Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter IX
The Grecian Phratry, Tribe and Nation

The phratry, as we have seen, was the second stage of organization in the Grecian social system. It consisted of several gentes united for objects, especially religious, which were common to them all. It had a natural foundation in the bond of kin, as the gentes in a phratry were probably subdivisions of an original gens, a knowledge of the fact having been preserved by tradition. “All the contemporary members of the phratry of Hekataeus,” Mr. Grote remarks, “had a common god for their ancestor at the sixteenth degree,[1]” which could not have been asserted unless the several gentes comprised in the phratry of Hekataeus, were supposed to be derived by segmentation from an original gens. This genealogy, although in part fabulous, would be traced according to gentile usages. Dilkaerchus supposed that the practice of certain gentes in supplying each other with wives, led to the phratric organization for the performance of common religious rites. This is a plausible explanation, because such marriages would intermingle the blood of the gentes. On the contrary, gentes formed, in the course of time, by the division of a gens and by subsequent subdivisions, would give to ail a common lineage, and form a natural basis for their re-integration in a phratry. As such the phratry would be a natural growth, and as such only can it be explained as a gentile institution. The gentes thus united were brother gentes, and the association itself was a brotherhood as the term imports.

Stephanus of Byzantium has preserved a fragment of Dikaearchus, in which an explanation of the origin of the gens, phratry and tribe is suggested. It is not full enough, with respect to either, to amount to a definition; but, it is valuable as a recognition of the three stages of organization in ancient Grecian society. He uses patry in the place of gens, as Pindar did in a number of instances, and Homer occasionally. The passage may be rendered: ‘Patry is one of three forms of social union among the Greeks, according to Dikaearchus, which we call respectively, patry, phratry, and tribe. The patry comes into being when relationship, originally solitary, passes over into the second stage [the relationship of parents with children and children with parents, and derives its eponym from the oldest and chief member of the patry, as Aicidas, Pelopidas.’

“But it came to be called phatria and phratria when certain ones gave their daughters to be married into another patry. For the woman who was given in marriage participated no longer in her paternal sacred rites, but was enrolled in the patry of her husband; so that for the union, formerly subsisting by affection between sisters and brothers, there was established another union based on community of religious rites, which they denominated a phratry; and so that again, while the patry took its rise in the way we have previously mentioned, from the blood relation between parents and children and children and parents, the phratry took its rise from the relationship between brothers.”

“But tribe and tribesmen were so called from the coalescence into communities and nations so called, for each of the coalescing bodies was called a tribe."[2]

It will be noticed that marriage out of the gens is here recognized as a custom, and that the wife was enrolled to the gens, rather than the phratry, of her husband. Dikaearchus, who was a pupil of Aristotle, lived at a time when the gens existed chiefly as a pedigree of individuals, its powers having been transferred to new political bodies. He derived the origin of the gens from primitive times; but his statement that the phratry originated in the matrimonial practices of the gentes, while true doubtless as to the practice; is but an opinion as to the origin of the organization. Intermarriages, with common religious rites, would cement, the phratric union; but a more satisfactory foundation of the phratry may be found in the common lineage of the gentes of which it was composed. It must be remembered that the gentes have a history running back through the three sub-periods of barbarism into the previous period of savagery, antedating the existence even of the Aryan and Semitic families. The phratry has been shown to have appeared among the American aborigines in the Lower Status of barbarism; while the Greeks were familiar with so much only of their former history as pertained to the Upper Status of barbarism.

