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XI.-The Fall of Aristocracies and the Emancipation of
BY PROFESSOR WILLIAM K. PRENTICE
We all know that in the seventh and sixth centuries before Christ Greek life and Greek thought alike were transformed. The old land-owning nobles lost the exclusive control of most Greek communities. In many Greek states the aristocratic governments were replaced either by oligarchies, whose membership rested on some other basis than the ownership of the land, or by democracies, some of which showed even before the end of the sixth century very radical tendencies. In the same period also there occurred profound changes in ideas and beliefs, an emancipation of men's minds from thralldom to long-established traditions, which was far more important to the world than the emancipation of men's persons from the domination of a class which previously had been supreme. It seems to me that it would contribute towards an understanding of our own times to inquire what was the connection, if there was any, between these two concomitant revolutions in antiquity, one of which was physical and material, the other intellectual and spiritual.
Why should there be any connection between the two? Democratic institutions, with their promotion of uniformity and standardization, have not shown themselves in the past to be more conducive to intellectual and spiritual progress than, for example, some forms of oligarchy. The very opposite view seems to be finding expression at the present time, in spite of all the triumphs of democracy and the identification of democracy in the minds of many with Christianity itself. The more intellectual fascisti claim that their ideal of government is neither monarchy nor democracy, but an intelligent oligarchy, under which laws shall be made and perhaps adminis
tered by groups of experts in the different fields of human activity. Their talk reminds one a good deal of that tractate on the Athenian democracy which has come down to us under the name of Xenophon. I would gladly accept their ideals as my own, if I could understand how these groups of experts could properly be selected, and how their authority could be maintained. Every form of government thus far devised has had its defects. History shows that science, literature, and art are independent of the form of government, and men's minds have been at least as free under monarchies and oligarchies which were not too autocratic, as under democracies of any sort.
I wish to review briefly how the fall of the ancient Greek aristocracies came about, and what were the causes of this fall; next to inquire whether these same causes, rather than the consequent changes of government, produced the contemporaneous revolution in thought and in ideas.
In the eighth, and to a large extent in the seventh, century conditions of life in Greek communities were essentially feudal. The organization of society was based on the ownership of land. Those who owned their own land and stock constituted the state. Some owned comparatively large estates, and were the nobles; others owned comparatively small estates and were the yeomen. Besides these, there were two classes of persons who were members of the folk but not of the state. The first, and in early times the less important, of these classes was that of the artisans or demiourgoi: later on these formed the large and often dominant industrial class. The other consisted of the laborers, who worked for the nobles or large farmers, or else farmed as tenants portions of the large estates. Between them and their masters existed a relationship of personal dependence which limited their legal rights and laid upon them certain fixed charges in service or produce. They were the thetes of the Greeks, the clientes of the Romans: they were like the serfs of our Middle Ages. Lastly there was a class of persons, not very numerous or important in these early times,
who were members neither of the state nor of the folk; these, of course, were the slaves.1
The source of livelihood during this period was chiefly agriculture. In those districts which had a normal development absolutely all the arable land was under cultivation at least as early as the seventh century. But soon this was not enough: the land could not support the people. There were two reasons for this. One, of course, was the natural increase of the population. The second was far more important: in ancient times, just as in the Middle Ages, land under cultivation always deteriorated very rapidly, because the farmers were unable by refertilization to compensate the soil for the crops which they took from it. As Professor Simkhovitch 2 puts it, the ruin of the ancient world was due largely to the lack of fertilizers, and this in turn was due to the lack of hay to support the larger animals at the steadings through the winter. The consequence was that in Greece by the seventh century those who depended for their living on the smaller farms found it increasingly difficult to get along in ordinary times on the year's crop: every bad season brought famine and borrowing. Of course, the poor man's land was the security, his farm: if that was not enough, then his person and his family. Thus all the land was fast falling into the possession of the nobles, who already owned the larger shares of it, and all the independent farmers were fast becoming day laborers or serfs, without land or citizenship, if not actually slaves or refugees.
Such circumstances brought about the Greek colonization, which began about the middle of the eighth century and lasted until the middle of the sixth. Undoubtedly there were various reasons for this colonization; but two of these were so important that all the others seem to me comparatively insignificant. These two were: first, the necessity of providing homes in a new world for those whom the old countries could no
1 Edward Meyer, Die Sklaverei im Altertum, 1898, pp. 14 ff.
2 V. G. Simkhovitch: "Hay and History," Pol. Sc. Qu. XXXVIII (1913), 385403; see also Beloch, Griech. Gesch. 12, 1, Abschn. x.
longer support, and, second, the necessity of providing for those who remained at home food supplies from new land which had not yet deteriorated because of continuous cultivation without sufficient refertilization.
Colonization afforded a temporary relief from an intolerable situation. But all the while a permanent and far more efficient remedy for the existing evils was appearing of itself in the development of industry and commerce. Manufacture, merchandising, and transportation soon provided a new and sufficient means of livelihood for the downtrodden peasants, driven from their lands by the increase of population and the deterioration of the soil, and made them independent of the oppressive nobility. Many who had been farmers or farm hands heretofore flocked into the cities, and became what we would call industrials. Others found employment as handlers of freight, the raw materials coming in and the finished products going out, the porters and truckmen, the dockhands and longshoremen. Others manned the boats and ships, as rowers or sailors, or built the vessels and kept them in repair. Besides these of course there grew up a large variety of employees connected with the making, carrying, and marketing of goods, from the clerks in the offices to the night watchmen and messengers. Soon there was more than enough work for everyone, and the proof of this-if proof is needed-lies in the fact that as early as the seventh century some of the Greek cities, instead of encouraging emigration any longer, were beginning to acquire in addition to their normal population large numbers of male slaves, a class which was almost unknown in the preceding century, as it was in the Homeric Age.
The development of industry and commerce effected the emancipation of large numbers of people from the domination of the landowners. The possession of land ceased to be, as before, the basis of the organization of society, feudalism was to a large extent abolished, and the power of the nobles, who were the chief landowners, was permanently broken. Wherever these changes occurred there followed changes in the
governments of the various states, all tending to become more or less completely democratic. It is true that there were some other causes which contributed to this result. The most important of these was the increase and improvement of arms and armor, and the consequent development of military tactics, which led to the formation of the phalanx of heavyarmed infantry, composed of the middle class, which soon displaced the old armies of nobles and their retainers. When the commons were properly equipped and sufficiently organized to constitute the chief arm of the national defense, they found it easy to wrest from their former masters the exclusive control of the state and to acquire at least a share in the government. But wresting the control of the government by force or threat of force from a privileged class would not have sufficed to bring about a permanent change in the organization of society and the conditions of life. The fundamental cause of the change was the development of the great commercial and industrial classes, whose living was independent of the soil controlled chiefly by a few aristocrats.
No more tremendous revolution can be conceived, whether it takes place gradually and without much actual bloodshed, as apparently it did take place in most of the ancient Greek states, or suddenly and violently, as it has taken place elsewhere at other times. Wherever large amounts of land are held by a few, especially if the landowners do not themselves participate in the cultivation of the land, evils ensue and consequent unhappiness to many. Probably the same is true when capital of any sort is concentrated in the hands of a limited class. If the possessors persist in holding their own in spite of changing conditions, ultimately there will be hatred and violence. Wherever conditions essentially feudal obtain, commonly great upheavals take place, in which much cruelty and brutality is displayed, many lives are sacrificed, property is ruined, prosperity destroyed. I suppose that this was the fundamental cause of the French revolution. I am very sure that it is the chief cause of the present situation in Russia,