15 Pages

Introduction: Cities, Institutions and Migration in the Low Countries


More than fi ve hundred years before Christ Athens was not so diff erent from other Greek cities. It was only after the victory over the Persians that the city grew rapidly into Greece’s most important centre, with around 350,000 inhabitants circa 431 BC.1 For the most part, the population growth can be accounted for by newcomers, both slaves and free migrants, who made a crucial contribution to the urban economy. Of the free migrants, some only stayed for a short time and had the status of Xenoi, foreigners. Others settled and were classifi ed as Metoikoi, which meant fellow-citizen. Both categories of newcomers were clearly distinguished from the citizens of Athens, a status which was reserved for male residents-rich and poor alike. Initially, children of Metoikoi could obtain citizenship by marrying an Athenian citizen, or the daughter of a citizen. After the middle of the fi fth century, however, this venue was closed for descendants of migrants. The reason being that, in particular, poor Athenian citizens-journeymen and artisans-felt their social and economic position threatened by the massive infl ux of newcomers. Immigrants tolerated the social and legal discrimination because the city had many economic benefi ts. Some became rich and, despite their lower status, took part in intellectual debates and played a role in Athens’ civic life. However, it was forbidden for them to invest in property, so they focused on trade instead.2