot safely infer that a sizable yeoman class existed by the time of Phocylides. His concept of a middle class, and Theognis’ concept of a middle way, are nevertheless significant: they show the emergence, circa 540 BC, of a conceptual space, as it were, that independent working farmers could in principle fill.

The Archaeologists’ Empty Countryside

Material evidence for agriculture plays only a small role in Hanson’s argument, but he does cite instances where field divisions indicate farm sizes. The only place where 10-acre farms emerge as the norm is the Crimea, where in the fifth century BC a general redistribution of land produced many plots of 11–12 acres. All the other instances are also of classical date, and reveal only a few more farms of about 10 acres, while the vast majority range from just over 20 acres to 100 acres. One estimate for early fifth-centuryMetapontum suggests that only 8 percent of farms were 11 acres in size, 27 percent were 22 acres, and 63 percent covered between 33 and 88 acres. Hanson makes the fair point that evidently even the rich in Greece were not very much richer than the yeomen (although he concedes that the wealthiest may have owned more than one farm: 1995, 187; 195), but the fact remains that 10-acre farms are rare even in the classical material record, which does reveal estates large enough to enable a leisure-class existence.56

Elsewhere, a variety of archaeological survey projects has now revealed that the Greek countryside was largely “empty” until the late sixth century. The evidence is discussed more fully elsewhere in this volume, but one example may illustrate the point. The Laconia Survey, which covered a large area from the immediate northeast of Sparta itself to the border of Laconia, found no signs of habitation between 700 and 550 BC, only a few dedications at two sanctuary sites. At some point between 550 and 450, however, the landscape filled up dramatically, with dozens of farms, several hamlets, and even a small town. These remarkable findings are mirrored elsewhere, including Metapontum.57 The material evidence is open to interpretation, of course, but it seems clear that it is incompatible with the notion of a sizable class of yeomen living on their farmsteads outside town before 550 BC. The emptiness of the landscape strongly suggests that landowners lived in town, and that cultivators lived there, too, or else lived on the land under such simple conditions that they left no trace in the archaeological record.

Conversely, the filling-in of the Greek countryside after circa 550 BC suggests a new pattern of landownership or agricultural exploitation. What exactly happened in Sparta remains unclear, since the regimented Spartan lifestyle kept citizens closely tied to the city, and they were unlikely to have begun to settle in the countryside. But elsewhere in Greece, the emergence of country-dwelling small farmers may explain the spread of rural settlement, and this may be our earliest evidence, perhaps along with Phocylides’ praise of “middling men,” for the rise of the yeoman farmer—from the mid-sixth century onward.58

The Republic of Gentlemen: Another Model

At the center of ancient Greek history stands a protagonist much less sympathetic than the hardworking independent farming family of The Other Greeks. This is the gentleman farmer, whom on the basis of the evidence discussed above we may define as follows:

• A gentleman farmer owned at least 30 acres (12 ha) of land, which was enough in principle for him and his family to afford a life of leisure in town, even if in practice many may have been actively involved in the management of their farms.

• A gentleman farmer’s labor force consisted of at least four agricultural workers and two domestic servants, hired or slave.

• Gentlemen farmers constituted probably no more than 10–15 percent of citizens in most archaic Greek cities.59

In writing the history of Greece, we must take as our starting point that for almost the whole of the archaic age, leisured landowners and their laborers—sharecroppers, hired men, with or without a tiny plot of land of their own, slaves, and serfs—are the only significant social classes attested. Not until later did independent yeomen farmers emerge as a class in some parts of the Greek world, including Athens—and this development must have had a fundamental impact on the history of the classical period. This chapter cannot, of course, present a full-dress revised history of ancient Greece to rival The Other Greeks, but I will try to sketch what such a history might look like, even if this means making bold claims without being able to offer the further substantiation that they sorely need.

Land, Labor, and Rivalry for Wealth and Honor

The striking developments of the eighth century, especially from 750 BC onward, reflect the emergence of an elite of gentlemen farmers. Population growth at the time does not now seem as drastic as was once argued, and the evidence for a shift from pastoral to agricultural economies is very limited, so for an explanation we may look instead to the sort of fierce competition for wealth, both land and livestock, on which Hesiod comments. This presumably had been a feature of Greek life for centuries and may have ultimately produced a separation between landed elite and dependent labor by 750 BC. It was this new elite that displayed its wealth and consolidated its dominant position by settling together in larger nucleated settlements, building sanctuaries and filling them with dedications, as well as constructing fortifications, more complex houses, and more visible grave monuments. The relative egalitarianism that one can often observe in the material record from this time onward reflects an egalitarian culture within the landed elite. It did not extend to yeomen farmers, if there were any, let alone to dependent farmers or laborers, who remain essentially invisible in the archaeological record.60

Much of archaic history can be understood as the product of two basic dynamics: tension between egalitarianism and competitiveness within the class of gentlemen farmers; and tension between the landed elite and the rest of the population. Competition for honor (time), in the form of status and power, meant that every individual and family aimed to raise their own standing while not allowing their peers to advance themselves. Often an informal group of ruling families, such as the basileis of Hesiod’s world, the Bacchiads of Corinth, or the Eupatridae of Athens, established itself within the landed elite, but their dominance was always resented and challenged by the other gentlemen farmers.61 In order to end or prevent violent conflict between sections of the landed elite, Greek cities generally developed, in the course of the seventh and early sixth centuries, republican systems of government with clear rules for power sharing among all leisured landowners. Solon’s property classes are an example of such timocratic republican institutions, which are far less “broad-based” than those envisaged by Hanson. Rivalry for status was meant to take place within this republican framework, but leading men were often not content to compete within the rules and instead established themselves as monarchs, “tyrants.” This met fierce resistance, and a republic of gentlemen was usually soon restored.

Competition for wealth also led to conflict within the elite as well as to increasing exploitation of the labor force, debtors, and dependants. One response was to counter the ethos of conspicuous leisure and consumption with the ideology of “toil” that we find in Hesiod, according to which the only legitimate way to gain wealth was through active farm management, close supervision of the labor force, profitable sale of surplus, and a relatively austere lifestyle. Another response was to compete by seizing wealth from new sources, through the internal “colonization” of marginal land, by raiding or settling overseas, or even by means of the conquest of neighboring territory.

