Nor did those reforms indicate that only "new" families were rich. It can be shown that most of the families that qualified to rank high on the lists, made up according to amounts of wealth, with lineal descendants of the old nobility. These changes meant only that the ancient noble families had to share prestige with a select and highly honored and respectable few of the so-called commonality, itself greatly stratified. The old nobles lost more in the way of political prerogative than they lost in social prestige. They were not thrown into an amorphous mass of socially undifferentiated humanity, as were the upper and middle classes in 1917.
To interpret these reforms as moves in the direction of theoretical social equality or in the direction of abolishing the rigidities of the social class system is to misrepresent them and to misunderstand the nature of social institutions. In this case the flexibility was in the adjustments made by both of the upper classes to a de facto situation; they made it de jure. This can hardly be interpreted as a great extension of flexibility in the social class system. Actually, in spite of the land and debt reforms, the little man continued a downward course. The middle classes presumably held their own.
When commerce began to displace agriculture as the dominant economic system of Greece, "the nobles were themselves the chief speculators. But the wealth they acquired by trade undermined their political position." 2 Others, in a word, began to share in the power of wealth, which introduced a new political system, "and aristocracies resting on birth tended to transform themselves into aristocracies resting on wealth." 3 In these statements by Bury there is more support for the theory that the old nobles became the new aristocrats than that they were pushed aside in wholesale fashion by rising upstarts -- a notion not found once in the historical data pursued. High status, in sum, shared the new wealth of economic institutions, and political power was shared with other upper class persons who were partners in the increased trade.
The free classes of Athens at the time of Solon were divided into the upper class (the descendants of the land owning nobility, the captains of industry and commerce, and the formally educated -- each of these categories overlapping with the others), the middle class artisans, retailers, peasants, and workers of nondescript character. As late as the Peloponesian wars these divisions were still in force. The class lines held firm, even though social life was not formally regulated and coldly rigid as in Sparta.
Athens, in the fifth century BC., is said to have had the following distribution of classes, as compared with Sweden in 1900 AD. The difference in the percentage of workers is due to the presence of slaves in Athens. 4
Sparta. Whereas in most of the other cities, after an era of reforms and changes, "the social differences remained as before, but they were not legally established . . . ," 5 in Sparta the rigidities were almost utterly inflexible, by law. Discipline was so strong that Sparta resembled the Incas in maintaining a close parallel between social classes and legal categories or classes.Next Page
Here there was, presumably at the height of Spartan power, "one citizen to four of the middle class and twelve of the helots . . . or every seventeenth man was a citizen." 6 The slow decline of citizens, increasing the percentage of tyranny of the ruling class, did not lead to a letting down of barriers through the introduction of middle class elements into the higher brackets. To the bitter end the Spartan aristocrats held on, even welcoming the conqueror on one occasion because the political power had slipped from their hands; and the conqueror, by reputation, could be trusted to restore it. Such was the fame of Roman social attitudes.
2. J. B. Bury, History of Greece, (London, 1920) p. 118.
3. Loc. cit.
4. Pontus E. Fahlbeck, Die Klassen und die Gesellschaft (Jena, 1922) pp. 233 - 238.
5. Ibid., p. 221; translation ours.
6. Frank S. Blackmar, History of Human Society (New York, 1926) p. 243.