chapter  IV
16 Pages

THE BIRTH OF DEMOCRACY AND TYRANNY

W H I L S T the great gene were monopolizing the growing power of the city, what was happening to all those who by their birth were relegated to an inferior position ? The artisans " worked for the public," and the thetes, hardly distinguishable from slaves, could scarcely hope ever to better their lot. As for the peasants they saw their position grow worse from day to day. The patches of land which they cultivated in the sweat of their brow were swallowed up in the midst of great estates. The land of the nobles, protected against all alienation by the kinsman's right of buying back an inheritance, was always being extended as a result of encroachments upon communal pasture grounds, the purchase of new territory, the realization of mortgages. Thus was formed in certain cities, above even the knights, an aristocracy of great landowners such as the class of pentacosiomedimni in Attica. On the other hand, although the villeins yielded themselves to the stern law of labour, " assigned to men by the gods," 1 they could barely live. The wisest desired only one son in order tha t their land might not be split up and their children left poverty-stricken. 2 These succeeded, if circumstances were favourable, in forming a middle class of cultivators, possessing their yoke of oxen for ploughing and capable in case of war of arming themselves at their own expense. But the majority lived in privation. In bad years they were compelled to borrow from the neighbouring lord the few medimni of grain necessary for their subsistence and for their sowing; they had to return them with interest. Once caught in these toils they could not win free. The insolvent debtor fell into the hands of his creditors, himself, his wife and his

children. And the most hopeless feature in the condition of the lower classes was tha t every man who did not form part of a privileged genos was delivered over without defence to the justice of grasping and irresponsible lords. For the " devourers of gifts " there was no more lucrative source of revenue than iniquity. 1 Hesiod, witness and victim of " crooked " sentences, could only call upon Zeus the protector of Dike2 and recommend to the unhappy wretches who had fallen into the claws of the oppressors the resignation of the nightingale caught in the talons of the hawk. 3

This state of affairs might have endured indefinitely if the economic regime of Greece had not been completely transformed at the end of the eighth century. Until then the cities had no resources worth speaking of save agriculture and stock breeding; though one might possibly add the profit gained from barter and piracy. But now the Greeks began to swarm over all the coasts of the Mediterranean looking for new lands and new customers; between the colonies and the mother countries agricultural produce, raw materials and manufactured goods flowed unceasingly; commerce and industry showed a hitherto undreamt of activity; near busy ports workshops multiplied and markets were organized. Henceforth the great thing was bargaining-to exchange some paltry trumpery for a few head of cattle or metal utensils. The reign of money had begun. With the shining coins of electrum, of gold and of silver, credit and the taste for speculation spread. Capitalism, growing more and more daring, dominated the Greek world. Down with the shabby life of ancient times ! Room for chrematistike.4