Ancient Greek society was highly classist being divided into very unequal sections of the population. There was a rigid control of resources which resulted in a rigid class system. Although it was not a fixed or hereditary position but upward movement in the class system was quite difficult due to the rigid resistance of the people in a particular class to prevent the entry of citizens from the lower rung of society. The ancient Greek classes which thronged the society were numerous. They were the slaves, the freemen, the metrics, the citizens, and the women. It was a patriarchal society and women were not considered as citizens.
This class system was rather a social class system. The class system was a parameter by which an individuals position in the society was measured. In today’s society, someone’s place in society is measured in monetary terms.
Ancient Greek Classes
The society was a patriarchal society. This form of society can be accepted as Greece was primarily a warrior nation. The men had the tremendous hold on the society. But at the same time, women were not neglected. They were bestowed with many powers.
For example, young boys were sent to be trained when they were seven yours of age. They returned at the age of 30. If they died, they were given high honors as martyrs. These same honors were bestowed upon women if they died in childbirth.
Division of Classes
Each class was marked with specific duties and responsibilities. The citizens were expected to attend gymnasiums, palaestra. The slaves were restricted to the household chores.During the classical age, the class division was made more stringent. These were troubled times. To ensure that the society stays intact, this method was adopted. Mixed marriages were not approved. During this era, conflicts with Persia reached its heights.
Coming to Athens in particular, the class system consisted of fout prominent divisions.
- Upper Classes: The upper class consisted of several subdivisions within them. Out of them, the aristocracy was a hereditary ruling class that had dominated most parts of ancient Greece from the Mycenaean ages and until the establishment of democracy, although even after that they played an influential role in Athenian politics. They held special rights with the law applying differentially to them. They controlled huge amounts of fertile land in the states.
There was also a class of rich farmers who held large stretches of land, but mostly in rural or hinterlands away from the city centres.
Lastly, it was the merchants who controlled the trade and manufacturing and gained immense profits from an economically rich overseas trade.
These were idle classes and the base of all the cultural masterpieces from ancient Greece. They engrossed themselves in cultural activities while their hard work was done by the slaves. They were the ones who took part in politics, controlled policies of the state
- The middle Class: The middle classes were the class of foreign merchants or traders who were not recognized as the citizens of the state but earned great profits from them. But they could not take part in politics and enjoyed lesser rights.
- The Freed Class: There was also a freed class who bought themselves out of slavery. They generally lived a frugal life and did not enjoy many rights, not being considered as citizens. They had to work very hard with most of their capital going into buying their freedom
- The slaves: The slaves constituted the lowest rung of society and bore the brunt of the Weight of the ancient Greek society and some have even called it a slave society. They were employed as household slaves doing household chores, looking after children or even doing jobs requiring professional skills like teaching. Others were either employed in agricultural estates where they acted as the main cultivators of the land, but worked for their masters. Lastly, the slaves working in the mines or queries had to do the hardest kd work under very bad conditions.
They had no rights with only menial hope for proper treatment from the master. Even their marriage was controlled and could not take place without the permission of their masters. The slaves were mostly captured soldiers in war, kidnapped and sold in the market, etc and once they became a slave it became hereditary.
Sparta was a state with its own government, laws and customs. They despised trade and did not have the presence of a foreign class. So their class system was quite different from the other states in Greece.
- The Ruling Class: The ruling classes were a sort of oligarchy which enjoyed most of the political power in Sparta. It was a varied class consisting of the kings and the elders belonging to specific families holding power hereditarily.
- The Free Citizens: They were the citizens taking part in the assemblies and owned small tracts of land to feed their families. They were the ones trained as soldiers and forking the famed Spartan hoplites
- Helots: The helots were the special type of slaves owned by the state of Sparta. Helots were actually the population of Messenia who were defeated by the spartans and all of its population was enslaved.They enjoyed rights not found in slaves of other regions like the right to marry and have children. Although they had a little amount of autonomy, but they were not allowed to move out of their designated lands.Sparta derived most of its wealth from the output of these helots who had to give most of the products to the Spartans only keeping a certain portion for their survival.
Although not a class in conventional notion, but women definitely formed a class of their own. Men enjoyed all of the political rights and wealth of the state while women were considered to be the property of the male members. They were under the protection of their fathers and brothers early on and then of their husbands after being married off where a hefty amount of dowry had to be given. They could not go out without the presence of a male and spent most of their lives within the four walls of the house. Their primary job was to give birth and take care of children with the manufacturing of clothes for the family was also considered a duty for the women.