Homer and archaeology suggest that marginal land was not occupied by independent small farmers but by large estates and herds; presumably the landed elite used force and intimidation to prevent their poorer neighbors from carving out their own small farms here. New settlements abroad often seem to have started out on an egalitarian basis, but even if some or most of the colonists had been poor men at home, the communities they established abroad adopted the egalitarianism of a leisure class rather than of a community of working farmers. The model is Syracuse, where the Greek settlers subjected the local population and ruled as gamoroi, landowners, over native serfs.62 Raiding overseas was widespread, and slaves must have been the raiders’ main spoils, so that these expeditions not only alleviated the poverty of the ships’ crews but also increased the wealth of the captains and created a supply of chattel slaves for their labor force. As for the conquest of neighboring territory, the reduction of the Messenians to a serf population feeding a leisured Spartan elite is usually regarded as unique, but there is evidence that it was by no means unusual in the archaic period.63

Despite the availability of external sources of land and labor and the preaching against violent greed by the likes of Hesiod and Solon, intense rivalry for wealth also led the gentleman-farmer elite to usurp the use of common and private land, exploit their workforce, enslave their debtors, and abuse legal process. This sparked widespread social crises from 650/600 BC onward, including radical calls for the redistribution of land in Sparta and Athens. Such social unrest could be tapped by ambitious members of the elite in their competition for status, enabling them to mobilize not only factional support within the elite but also broad popular backing for seizing monarchical power. Solon’s pride in not having imposed himself as tyrant on Athens despite having the enthusiastic support of the masses shows how well established this pattern was by 600 BC.64

In many Greek cities, such crises were never more than temporarily resolved and continued to erupt over the following centuries. But some places did achieve greater stability in the second half of the sixth century. Athens and Sparta provide us with two models that were probably mirrored in other cities.

In Athens, the position of the poor working masses was gradually improved by means of internal reform that imposed restrictions on exploitation and offered better legal protection. According to later tradition the tyrant Peisistratus even provided direct material support for farmers in need of plow oxen or seed corn. Conquest of some overseas territory in Salamis, Sigeum, the Chersonese, and Chalcis also helped. The result was the emergence, finally, of a class of independent working farmers. In 322 BC, as we saw, Athens had about 5,000 leisure-class citizens, 4,000 independent working-class citizens, no doubt still mainly farmers, and another 20,000 or so citizens who labored for others. Note that yeomen “middling” farmers, although now a significant class, were the smallest social group, forming at most 13 percent of the citizen population. The proportions may have been similar by about 500 BC. This new social class remained thetes under the terms of the Athenian property-class system, however, and acquired no new formal political rights beyond their roles in popular assemblies and courts, unless perhaps they were entitled to serve on the reformed council instituted by Cleisthenes in 508 BC, which is not clear.

In Sparta, stability was achieved in the first instance by conquest of large tracts of land in Laconia and Messenia and the subjection of their inhabitants, which enabled large numbers of Spartiates to become gentlemen farmers, and staved off demands for a redistribution of land. This strategy continued after the completion of the conquest of Messenia, circa 600 BC, with attempts to seize land and labor also in neighboring Arcadia and Cynouria until circa 550 BC. After that, expeditions of conquest gave way to wars of hegemony, in which defeated enemies became subject allies rather than serfs. At about the same time, the famously “austere” and egalitarian material culture of classical Sparta emerged. It was thus probably in the late sixth century, when further conquests failed, that Sparta turned to a different way of avoiding internal conflict by creating a rigid distinction between leisure-class landowning citizens and a subject labor force, and inhibiting competition for wealth by imposing on all citizens a strictly egalitarian material culture while channeling rivalry for honor into highly regulated forms of competition.65

Far from being a “bizarre mutation” or Dark Age relic, the social and economic structure that we encounter in classical Sparta and the similar systems found in the towns of Crete and Thessaly were thus created in the late archaic period in response to the same pressures that affected Athens, Megara, Miletus, and other cities. The Spartan solution was to make as many citizens as possible gentlemen farmers at the expense of outsiders and to resort to extreme self-regulation of the leisure class. The Athenian model involved less self-regulation by the gentleman-farmer elite, and fewer conquests, but more protection of the working classes, which allowed a yeoman class to establish itself and play some part in political life even if its formal rights remained confined to voting in assemblies and juries.

Despite the reformers’ best efforts, competition for wealth and status did not stop, and in many places ultimately proved more powerful than the laws and political structures that were set up to rein it in. Already by the late fifth century, there were signs of renewed concentration of land in the hands of a few, and a shrinking of the yeoman class and ultimately even of the gentleman farmer class. Renewed exploitation of credit and labor caused new social crises; timocratic regimes became narrower and often turned into oligarchies. Even the heavily regulated elite of landowning citizens in Sparta shrank at an alarming rate, from a possible 9,000 at the time of the sixth-century reform to a mere 1,100 on the eve of the battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. Most of the losses must be due to a concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer citizens, which caused the others to fall below the property requirement and become “inferiors.”66

Only where the rise of the yeoman class was accompanied by other major economic and social developments was it possible for broader timocracies and even democracies to establish and maintain themselves. From the mid-sixth century onward, the scale of Greek overseas trade increased dramatically, as the appearance of specialized merchant ships suggests, and this allowed substantial groups of traders and crafts-men to develop in cities such as Athens. The rise of professional traders may indeed have been another factor that helped working farmers to gain their independence, insofar as they were able and willing to produce for the market, rather than for home consumption, and improve their profit margins.67 The late sixth century also saw the first wars for naval hegemony and the adoption of the trireme as the dominant warship, which provided seasonal employment for increasingly large numbers of men, and made many of the poor and landless gradually less dependent on their wealthy neighbors for pay.68 In fifth-century Athens, commercial and naval success were reinforced by imperial and other public revenues to create levels of prosperity that allowed not only yeomen farmers but also the rest of the working classes to assert themselves in politics. As a result, legal restrictions on office holding that still existed in name were no longer upheld after circa 450 BC, and, crucially, the introduction of pay for office enabled even working men to serve as councillors and magistrates.69 Yeomen farmers played their role in such developments here and elsewhere, but it is telling that Aristotle regarded farmers as least likely of all working-class men to exercise their political rights, and that a coup d’état in Athens in 411 BC restored rule by the leisure class while cutting out yeomen farmers along with the rest of the “mob.”70

