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Georgios Chatzoudis | 12.05.2010 | 18477 Aufrufe | Artikel

“Being Poor at Athens”

Autorin: Lucia Cecchet, Universität Heidelberg, Universität Trento

I am working on poverty and attitudes to poverty in classical Athens. My aim is to explore the social and political status of the Athenian working classes in the light of the information provided by the most recent studies on ancient Greek economy and, above all, on the basis of a new examination of the literary and material evidence for the social history of the classical age.

This topic meets my interest in the social structure and internal organisation of classical Athens, and I am motivated by the fact that so far an examination of the working classes in the classical age has not been subject of systematic study. The studies conducted on the Greek economy in the classical age have focussed mainly on providing alternative models to Finley's work The Ancient Economy (1973). New directions of enquiry have been proposed as it has been shown that the level of market activity was far beyond what Finley suggested (Osborne, 1991; Isager and Skydsgaard, 1992, Mattingly and Salmon 2001). Nonetheless, no thorough attempt has been made as to investigating the social impact that the economic growth of the sixth and fifth century B.C. had on Athenian society, and little attention has been devoted to the reconsideration of the Athenian social structure in the light of the new economic models that agricultural history has proposed from the early 90's onwards.

My research will focus on two main aspects: the first will be an attempt to detect and explore the concept of poverty and the images of the poor in literary and material sources. Some key questions will be: what did it mean to be poor in Classical Athens? What were the categories of workers (or non-workers) who were considered poor or depicted as such? How did the ancients come to a definition of poverty (if any)? What picture orators and play-writers provide of the Athenian working classes and to what extent does it reflect the structure of Athenian society? Further, how can we cope with the marginalisation of the poor in the civic discourse, (both in literary and iconographic sources), when attempting to trace a picture of the Athenian society in the classical age?

The second part will focus on more specific questions regarding the political and institutional organisation of classical Athens: what is the nature of the four census classes in the classical age? Were they internally homogeneous in terms of social strata? How far did they reflect the social structure of Athenian society in the fifth and fourth century B.C.? In particular, is there
any evidence for the social nature of the fourth census class, i.e. the Thetes? How can the new models of ancient economy be used in order to throw light on the life conditions of the citizens-workers? Which were the boundaries/relations among the poor Athenian citizens and poor non-citizens? What do we effectively know about the participation of the poor in Athenian political life, i.e. in the assembly, the public juries and the colonising expeditions? Is there a discrepancy between the democratic ideology of “equal participation” and effective reality? If so, to what extent can we define it?

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