SOCIAL CLASS RIGIDITIES IN GREECE AND THE ROMAN REPUBLIC
The general introductory material of this dissertation has been presented; the definitions, examples, and surveys of classes have come to a close. There now follows an account of the tendencies in Greek and Roman history toward social immobility and the factors that entered into these tendencies. Factors that contribute to breaking down social class barriers and to promoting social class mobility among the Greeks and Romans are not neglected.Next Page
The object here is two-fold: (1) to bring to the attention of sociologists the documented evidence of historians in order to correct several sociological interpretations of what took place among the social classes in those ancient civilizations, and (2) to determine the kinds, extent, and degree of social rigidity in that period of history. Neither of these goals, per se, has heretofore been attempted. In fact, it appears that some sociologists have been making their interpretations of parts of history after only slight acquaintance with the subject matter itself, and therefore have been guilty of gross misrepresentation, as will be shown. Furthermore, although there are some descriptive studies of the different classes of antiquity, one cannot find an analysis of the degrees, kinds, and amounts of social class rigidity during that period.
Early Greece. When the first towns of Greece were built, the population had long since been stratified into several classes. At the head of each society was a king, usually referred to as a priest-king. He was one of the factors instrumental in breaking down the power of the gentile organizations, headed by nobles usually called eutrapids.
By the time of Solon this highly exclusive upper class, a nobility in the strictest sense of the word, with its tribal organization and its hold on religion, had lost many of its privileges. Familiar, indeed, is the story of how these aristocrats of ancient lineage had to share power and prestige with some of the commoners, with other rich men. The fact that there were other rich men indicates that the social class structure was not completely rigid.
As in Rome and England later, this concession on the part of old nobility was inevitable as (1) the towns grew, (2) the territory enlarged, (3) and the commercial development, in turn, created wealthy and fashionable groups outside of the exclusive nobility itself. These latter groups were commoners in the legal sense but not in social class. They belonged to the unofficial aristocracy, and they would not let the very ancient descent of the eutrapids stand in the way of their full recognition. They, too, were proud of their family backgrounds and their wealth. They, these rich and illustrious, entered into their properly recognized class position, sociologically speaking.
The change which permitted men to be ranked according to their wealth, so far as their legal and political status was concerned, "was not the work of the lowest classes." 1 It was the result of the efforts of families whose social status was out of line with their legal rank, and they urgently wanted this situation remedied by gaining recognition not for all commoners, but for themselves. The simplest solution was to institute the rule that wealth should establish rank. This did least harm to the old and still fully satisfied the new elements in the upper social class.
This reform was not a social revolution. It did not result in giving full social prominence to the merely wealthy. The legal categories or ranks were not parallel to the social classes after Solon, as they had not been before. The descendants of older lines and of the older nobility lived on in the reflected glory of their past, much as the patrician lines in Rome still retained the upper hand in social esteem long after the reforms in the Roman constitution.
1. N. D. Fustel de Coulagnes, The Ancient City, tr. Willard Small (tenth edition, Boston, 1901) p. 430.