The ultimate fate of the broad timocratic and democratic regimes that did take hold in Greece is a matter of controversy, but it seems likely that in the Hellenistic period, and under the Roman Empire, the trend was a return to de facto rule by rather narrow timocracies, even if the forms of democracy were commonly retained.71

The Development of the Hoplite Phalanx

If this sketch of the changing social and economic structures of the Greek world is along the right lines, then for most of the archaic age only the top 10–15 percent of the population, the gentlemen farmers, could afford to equip themselves with a hoplite panoply. The other 85–90 percent of the community were too poor to afford much armor, and if they fought at all, it must have been mainly with missiles. In other words, even a large archaic city with 10,000 adult males had a hoplite militia of only 1,000–1,500 men, while in many towns hoplites numbered in the hundreds. Not until the rise of yeomen farmers and other independent working families from the mid-sixth century onward could hoplite armies include up to 40 percent of the population and thus have significantly larger absolute numbers.

Our very limited evidence for hoplite numbers in the archaic age does not contradict this conclusion. The sole contemporary source is an inscription of unknown but surely archaic date reported by Strabo (10.1.10) that recorded a festival parade at Eretria in which 60 chariots, 600 horsemen, and 3,000 hoplites took part, presumably the whole of Eretria’s forces. This may sound like a large number but it must be remembered that Eretria, a leading city in archaic Greece, controlled one of the largest territories held by any city-state: in the sixth century, it occupied about 900–1,000 km2. If these troops amounted to 40–50 percent of the population, population density would have been extremely low. Corinth, with a territory of about the same size, raised a field army of 5,000 hoplites in 479 BC, which implies a total hoplite militia of at least 7,500, twice as large as Eretria’s. And according to Herodotus, Naxos, with a territory about half as large, had a total of 8,000 hoplites in 500 BC. This suggests that the Eretrian forces listed in the archaic inscription represented a much smaller proportion of the citizen population.72

Our only other archaic figures are not contemporary: they derive from stories reported by Plutarch, who says that Solon conquered Salamis with a force of only 500 men, and that a catastrophic defeat around 600 BC left 1,000 Samians dead on the battlefield. Since Samos was at least as prominent a power as Naxos and had a slightly larger territory, one would have expected it to be able to raise 8,000 hoplites or more, and this massacre would not have been far above the average of 14 percent casualties for the loser in a hoplite battle. For the loss of 1,000 men to count as a historic catastrophe, the Samian militia must have been much smaller.73

The first indications of much larger numbers of hoplites come from 500 BC onward, beginning with the figure for Naxos already cited, followed by the figure of 6,000 Argive soldiers massacred by Sparta in the battle of Sepeia, circa 494 BC, and the figures for the Greek field armies in the Persian Wars, including Corinth’s 5,000, Athens’ 9,000, and the 3,000 each of Megara and Sicyon, all probably representing at most two-thirds of the total available number of hoplites.74 Herodotus says that at Plataea the proportion of hoplites to light-armed was roughly fifty-fifty. Only Sparta still fielded an archaic-style leisure-class hoplite militia, making up a mere 12.5 percent of its forces.75

For a century and a half since the introduction of the hoplite shield and body armor, circa 700 BC, hoplite militias therefore consisted of leisure-class landowners. Working yeomen farmers began to join their ranks only from 550 BC onward. This chronology happens to fit well with Aristotle’s famous account of the rise of the hoplite phalanx, which is commonly misused as evidence for the rise of a hoplite middle class in the seventh century:

The first political system among the Greeks also emerged from the warriors, after the kingships: the very first form emerged from the horsemen—because strength and superiority in war lay with these horsemen, since hoplite forces are useless without organisation [suntaxis] and among the ancients there was no experience or order [taxis] in such matters, so that strength lay with the horsemen—but when the cities grew and those with hoplite equipment grew stronger, more people became part of the political system…. The ancient political systems were oligarchic and royal for good reason, because they did not have a large middle class on account of their small populations, so that the multitude, being few, was more ready to endure being ruled even when they wereorganized [kai kata tên suntaxin]. (Pol. 1297b16–28)

The idea here is not, as some modern scholars argue, that the introduction of hoplite equipment transformed warfare and politics at a stroke, but that there were two phases of development. Once upon a time, hoplite forces existed but oligarchies of horsemen still ruled because hoplites were too disorganized to play a significant military role and too few in number to assert themselves in politics. Later, however, hoplite numbers increased, their military efficiency improved, and their political power grew. Aristotle had already indicated in an earlier passage when, to his mind, this second phase began:

In ancient times there were oligarchies in all cities whose power was based on their horses, for they used horses in their wars against neighbours, as did, for example, the Eretrians and Chalcidians and the Magnesians on the Maeander, and many of the others in Asia. (Pol. 1289b30–40)

The dates of the regimes “in Asia” are difficult to establish, but Aristotle knew that in Eretria the oligarchy of Hippeis was not overthrown until sometime after 546 BC, and that in Chalcis a similar oligarchy of Hippobotai was overthrown only in 506 BC. It seems to me that Aristotle here does little more than project his political philosophy into the past, and that his account is of almost no historical value. But if one does regard it as useful evidence, as Hanson and others do, then Aristotle supports the view that the rise of the hoplite phalanx was a two-stage process, which had political consequences only in the second stage, with the rise of the “middle-class” hoplite in the late sixth century.76

The strict separation between warriors and cultivators imposed in classical Sparta, Crete, and Thessaly was thus, again, no relic from the Dark Age, but a formalization of the norm established in the archaic age, when hoplites were leisured landowners, living off the labor of slaves and dependants. Even in late fifth-century Athens a formal obligation to serve in the hoplite militia was still confined to the zeugitai and the two richer property classes, that is, the leisured elite. The thetes, now including large numbers of yeomen farmers, were merely under a moral obligation to contribute to the defense of the city and to join in general mobilizations for short campaigns. The limited legal liability for hoplite service is why Athenian hoplite forces picked from “the list” (katalogos) were rarely larger than 1,000 or 2,000 men; why every man in such forces could afford to bring along a slave attendant; and why, according to Aristotle, it was “the rich,” not the middle classes or the poor, who suffered the greatest casualties in the Peloponnesian War. The distinction between leisure-class and working-class hoplites faded in Athens only in the fourth century, when expeditionary forces were no longer handpicked from “the list,” but mobilized by age group; it disappeared completely in 336 BC, when the state began to pay for the basic equipment and training of every hoplite in the reformed ephebeia.77

