chapter  II
20 Pages

ORIGINS AND FORMS OF OLIGARCHY

This persistence of a meaningless title is one of the traits which best illustrates the reluctance of the ancients to interfere with institutions of the past. Even the smallest local kinglets were maintained as magistrates. In certain places, " kings " similar to those who administered justice in the villages of Boeotia in the t ime of Hesiod were recognized until the very end. Athens preserved its phylobasileis, its " kings of the t r ibes," and they came to the Prytaneum to associate themselves with the king of the city in protecting the people from divine vengeance by judging accusations of murder brought against inanimate objects and animals. 3 In Elis the basileis of the phratries formed a tribunal presided over by the highest magistrate of the locality. 4 But it is in Asia Minor in particular t h a t one sees " kings " of this kind functioning. In conjunction with the prytanis they made enactments at Mitylene on questions relating to landed property, 5 at Naesus they heard accusations of insults to magistrates and of desertion. 6 At Kyme they sat under the presidency of the aisymnetes and their administration was subject to the control of the Council. 7 At Chios, after a revolution which took place about 600, " the kings " were named in a law in conjunction with a demarch; but in a city which had at one and the same t ime a king fallen to the rank of rex sacrorum and a prytanis, one may conclude tha t the demarch had been substituted on the spur of the moment by the victorious par ty for one or other of these oligarchical magistrates. 8

The weakening and the eventual collapse of the primitive monarchy turned to the profit of those who, consciously or not, had worked towards this end from the beginning. The

chiefs of powerful families became masters of the city; and this they remained for many centuries. The archaic period was entirely subjected to a half patriarchal, half feudal rule in which the common interest was an unstable compromise between a few persons each accustomed to command in his own circle. 1

They had on their side noble blood; they traced back their origin to some god. The value tha t was attached to birth is attested by the very persistence of the gene, which had long since split up into small families, and by the care with which the great men preserved their genealogical tree and the traditional history of their house (their irdrpia). A man was as proud to be one of the Alcmseonidse at Athens or of the Eumolpidae at Eleusis as he was in Asia Minor to be connected with the royal lines. Towards the year 500 Hecatseus of Miletus made a proud display of his family tree and traced it back to the sixteenth generation, tha t is to say, reckoning three generations to a century, to the second half of the eleventh century, to the foundation of the city. A little later an inscription on the tomb of a noble of Chios contents itself with enumerating fourteen of his ancestors, thus taking the origins of his family back to the beginning of the ten th century. The Philaidse of Athens prided themselves on an equally distant origin: one of their number, Hippocleides, archon in 556-5, claimed to be the twelfth descendant of the hero Ajax. The Spartan kings did not go back so far, for the Agid Polydorus and the Eurypontid Theopompus, who were reigning round about 720, belonged respectively, so it was said, to the seventh and ninth generation of their dynasty . 2

No vicissitudes of fortune could wrest from the nobles their natural prestige and right to respect. 3 As a matter of fact very few noble houses declined: it was sufficient to belong to an illustrious genos to have a share in the revenues and lands of a wide domain and to enjoy the riches won at the point of the sword by numerous generations. In all parts of Greece a class of gentlemen grew up. They were designated by general terms, such as " the good " (dyaOoi), " the best

1 v. XXVin, 1. IV, chap. IV. 2 Her., II, 143; GDI, no. 5656; Pherecydes, 20 (FHG, vol. I,

men " (dptarot, ^eXTiarot), " the great and good 5 (/ca\ol tcayaOoL), " men of b l o o d " (evyeveis, yevvdtoi), " men of q u a l i t y " (eaOXoi, XpnaToi)^ " men of honour " (yvcopipioi, iirteiiceU). Sometimes more precise terms were employed: they were " w e l l born men," Eupatridse; they were " lords of the ear th ," Geomoroi; they were " knights," Hippeis.