Citizenship in Ancient Greece

 Citizenship in Ancient Greece – Athens and Sparta: Terms and Sources

By Ifigenija Radulović

Citizenship in historical perspective, edited by Steven G. Ellis, Guðmundur Hálfdanarson and Ann Katherine Isaacs (Pisa University Press, 2006)

The entry of King Otto of Greece in Athens and his reception in front of the Thiseion temple, in 1833

Introduction: The notion and problem of citizenship in ancient Greece is very complex and it continues, in different contexts, to be the object of scientific research even very recently, as we can evince from new book titles.

If we look up the word in the second edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary from the year 1972 and the third from 1996, and compare the definitions authored respectively by V. Ehrenberg and J. Kenyon Davis, it is evident that there is new knowledge on citizenship and a new approach to it, as a fusion of the state and its relations with the inhabitants’ right to participate in life of the state and its decisions. Different ancient sources over a long period have left us much information about citizenship in Greece, mostly in Athens.

Thus, in this chapter we will present, through historiography, philosophy, rhetorics and poetry, different social relationships such as those between the state and its subjects, regarding state and the citizen, power, legislation, rights and obligations, loss and gain of citizenship, exile, social, economic and gender stratification, foreigners, settlers etc., and we will exam the following terms: politeia, polites, polis, genos, phratria, phyle, demos, isonomia, isegoria, atimia, metoikoi, apeleutheroi, philoxenia and proxenia, homoioi, perioikoi and heilotes.

The Greek term for citizenship is πολιτεία [politeia]. Politeia is the right of citizenship. It means that one could be called a citizen – πολίτης [polites] only as a member of a community who is fit to govern. That brings us to the notion of the state. The word politeia is not only etymologically related to πόλις[polis], the city-state: it is essential. The ‘polis’ was a political unity among its settlements, made by the partnership of citizens-polites. Different sorts of partnership made different constitutions. The Greek term for constitution is also politeia. Those two terms are so closely bound together because, depending on the constitution, different social classes had the right of citizenship, and different social classes who gained political power determined the state’s constitution and form of government, which is another meaning for politeia.

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