Few Greek states can have matched fifth-century Athens in the egalitarianism of its political climate or the sheer number of its yeomen hoplites. If the distinction between leisure-class and working-class hoplites was nevertheless preserved in military organization at least until the time of the Sicilian expedition, when Athenian democracy was at its peak, the distinction surely also continued to exist elsewhere in fifth-century Greece. Indeed, the creation of a leisure-class hoplite army remained the ideal of Greek intellectuals. Hippodamus of Miletus, Plato, and Aristotle built their ideal states on the premise that the citizens who ruled these states should be soldiers and leave the farming to others. In Ways and Means, the pragmatic Xenophon proposed fund-raising schemes designed to exempt all Athenian citizens from the need to work by providing them with a subsistence minimum at public expense. Greek thinkers did speak of farmers as good hoplites, made strong and tough by their toil, and determined to resist any invasion on account of their attachment to the land (Hanson 1995, 221–23, 242–43). But even if farmers made better soldiers than craftsmen or traders, they were still only second-best to rich landowning hoplites whose physical and mental fitness derived from elite leisure pursuits: wrestling, running, and other athletic exercises as well as hunting. In Hanson’s terms, the “ugly muscle” of farmers may have been appreciated, but “elegant muscle” always continued to be rated most highly.78

The predominance of the leisure-class hoplite in the archaic age undermines Hanson’s idea that the conventions of hoplite warfare, and indeed hoplite arms and armor as such, were shaped by the needs of yeomen farmers, who needed a kind of warfare that caused minimal disruption to their farming duties and was effectively confined to instantly decisive battles fought in close combat, “afternoon wars” in the summer season.79 Since leisured gentlemen landowners were not subject to the same constraints on their time, this explanation will not work. It is in any case highly questionable whether archaic warfare was ever restricted to pitched hoplite battles, and not at all certain that archaic infantry battles were fought in the same way as classical hoplite battles. If, instead of relying on classical caricatures of what warfare was like “in the old days,” one considers what little evidence we have for actual archaic wars, it quickly becomes obvious that sieges, ambushes, and raids were at least as common as pitched battle, and that the rules of engagement spanned the range from restricted “agonal” combat to the mobilization of all resources to inflict the greatest possible damage. Insofar as archaic warfare did have its limitations, these were not imposed by the interests of small farmers, but by the limited military manpower, military organization, and above all public finances of archaic cities.80

How one assesses the impact of the rise of the yeoman farmer in the late sixth century depends to a large extent on one’s views on the nature of hoplite equipment. If, with Hanson and Cartledge, one believes that the hoplite’s double-grip shield, restrictive Corinthian helmet, and heavy body armor are compatible only with fighting in a close-order formation, then the phalanx must have taken its classical form already in 700 BC, and the subsequent rise of the yeoman would have doubled the size of the phalanx without fundamentally changing anything else. If, however, with Snodgrass and Krentz, one believes that the shield and armor were designed simply to give added protection and could equally have been used in an open and fluid style of fighting, then the rise of the yeoman may have been the factor that transformed this earlier style of fighting and created the phalanx in its classical form. On the latter scenario, it is possible that archaic leisure-class hoplites were accompanied into battle by small groups of personal friends and dependants, some of them hoplites, others light-armed, like the heroes of Homer and their “retainers” (therapontes). The support and protection of these followers enabled them to carry relatively heavy and constricting armor, but made it impossible to form closed ranks of hoplites. With the rise of the independent working farmer, however, the pool of dependants was reduced while the proportion of poorer hoplites without followers of their own increased greatly. This may have tilted the balance toward relegating the remaining light-armed to the rear or flanks while forming the hoplites, at last, into an exclusive heavy infantry formation.81

It is notable that the heaviest panoplies, with bronze arm and thigh guards, disappear in the late sixth century, as do images in art of mounted hoplites, while the Corinthian helmet was abandoned in favor of more open-face types after 500 BC. Even more strikingly, as Peter Krentz has shown, two of the best-known “agonal” conventions for marking the end of hoplite battle, setting up a tropaion and concluding a truce for the retrieval of the dead, are first attested in the early fifth century BC. These changes suggest that the phalanx did indeed change in nature when the yeoman class emerged. Because personal followers were no longer on hand to assist their masters, the most restrictive armor was abandoned; and because a close formation replaced a fluid order, mounted hoplites vanished. Since close-order battles were decided at the moment either side broke and ran, without any prospect of rallying and resuming battle time and again in the Homeric manner, a tropaion marking the “turning point” now, for the first time, became a meaningful symbol, and immediate truces for the retrieval of the dead became viable and desirable.82

The rise of the classical phalanx and its conventions of battle may thus have begun only in the late sixth century, at the very same time that the scale of naval warfare increased exponentially with the introduction of the trireme, soon followed by notable developments in siege warfare and an increasing use of mercenaries. These developments undermined the military dominance of the leisure-class hoplite, but not of the hoplite as such or of pitched heavy-infantry battle: these continued to play as important a part as ever in the spectrum of military operations, and remained the most prestigious kind of soldier and form of combat throughout the classical period and beyond. The trend toward larger-scale warfare, however, meant that the numbers of citizen-hoplites were often too small to match a city’s ambitions, a problem aggravated by shrinking numbers of hoplites as a result of the trend toward a renewed concentration of property. In the Hellenistic period, the result was generally a return to smaller, leisure-class militias, supplemented by mercenary forces.83