Mr. Grote does not attempt to define the functions of the phratry, except generally. They were doubtless of a religious character chiefly; but they probably manifested themselves, as among the Iroquois, at the burial of the dead, at public games, at religious festivals, at councils, and at the agoras of the people, where the grouping of chiefs and people would be by phratries rather than by gentes. It would also naturally show itself in the array of the military forces, of which a memorable example is given by Homer in the address of Nestor to Agamemnon.[3] “Separate the troops by tribes and by phratries, Agamemnon, so that phratry may support phratry, and tribes, tribes. If thou wilt thus act, and the Greeks obey, thou wilt then ascertain which of the commanders and which of the soldiers is a coward, and which of them may be brave, for they will fight their best.” The number from the same gens in a military force would be too small to be made a basis in the organization of an army; but the larger aggregations of the phratries and tribes would be sufficient. Two things may be inferred from the advice of Nestor: first, that the organization of armies by phratries and tribes had then ceased to be common; and secondly, that in ancient times it, had been the usual plan of army organization, a knowledge of which had not then disappeared. We have seen that the Tlascalans and Aztecs, who were in the Middle Status of barbarism, organized and sent out their military bands by phratries which, in their condition, was probably the only method in which a military force could be organized. The ancient German tribes organized: their armies for battle on a similar principle.[4] It is interesting to notice how closely shut in the tribes of mankind have been to the theory of their social system.

The obligation of blood revenge; which was turned at a later day into a duty of prosecuting the murderer before the legal tribunals, rested primarily upon the gens of the slain person; but it was also shared in by the phratry, and became a phratric obligation.[5] In the Eumenides of Aeschylus, the Erinnys, after speaking of the slaying of his mother by Orestes, put the question: “What lustral water of his phrators shall await him?"[6] which seems to imply that if the criminal escaped punishment final purification was performed by his phratry instead of his gens. However, the extension of the obligation from the gens to the phratry implies a common lineage of all the gentes in a phratry.

Since the phratry was intermediate between the gens and the tribe, and not invested with governmental functions, it was less fundamental and less important than either of the others; but it was a common, natural and perhaps necessary stage of re-integration between the two. Could an intimate knowledge of the social life of the Greeks in that early period be recovered, the phenomena would centre probably in the phratric organization far more conspicuously than our scanty records lead us to infer. It probably possessed more power and influence than is usually ascribed to it, as an organization. Among the Athenians it survived the overthrow of the gentes as the basis of a system, and retained, under the new political system, some Control over the registration of citizens, the enrolment of marriages and the prosecution of the murderer of a phrator before the courts.

It is customary to speak of the four Athenian tribes as divided each into three phratries and of each phratry as divided into thirty gentes; but this is merely for convenience in description. A people under gentile institutions do not divide themselves into symmetrical divisions and subdivisions. The natural process of their formation was the exact reverse of this method; the gentes fell into phratries, and ultimately into tribes, which reunited in a society or a people. Each was a natural growth. That the number of gentes in each Athenian phratry was thirty is a remarkable fact incapable of explanation by natural causes. A motive sufficiently powerful, such as a desire for a symmetrical organization of the phratries and tribes, might lead to a subdivision of gentes by consent until the number was raised to thirty in each of these phratries; and when the number in a tribe was in excess, by the consolidation of kindred gentes until the number was reduced to thirty. A more probable way would be by the admission of alien gentes into phratries needing an increase of number. Having a certain number of tribes, phratries and gentes by natural growth, the reduction of the last two to uniformity in the four tribes could thus have been secured. Once cast in this numerical scale of thirty gentes to a phratry and three phratries to a tribe, the proportion might easily have been maintained for centuries, except perhaps as to the number of gentes in each phratry.

The religious life of the Grecian tribes had its centre and source in the gentes and phratries. It must be sup- posed that, in and through these organizations, was perfected that marvellous polytheistic system, with its hierarchy of gods, its symbols and forms of worship, which impressed so powerfully the mind of the classical world. In no small degree this mythology inspired the great achievements of the legendary and historical periods, and created that enthusiasm which produced the temple and ornamental architecture in which the modern world has taken so much delight. Some of the religious rites, which originated in these social aggregates, were nationalized from the superior sanctity they were supposed to possess; thus showing to what extent the gentes and phratries were nurseries of religion. The events of this extraordinary period, the most eventful in many respects in the history of the Aryan family, are lost, in the main, to history. Legendary genealogies and narratives, myths and fragments of poetry, concluding with the Homeric and Hesiodic poems, make up its literary remains. But their institutions, arts, inventions, mythological system, in a word the substance of civilization which they wrought out and brought with them, were the legacy they contributed to the new society they were destined to found. The history of the period may yet be reconstructed from these various sources of knowledge, reproducing the main features of gentile society as they appeared shortly before the institution of political society.