Whether the rise of the hoplite phalanx, as reinterpreted above, could still have inspired a “hoplite revolution” or “hoplite reform,” as many have argued, is doubtful. With Hanson, I have argued that the fundamental changes were social and economic, and that changes in war and politics merely reflected these structural developments. This does not entirely rule out, however, the possibility that military changes in their own right did contribute to political change. After all, the most pervasive legitimation of political power in Greek thought was the idea that power was earned by playing a decisive role in war.84 One could therefore still argue, in principle, that the adoption of hoplite armor around 700 BC was a factor in consolidating the power of an elite class of leisured landowners established about fifty years earlier, and that it contributed to creating an ethos of elite egalitarianism in these early republics of gentlemen. But there is no good evidence that the constitutional reforms and tyrannical coups of the seventh and early sixth centuries, which have traditionally been linked to the rise of the phalanx, were designed to give hoplites a share of political power; instead, as I have suggested, they seem concerned mainly to contain conflict within the hoplite elite and between this elite and its exploited labor force.85

If there ever was a hoplite revolution as conventionally envisaged, a military change that brought a share in power for up to half of adult male citizens, it would have taken place in the late sixth century. One might therefore look to tyrants like Polycrates and Peisistratus, or more promisingly to Cleisthenes and his reforms, as possible champions of the new class of yeomen hoplites—but again direct connections are hard to establish. If warfare did have an impact on politics, it would in any case have been the whole complex of late sixth-century military changes that did so, not just the further development of the hoplite phalanx. The rise of the yeoman hoplite went hand in hand with the rise of the trireme rower, and if they changed the face of Greek politics, they changed it together.


    1. In response to comments by one of the anonymous referees for the press, I should clarify the term “leisured”: perhaps somewhat provocatively, I use it to indicate landowners whose farms are cultivated by hired or coerced labor, i.e., those who can in principle afford to live in leisure. In practice, many members of this “leisure class” may well work quite hard in managing their farms, but they have at least the option of adopting a leisured lifestyle, unlike “working” yeoman farmers who rely largely on their own and their family’s labor. I am grateful to both referees for their helpful comments and suggestions.

    2. Hanson 1995, 5, 22, 193, 219, 359, 366, 368, 398. Ten to twenty acres is given as “‘normative’ ” on p. 188, but a note here (478 n. 6) gives 8–10 acres as “typical” and 10 acres as “average.”

    3. Hanson 1995, 68, 70; and generally on pervasive use of slave labor by yeoman farmers: 50, 63–70, 127; cf. on Hesiod, below.

    4. Hanson 1995, 105, 114, 207, 213, 374, 479 n. 6 (nearly half); 208, 406 (one-third to half). The statement that “one third to one half” of the population fell below yeoman status (411) is presumably a slip and should read “two thirds to one half.”

    5. Hanson 1995, 5–6; farmstead residence also, e.g., 22, 50–51, 65, 127.

    6. Hanson 1995, 16 (economic changes from 750 onward); 202, 296, 328ff. (dominant 700–500 or 490); on p. 186, a line is drawn earlier, c. 550 BC, but it is also said that “widespread landed equality” continued until 400 BC.

    7. Hanson 1995, 16, 32–33, 44 (agriculture v. pastoralism); 36–41 (population growth and consequences); 40 (leasing); 50–87 (intensive cultivation; esp. 79–85: marginal land).

    8. Hanson 1995, 225–328.

    9. Hanson 1995, esp. 202–19 (broad timocracies); cf. 202, 239, 471–72 n. 21 (tyranny).

  10. Hanson 1995, 327–55, 369–75 (military developments); 359, 365–68, 375–79 (economic developments); 394–98 (rise of large estates, replacing family farms).

  11. Sparta and Crete as anomalies: Hanson 1995, 105 (atypical, different development), 242 (“strange,” “outside culture of polis”), 275, 293–94 (“special problems”), 333, 391–92 (“bizarre”), 484 n. 4; also 110 (Thessaly—lack of development from Dark Age).

  12. Hanson 1995, 195 with 481 n. 12; cf. Burford 1993, 67–72, 113–16; Gallant 1991, 86–87. The property qualification of 2,000 dr. in Athens implies a 10-acre farm: see below.

  13. Od. 24.205–12, 220–34, 244–57, 336–44, 361–411; cf. 1.189–93; 11.187–96.

  14. Od. 24.384–85, 408–11; for the distinction, see van Wees 1995a, 151–53.

  15. Od. 1.189–93 (“no longer” comes into town, and suffers “miseries” [pemata] on farm);11.187–94 (wears “ ‘bad clothes,’ ” does not sleep in a bed, but on the ground, “grieving, and sorrow waxes great in his heart”); 24.227–33 (poor, patched-up clothes express his grief).

  16. Other marginal farm, hired labor: Od. 357–61 (owned by Eurymachus, the richest of Odysseus’ rivals: 15.16–18). Herds: Od. 14.1–28, 103–5.

  17. Adapted proverb: West 1978, 259–60. Aristotle cites only the “proverbial” verse (405) and omits the modification (406; Pol. 1252b11; Oec. 1343a21) because it suits his argument to treat the woman as the farmer’s wife, and this does not prove that line 406 was a late insertion; no later than the third century BC it was widely known as a line of Hesiod’s (Timaeus FGrH 566 F 157). The argument that 406 may not be original because Hesiod elsewhere does not show an interest in livestock (West 1978, 260) is not valid: see below. Hanson 1995, 107, 130–31, and, e.g., Edwards 2004, 83 n. 4, are therefore not justified in ignoring 406 and assuming that the woman is a wife.

  18. Alternatively, the farmer had no real choice, and Hesiod described an ideal; cf. his recommendation of nine-year-old oxen for the plow (W&D 436–40): ideal, or ownership of numerous oxen? The possibility that the plowman and sower are hired laborers (West 1978, 270; Edwards 2004, 84) is ruled out by 459 (and made unlikely by 469–71).

  19. W&D 600–608; for the meaning of the passage, see West 1978, 309–10. Alternatively, one could read “make a hired man homeless,” i.e., dismiss him from your employment: either way, hired labor is used. Hanson 1995, 107, acknowledges the female laborer only.

  20. See esp. Gallant 1991, 82–87; absolute minimum requirement is c. 2 acres per person.

  21. Isager and Skydsgaard 1992, 108–14; Gallant 1982, 113–17; Jameson 1978, 125–30.

  22. W&D 623–32, 689–91; there are auspicious days for a woodcutter to cut timber for houses and ships (807–8), to start building ships (809), to launch ships (817–18): these are the only nonagricultural activities (other than weaving) mentioned in the entire almanac.

  23. Master: W&D 582–96; slaves: 597–600 (cf. 805–7: a good day for threshing, “while keeping a very close eye,” i.e., supervising the threshing). The period during which the master sits in the shade starts “when the golden thistle flowers,” which is around the summer solstice, i.e., 21 June (West 1978, 304 ad 582); the threshing begins at the rising of Orion, i.e., 20 June (West, 309 ad 598), so that the master’s relaxation and the slaves’ labor are simultaneous, as indeed the structure of Hesiod’s account suggests. West 1978, 54 and 253, is therefore wrong to think that the master rests only after the threshing.

  24. See Xenophon, Oeconomicus 11.12–18 (contra Hanson 1995, 65). Note the ambiguity about the role of the landowner’s sons, if he has several: “more people, more care (melete), greater surplus” (W&D 380): more labor or more extensive supervision?

  25. For the meaning of penia, see Hemelrijk 1925, 11–54; cf. van Wees 2004, 34–36; Finley 1973, 40–41. Penia: W&D 497, 638 (634–38: the “poor” man “is lacking a fine [esthlos] livelihood”), 717; arkios bios: 501, 577.

  26. Hunger and debt: W&D 363–67, 394–404, 647; hunger: 298–302; debt: 477–78.

  27. Hanson 1995, 98–102. Wealth as the goal in Hesiod: see also W&D 287–92, 312–13; expansion of herds is implied at W&D 308; cf. 102.

  28. This analysis of W&D is developed further in van Wees 2009, 445–50.

  29. Theogony 79–97; W&D 37–41, 202–11, 219–69.

  30. Hanson 1995, 111–12; also, e.g., Murray 1993, 194 (zeugitai have “12+ acres”).

  31. Foxhall 1997, 129–32; see further van Wees 2001 and 2006a.

  32. See Foxhall and Forbes 1982, 41–90.

  33. Xenophon, Poroi 4.17 and 33, implies that 3 obols per day are a living wage for a family; see for prices and cost of living Markle 1985, 293–97; Loomis 1998, 220–31.

  34. The weight of the medimnos is now known from the Grain-Tax Law of 374/3 BC (Rhodes-Osborne no. 26; Stroud 1998): 1 talent (27.5 kg) for barley; 1.2 talent (33 kg) for wheat. Previously, weights of respectively 33.55 and 40.28 kg had been widely accepted (after Foxhall and Forbes 1982) and were accordingly adopted in my own earlier calculations (van Wees 2001 and 2006a). Volume of metretes: Foxhall and Forbes 1982.

  35. Maximum barley and wheat yields based on Gallant 1991, 77: statistics for average yields of Attica and Boeotia 1911–1950, inflated by chemical fertilizer from c. 1930 onward. See further van Wees 2001, 48–51; 2006a, 360–67.

  36. Maximum oil and wine yields based on Amouretti and Brun (eds.), 1993, 554, 557–61.

  37. Olive export: Plut. Solon 24.1; see further below, n. 48.

  38. Minimum land prices: e.g., Lambert 1997, 229–33, 257–65; a higher price is also attested: Lysias 19.29, 42 (83 dr. per plethron).

  39. On the 2,000 dr. census, see n. 40, and Hanson 1995, 296, 479, noted above. On liturgical and leisure-class censuses: Davies 1984, 28–29; Ober 1989, 128–29.

  40. Diod. 18.18.4–5: 9,000 citizens owned 2,000 dr. or more; the vexed question of the total size of the citizen population implied by Diodorus, by Plutarch, Phocion 28.4, and by the census figures of Demetrius of Phaleron (Athenaeus 272c) is discussed in detail in van Wees 2011a, which ends up endorsing the common view that it was c. 30,000 in 322 BC. If only about 5,000 men belonged to the three highest property classes, one can see why after an earlier oligarchic coup in 411 BC citizen rights were restricted to the wealthiest 5,000 men, who at the time constituted rather less than half of those who served as hoplites in the Athenian army: see van Wees 2001, 56–59.

  41. The only way to avoid this conclusion is to declare the Solonian property censuses a fiction (Ste. Croix 2004, 28–56; Valdéz Guía 2008, 70 n. 349), or to argue that they were originally much lower (Raaflaub 2006, 405–23; 2007, 128–32). In van Wees 2001, 54–56; 2006a, 362–67, I have tried to show that neither view is tenable.

  42. See van Wees 1999a, 16–18.

  43. On the threat of violent conflict, see also van Wees 2008a, 25–35.

  44. Hanson 1995, 122; see further van Wees 1999a, 18–24.

  45. See also Plutarch, Solon 13.1. Hanson regards the statements of pseudo-Aristotle and Plutarch about landownership as “somewhat of an exaggeration” and “an incorrect generalisation,” on the grounds that by the late fifth century “at least two-thirds of Attica constituted small farmers” (1995, 122). My argument is that the rise of these small farmers occurred after, and partly as a result of, Solon’s reforms. Hanson suggests that only a few small farmers whose enterprises failed resorted to extreme measures such as borrowing on the security of their own bodies, or accepting sixth-parter sharecropping contracts (122–24)—but failing farmers can spark a general crisis only if they fail in large numbers, and the question is what structural factors caused so many to fail (clearly not incompetence, as Hanson hints in suggesting that Solon’s reforms rewarded “agricultural expertise,” 125).

  46. Fr. 13.47–48: “he labours for a year”; the verb latreuein implies a hired laborer.

  47. Frs. 4, 4b, 4c, 11; see van Wees 1999a, 10–29; Fisher 1992, 69–75.

  48. See van Wees 2006a, 376–81. Hanson 1995, 123–24, argues that Solon did nothing to help the thetes; on 122–23, he suggests that the export ban was an attempt to encourage yeomen farmers to cultivate “olives and vines” while restricting richer cereal farmers, but this cannot be right, because export of all produce other than olive oil was banned. The ban is also unlikely to be an attempt to convert farmers to olive cultivation. Rather, it deprived the richest farmers of the most profitable outlet for their surpluses and thereby removed an incentive to compete for more land; olive oil was exempted simply because it was already too important an export: van Wees 2009, 463; Stanley 1999, 229–34.