As the gens had its archon, who officiated as its priest in the religious observances of the gens, so each phratry had its phratriarch, who presided at its meetings, and officiated in the solemnization of its religious rites. “The phratry,” observes, M. De Coulanges, “had its assemblies and its tribunals, and could pass decrees. In it, as well as in the family, there was a god, a priesthood, a legal tribunal and a government."[7] The religious rites of the phratries were an expansion of those of the gentes of which it was composed. It is in these directions that attention should he turned in order to understand the religious life of the Greeks.

Next in the ascending scale of organization was the tribe, consisting of a number of phratries, each composed of gentes. The persons in each phratry were of the same common lineage, and spoke the same dialect. Among the Athenians as before stated each tribe contained three phratries, which gave to each a similar organization. The tribe corresponds with the Latin tribe, and also with those of the American aborigines, an independent dialect for each tribe being necessary to render the analogy with the latter complete The concentration of such Grecian tribes as had coalesced into a people, in a small area, tended to repress dialectical variation, which a subsequent written language and literature tended still further to arrest; Each tribe from antecedent habits, however, was more or less localized in a fixed area, through the requirements of a social system resting on personal relations. It seems probable that each tribe had its council of chiefs, supreme in all matters relating to the tribe exclusively. But since the functions and powers of the general council of chiefs, who administered the general affairs of the united tribes, were allowed to fall into obscurity, it would not be expected that those of an inferior and subordinate council would be preserved. If such a council existed, which was doubtless the fact from its necessity under their social system; it would have consisted of, the chiefs of the gentes.

When the several phratries of a tribe united in the commemoration of their religious observances it was in their higher organic constitution as a tribe. As such, they were under the presidency, as we find it expressed, of a phylo- basileus, who was the principal chief of the tribe. Whether he acted as their commander in the military service I am unable to state. He possessed priestly functions, always inherent in the office of basileus, and exercised a criminal jurisdiction in cases of murder; whether to try or to prose- cute a murderer, I am unable to state. The priestly and judicial functions attached to the office of basileus tend to explain the dignity it acquired in the legendary and heroic periods. But the absence of civil functions, in the strict sense of the term, of the presence of which we have no satisfactory evidence, is sufficient to render the term king, so constantly employed in history as the equivalent of basileus, a misnomer. Among the Athenians we have the tribe-basileus, where the term is used by the Greeks themselves as legitimately as when applied to the general military commander of the four united tribes: when each is described as a king it makes the solecism of four tribes each under a king separately, and the four tribes together under another king. There is a larger amount of fictitious royalty here than the occasion requires. Moreover, when we know that the institutions of the Athenians at the time were essentially democratical it becomes a caricature of Grecian society. It shows the propriety of returning to simple and original language, using the term basileus where the Greeks used it, and rejecting king as a false equivalent. Monarchy is incompatible with gentilism, for the reason that gentile institutions are essentially democratical. Every gens, phratry and tribe was a completely organized self- governing body; and where several tribes coalesced into a nation the resulting government would be constituted in harmony with the principles animating its constituent parts.

The fourth and ultimate stage of organization was the nation united in a gentile society. Where several tribes, as those of the Athenians and the Spartans, coalesced into one people, it enlarged the society, but the aggregate was simply a more complex duplicate of a tribe. The tribes took the same place in the nation which the phratries held in the tribe, and the gentes in the phratry. There was no name for the organism[8] which was simply a society (societas), but in its place a name sprang up for the people or nation. In Homer’s description of the forces gathered against Troy, specific names are given to these nations, where such existed, as Athenians, Aetolians, Locrians; but in other cases they are described by the name of the city or country from which they came. The ultimate fact is thus reached, that the Greeks, prior to the times of Lycurgus and Solon, had but the four stages of social organization (gens, phratry, tribe and nation), which was so nearly universal in ancient society, and which has been shown to exist, in part, in the Status of savagery, and complete in the Lower, in the Middle and in the Upper Status of barbarism, and still subsisting after civilization had commenced. This organic series expresses the extent of the growth of the idea of government among mankind down to the institution of political society. Such was the Grecian social system. It gave a society, made up of a series of aggregates of persons, with whom the government through their personal relations to a gens, phratry or tribe. It was also a gentile society as distinguished form a political society, from which it was fundamentally different and easily distinguishable.