  49. Sparta: Diodorus 7.12.6 (“love of silver”); Tyrtaeus fr. 2 West (redistribution of land), with van Wees 1999b, 2–6. Competition for wealth as a threat: Alcaeus fr. 360 L–P; Theognis, e.g. 227–32. Later evidence: Plutarch, Mor. 295cd, 304ef (Megara); Herodotus 5.28–29 (Miletus), as explained by van Wees 2008a, 29–31; contra Forsdyke 2005; and Hanson’s view that such conflict was exceptional: 1995, 109, 119.

  50. See van Wees 2000a, 57–63.

  51. Od. 11.293 (herdsmen of Iphicles); 21.85 (herdsmen of Odysseus); Il. 11.676 (herdsmen of Itymoneus); Il. 11.548–55, 18.162 (herdsmen in similes); only at Il. 15.271–76 is the status of the agroiotai hunting in the mountains not clear.

  52. “Rustics”: Sappho, frs. 57, 110; cf. Crielaard 2009, 358–59. Hanson suggests that Theognis’ rustics are “dressed like Laertes and Hesiod,” i.e., as farmers (1995, 120; cf. 106–7); however, the “threadbare goatskin” is closer to the “bald deerskin” of a beggar (Od. 13.434–38), not only because both are worn out, but also because both are worn instead of a woolen cloak, whereas Hesiod’s farmer (in wet, cold weather, W&D 536–46) and the swineherd Eumaeus (at night, Od. 14.428–31) wear good-quality goatskin capeson top of a cloak and tunic; on Homeric and archaic dress, see van Wees 2005; 2006b.

  53. See esp. Morris 2000, 114–19 (classical), 157–71 (archaic); also Kurke 1999; contra Kistler 2004; Hammer 2004. Despite saying at one point that “archaic poets imagined hoi mesoi as self-sufficient farmers” (2000, 161), Morris argues that to be “middling” is essentially a state of mind and cannot be identified with a particular social group.

  54. For Theognis’ image of society, see van Wees 2000a; for Solon’s image, see Mitchell 1997. Note also Theognis’ rejection of “poverty” (i.e., having to work for a living) as a fate worse than death: 173–78, 181–82, 267–68.

  55. Hanson 1995, 109–17, claiming on p. 115 that Aristotle “implies that agrarians of the middle had been widespread throughout the early polis history of Greece,” on the basis of Aristotle, Pol. 1292b25–35, 1305a18–20, 1318b7–15. Contrast Pol. 1295a23–26, 37–40 (middle class very rare), 1296a18–22 (Lycurgus middle class). On Aristotle’s flaws as a historian of archaic Greece, see van Wees 2002, 72–77.

  56. Evidence cited by Hanson 1995, 195, with nn. 11–12. Metapontum: Carter 1990, 429, table 2 (his alternative estimate is even less favorable to Hanson’s view); on p. 423, average farm size c. 350–300 BC, when settlement density was highest, is given as 41.5 acres (16.6 ha). The evidence for Halieis, which Hanson cites, concerns city blocks, not farm plots (Boyd and Jameson 1981); his claim that “farms in Greek Italy, as at Halieis, were … from 16.3 to 32.6 acres in size” is not supported by any of the evidence adduced.

  57. Laconia survey: Cavanagh et al. (eds.) 1996, 2002. Metapontum: Carter 1981, 170, 174 (founded c. 650, first evidence of settlers in the countryside “middle of the sixth century”). See also the summary of survey results from Kea, Methana, Argolid, and Attica in Foxhall 1997, 122–27, and Foxhall’s chapter in the present volume.

  58. See also Morris 1998, 78. For the sake of completeness, I note two pieces of classical evidence for archaic Athens cited by Hanson as evidence for the existence of three classes. He suggests that the factions of “Shore” and “Hill” represented poorer farmers on marginal land opposed to the rich landowners of the “Plain” (it is not clear to me how this distinction is resolved into “three, not two, social groups”; 1995, 113). We are here not dealing with classes at all, but with three elite factions, each with its center in a different region of Attica (as Ath. Pol. 13.4 explains). Hanson also equates the eupatridai with landed elite, the georgoi with the yeoman class, and the demiourgoi with the landless (1995, 111, 113), when it is clear from the fact that in 580 BC all three groups are said to have been granted eligibility for the archonship (Ath. Pol. 13.2), which until 457 BC was open to the richest two property classes only, that the first two groups are rich landowners (the eupatridai with hereditary privileges, the others without) and the third consists of rich owners of workshops and other specialists.

  59. Given that they amounted to no more than 17% of the citizen population of relatively egalitarian fourth-century Athens. Two important questions, rightly raised by the referees and by Hanson’s paper in this volume, are whether a “leisure class” of this size is feasible, and how it compares with the size of elites in other historical societies. Usable comparative data are not easy to come by and will require further research, but one suggestive parallel I happen to have come across is the social structure of a farming region in Puerto Rico in the 1950s, where 16% of landowners had farms of 30 acres or more, cultivated by wage labor, while 28% had farms of 10–30 acres cultivated by family labor (Wolf 1956, 201–3). It may very well be that proportional sizes of “leisured” elites in history have usually been smaller than 10–15%, and if so, a relatively large “leisure class” may be key to the distinctive historical developments of archaic Greece—but it was nevertheless only one-third the size of the class to which Hanson attributes this key role, and in a fundamentally different economic position.

  60. While I follow in outline Morris’s account of the changing degrees of egalitarianism in the archaeological record, I reject his idea that even in the most unegalitarian phases a broad elite of 25–50% of the population is represented, while in the most egalitarian phases the bulk of the remaining population, “the kakoi,” are also represented (esp. Morris 1987, 84). I suggest that the archaic material from c. 750 onward still represents only the leisured elite, and that lower-level groups enter the record only in the late sixth century (creating the false impression of a huge population increase; see Morris 1987, 73, fig. 22). In more recent work, Morris has emphasized the changing ideology reflected in the record, rather than visibility of a wider group: esp. 1998; 2000, 109–91.

  61. In my view the basileis of Homer are also a ruling group within an elite of wealth, rather than a closed aristocracy of birth (e.g., Finley 1977, 53, 59–60) or a fluid elite of merit (e.g., Ulf 1990): see van Wees, forthcoming a.

  62. See van Wees 2003, 45–47; cf. Purcell 2005, 117–18, who argues that colonial allotments were much larger than “a minimum for survival.”

  63. Native serf populations in territories conquered in archaic Crete, Thessaly, Argos, Sicyon, Corinth, Epidaurus, and Elis, as well as Sparta: van Wees 2003, 33–66.

  64. See van Wees 2008a for “popular tyranny,” contra Forsdyke 2005; Anderson 2005.

  65. Sixth-century (as opposed to seventh-century) reform: e.g., Finley 1968 (1981), 24–40; Hodkinson 1997; and in detail van Wees, forthcoming b. Regulation of competition for wealth: Hodkinson 2000, 151–302. Regulated competition for status: Cartledge 1996.

  66. Signs of concentration of wealth: e.g., Morris 1992, 145–55. Decline of Spartan citizen numbers and landownership: Hodkinson 2000, 65–112. The late sources that claim Lycurgus redistributed all land to 9,000 citizens are peddling a third-century myth (Hodkinson 2000, 68–81), but the figure 9,000 as such may derive from the number of Spartiates included in the public messes when these were instituted in the late sixth century: see van Wees, forthcoming b.

  67. Rise of trade: e.g., van Wees 2009, 457–60; Hanson dates this after 480 BC (1995, 359, 365–68, 375–79), which is surely too late. That small farmers produced for the market, at least in classical Athens, is clear from the comment in pseudo-Aristotle,Oeconomica 1344b33–34, 1345a18–19, that “‘he Attic system” is for small farmers not to store their produce but to sell everything and buy all their food and other supplies in the market.

  68. For the late sixth-century rise of the trireme, public navies, and wars of hegemony, see van Wees 2008b; forthcoming c; Nagy 2009. Hanson subscribes to the more common view that these were fifth-century developments (1995, 316, 334–36).

  69. In the absence of pay for office, positions of power would in practice necessarily have been restricted to the leisure classes, even if they were notionally open to all.

  70. Aristotle, Politics 1318b7–15; for the philosopher, the working farmer’s inability to spend time on politics makes a farming democracy the “best” (i.e., least bad) form of democracy; he also claims that this was the oldest form of democracy (cf. 1305a18–20), as stressed by Hanson 1995, 116–17, but as we have seen there is no evidence for this. For the leisure-class regime of 5,000 citizens in 411, see above, n. 40.

  71. Grieb 2008 argues that democracy survived longer than traditionally believed.

  72. Size of Eretrian territory: Hansen and Nielsen 2004, 72, 652 (1,500 km2 in fourth century); Walker 2004, 15 (one-third less in archaic period). From an Eretrian roster of c. 290 BC, Hansen 2006, 61–88, reconstructs a population of c. 4,000 adult male citizens, and argues that this represents an oligarchic regime with a high property census; Knoepfler 2007, 679–81, argues for a full franchise, but reconstructs a population of “easily” 6,000 citizens. Corinth: Salmon 1984, 19 (c. 900 km2); 5,000 hoplites in 479: Herodotus 9.28; this may represent a two-thirds mobilization, which was the norm later: Thuc. 2.10, 47.1. Naxos: Hdt. 5.30.4; territory 430 km2: Hansen and Nielsen 2004, 760.

  73. Plut. Solon 9.2 (Salamis); Mor. 296ab (Samian dead). Samian territory: 468 km2 plus mainland possessions: Hansen and Nielsen 2004, 1094. Casualty rates: Krentz 1985a.

  74. Sepeia: Hdt. 7.148. Athens: 9,000 at Marathon: Nepos, Miltiades 5.1; Plutarch, Moralia 305b; Pausanias 10.20.2; to Athens’ 8,000 at Plataea (Hdt. 9.28.6) one must add perhaps 1,000 hoplites serving as marines in the navy at the same time. Megara and Sicyon: Herodotus 9.28. Two-thirds mobilization: see n. 72, above. In 431 BC, Athens’ field army was just under half of all available hoplites and cavalry: Thuc. 2.13.6–7.

  75. Proportions: Hdt. 9.29; Sparta: seven light-armed helots for every hoplite; cf. 9.10.

  76. Eretria: Ath. Pol. 15.2; Pol. 1306a35–36. Chalcis: Herodotus 5.77. The other indication of time, “when cities were growing larger,” is of no use: at 1305a8–13, 18–28, Aristotle claims that “the cities were not large” at the time of Theagenes (c. 630), Peisistratus (c. 550), and Dionysius (c. 400); at 1310b17–31, he claims that “the cities had already grown large” at the time of Cypselus (c. 650), Peisistratus, and Dionysius. Critical analysis of Aristotle, see van Wees 2002, 72–77; contra, e.g., Hanson 1995, 237.

  77. Size of expeditionary forces: Krentz 2007, 149 (table 6.1); slave attendants: Hunt 1998, 166–68; hoplite casualties among the elite: Aristotle, Pol. 1303a8–10; Ath. Pol. 26.1. For later developments, see van Wees 2004, 93–95, 103–4.

  78. “Ugly muscle”: Hanson 1995, 265; see further van Wees 2004, 89–95; 2007, 273–81.

  79. Hanson 1995, 221–44; “afternoon wars”: 378; cf. 255.

  80. See Krentz 2000, 2002, 2007; van Wees 2004, 115–50, 232–40; 2011b.

  81. Hanson 1995, 230–33; 1991; Cartledge 2001, 153–66. Snodgrass 1965; Krentz 1985b; 1994. For the view that no closed phalanx developed until the end of the archaic age, see van Wees 2000b; 2004, 166–97; Rey 2008, 107–287; cf. Wheeler 2007, 192–202.

  82. On tropaion and truces, see Krentz 2002. For late archaic changes in armor, see Snodgrass 1999, 90–95; Jarva 1995. Mounted hoplites: Greenhalgh 1973; Brouwers 2007 argues that they played a crucial role in the adoption of hoplite armor.

  83. See Chaniotis 2005, 20–26; Ma 2000, 343–49.

  84. See Ceccarelli 1993; van Wees 1995b.

  85. Contra, e.g., Cartledge 2001, 153–66; Salmon 1977. Andrewes’s widely accepted theory linking the tyranny of Pheidon of Argos with the creating of the hoplite phalanx (1956, 31–42) is pure speculation; cf. the critical comments of Hall 2007, 145–54.


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