The Athenian nation of the heroic age presents in its government three distinct, and in some sense co-ordinate, departments or powers, namely; first the council of chiefs, second, the agora, or assembly of people; and third, the basileus, or general military commander. Although municipal and subordinate military offices in large number had been created, from the increasing necessities of their condition, the principal powers of the government were held by the three instrumentalities named. I am unable to discuss in an adequate manner the functions and powers of the council, the agora or the basileus, but will content myself with a few suggestions upon subjects grave enough to deserve re-investigation at the hands of professed Hellenists.

1. The Council of Chiefs. The office of basileus in the Grecian tribes has attracted far more attention than either the council or the agora. As a consequence it has been unduly magnified while the council and the agora have either depreciated or ignored. We know, however, that the council of chiefs was a constant phenomenon in every Grecian nation from the earliest period to which our knowledge extends down to the institution of political society. Its permanence as a feature of their social system is conclusive evidence that its powers, at least presumptively, were ultimately of the archaic character and functions of he council of chiefs under gentile institutions, and form its vocation. How it was constituted in the heroic age, and under what tenure the office of chief was held, we are not clearly in formed; but it is a reasonable inference that the council was composed of chiefs of the gentes. Since the number who formed the council was usually less than the number of gentes, a selection must have been made in some way from the body of chiefs. In what manner the selection was made we are not informed. The vocation of the council as a legislative body representing the principal gentes, and its natural growth under the gentile organization, rendered it supreme in the first instance, and makes it probable that it remained so to the end of its existence. The increasing importance of the office of basileus, and the new offices created in their military and municipal affairs with their increase in numbers and in wealth, would change somewhat the relations of the council to public affairs, and perhaps diminish its importance; but it could not be overthrown without a radical change of institutions. It seems probable, therefore, that every office of the government, from the highest to the lowest, remained accountable to the council for their official acts. The council was fundamental in their social system. [9] and the Greeks of the period were free self-governing peoples, under institutions essentially democratical. A single illustration of the existence of the council may be given from Aeschylus, simply to know that in the Greek conception it was always present and ready to act. In The Seven against, Thebes, Eteocles is represented in command of the city, and his brother Polynices as one of the seven chiefs who had invested the place. The assault was repelled, but the brothers fell in a personal combat at one of the gates. After this occurrence a herald says: “It is necessary for me to announce the decree and good pleasure of the councillors of the people of this city of Cadmus. It, is resolved, etc. [10] A council which can make and promulgate a degree at any moment, which the people are expected to obey, possesses the supreme powers of government. Aeschylus, although dealing in this case with events in the legendary period, recognizes the council of chiefs as a necessary part of the system of government of every Grecian people. The bouclé of ancient Grecian society was the prototype and pattern of the senate under the subsequent political system of the state.

II. The Agora. Although an assembly of the people became established in the legendary period, with a recognized power to adopt or reject public measures submitted by the council, it is not as ancient as the council. The latter came in at the institution of the gentes; but it is doubtful whether the agora existed, with the functions Named, back of the Upper Status of barbarism. It has been shown that among the Iroquois, in the Lower Status, the people presented their wishes to the council of chiefs through orators of their own selection, and that a popular influence was felt in the affairs of the confederacy; but an assembly of the people, with the right to adopt or reject public measures, would evince an amount of progress in intelligence and knowledge beyond the Iroquois. When the agora first appears, as represented in Homer, and in the Greek Tragedies, it had the same characteristics which it, afterwards maintained in the ecclesia of the Athenians, and in the comitia curiata of the Romans. It was the prerogative of the council of chiefs to mature public measures, and then submit them to the assembly of the people for acceptance or rejection, and their decision was final. The functions of the agora were limited to this single act. It could neither originate measures, nor interfere in the administration of affairs; but nevertheless it was a substantial power, eminently adapted to the protection of their liberties. In the heroic age certainly, and far back in the legendary period, the agora is a constant phenomenon among the Grecian tribes, and, in connection with the council, is conclusive evidence of the democratical constitution of gentile society throughout these periods. A public sentiment, as we have reason to suppose, was created among the people on all important questions, through the exercise of their intelligence, which the council of chiefs found it desirable as well as necessary to consult, both for the public good and for the maintenance of their own authority. After hearing the submitted question discussed, the assembly of the people, which was free to all who desired to speak made their decision in ancient times usually by a show of hands.[12] Through participation in public affairs, which affected the interests of all, the people were constantly learning the art of self-government, and a portion of them, as the Athenians, were preparing themselves for the full democracy subsequently established by the constitutions of Cleisthenes. The assembly of the people to deliberate upon public questions, not infrequently derided as a mob by writers who were unable to understand or appreciate the principle of democracy, was the germ of the ecclesia of the Athenians, and of the lower house of modern legislative bodies.

III. The Basileus. This officer became a conspicuous character in the Grecian society of the heroic age, and was equally prominent in the legendary period. He has been placed by historians in the centre of the system. The name of the office was used by the best Grecian writers to characterize the government, which was styled a basileia. Modern writers, almost without exception, translate basileus by the term king, and basileia by the term kingdom, without qualification, and as exact equivalents, I wish to call attention to this office of basileus, as it existed in the Grecian tribes, and to question the correctness of this interpretation. There is no similarity whatever between the basileia of the ancient Athenians and the modern kingdom or monarchy; certainly not enough to justify the use of the same term to describe both. Our idea of a kingly government is essentially of a type in which a king, surrounded by a privileged and titled class in the ownership and possession of the lands, rules according to his own will and pleasure by edicts and decrees; claiming an hereditary right to rule, because he cannot allege the consent of the governed. Such governments have been self-imposed through the principle of hereditary right, to which the priesthood have sought to super-add a divine right. The Tudor kings of England and the Bourbon kings of France are illustrations. Constitutional monarchy is a modern development, and essentially different from the basileia of the Greeks. The basileia was neither an absolute nor a constitutional monarchy; neither was it a tyranny or a despotism. The question then is, what was it.

Mr. Grote claims that “the primitive Grecian government is essentially monarchical, reposing on personal feeling and divine right;"[13] and to confirm this view he remarks further, that the memorable dictum in the Iliad is borne out by all that we hear in actual practice; “the rule of many is not a good thing; let us have one ruler only — one king — him to whom Zeus has given the sceptre, with the tutelary sanctions."[14] This opinion is not peculiar to Mr. Grote, whose eminence as a historian all delight to recognize; but it has been steadily and generally affirmed by historical writers on Grecian themes, until it has come to be accepted as historical truth. Our views upon Grecian and Roman questions have been moulded by writers accustomed to monarchical government and privileged classes, who were perhaps. glad to appeal to the earliest known governments of the Grecian tribes for a sanction of this form of government, as at once natural, essential and primitive. The true statement, as it seems to an American, is precisely the reverse of Mr. Grote’s; namely, that the primitive Grecian government was essentially democratical, reposing on gentes, phratries and tribes, organized as self’- governing bodies, and on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. This is borne out by all we know of the gentile organization, which has been shown to rest on principles essentially democratical. The question then is, whether the office of basileus passed in reality from father to son by hereditary right; which, if true, would tend to show a subversion of these principles. We have seen that in the Lower Status of barbarism the office of chief was hereditary in a gens, by which is meant that the vacancy was filled from the members of the gens as often as it occurred. Where descent was in the female line, as among the Iroquois, an own brother was usually selected to succeed the deceased chief, and where descent was in the male line, as among the Ojibwas and Omahas, the oldest son. In the absence of objections to the person such became the rule; but the elective principle remained, which was the essence of self-government. It cannot be claimed, on satisfactory proof, that the oldest son of the basileus took the office, upon the demise of his father, by absolute hereditary right. This is the essential fact; and it requires conclusive proof for its establishment. The fact that the oldest, or one of the sons, usually succeeded, which is admitted, does not establish the fact in question; because by usage he was in the probable line of succession by a free election from a constituency. The presumption, on the face of Grecian institutions, is against succession to the office of basileus by hereditary right; and in favour either of a free election, or of a confirmation of the office by the people through their recognized organizations, as in the case of the Roman rex.[15] With the office of basileus transmitted in the manner last named, the government would remain in the hands of the people. Because without an election or confirmation he could not assume the office; and because further, the power to elect or confirm implies the reserved right to depose.

The illustration of Mr. Grote, drawn from the Iliad, is without significance on the question made. Ulysses, from whose address the quotation is taken, was speaking of the command of an army before a besieged city. He might well say: “All the Greeks cannot by any means rule here. The rule of many is not a good thing. Let us have one koiranos, one basileus, to whom Zeus has given the sceptre, and the divine sanctions in order that he may command us.” Koiranos and basileus are used as equivalents, because both alike signified a general military commander. There was no occasion for Ulysses to discuss or endorse any plan of government; but he had sufficient reasons for advocating obedience to a single commander of the army before a besieged city.

Basileia may be defined as a military democracy, the people being free, and the spirit of the government, which is the essential thing, being democratical. The basileus was their general, holding the highest, the most influential and the most important office known to their social system. For the want of a better term to describe the government, basileia was adopted by Grecian writers, because it carried the idea of a general ship which had then become a conspicuous feature in the government. With the council and the agora both existing with the basileus, if a more special definition of this form of government is required, military democracy expresses it with at least reasonable correctness; while the use of the term kingdom, with the meaning it necessarily conveys, would be a misnomer.

In the heroic age the Grecian tribes were living in walled cities, and were becoming numerous and wealthy through field agriculture, manufacturing industries, and flocks and herds. New offices were required, as well as some degree of separation of their functions; and a new municipal system was growing up apace with their increasing intelligence and necessities. It was also a period of incessant military strife for the possession of the most desirable areas. Along with the increase of property the aristocratic element in society undoubtedly increased, and was the chief cause of those disturbances which prevailed in Athenian society from the time of Theseus to the times of Solon and Cleisthenes. During this period, and until the final abolition of the office some time before the first Olympiad, (776 B.C.) the basileus, from the character of his office and from the state of the times, became more prominent and more powerful than any single person in their previous experience. The functions of a priest and of a judge were attached to or inherent in his office; and he seems to have been ex officio a member of the council of chiefs. It was a great as well as a necessary office, with the powers of a general over the army in the field, and over the garrison in the city, which gave him the means of acquiring influence in civil affairs as well. But it does not appear that he possessed civil functions. Prof. Mason remarks, that “our information respecting the Grecian kings in the more historical age is not ample or minute enough to enable us to draw out a detailed scheme of their functions.” The military and priestly functions of the basileus are tolerably well understood, the judicial imperfectly, and the civil functions cannot properly be said to have existed. The powers of such an office under gentile institutions would gradually become defined by the usage of experience, but with a constant tendency in the basileus to assume new ones dangerous to society. Since the council of chiefs remained as a constituent element of the government, it may be said to have represented the democratic principles of their social system, as well as the gentes, while the basileus soon came to represent the aristocratic principle. It is probable that a perpetual struggle was maintained between the council and the basileus, to hold the latter within the limits of powers the people were willing to concede to the office. Moreover, the abolition of the office by the Athenians makes it probable that they found the office unmanageable, and incompatible with gentile institutions, from the tendency to usurp additional powers.

Among the Spartan tribes the ephoralty was instituted at a very early period to limit the powers of the basileus in consequence of a similar experience. Although the functions of the council in the Homeric and the legendary periods are not accurately known, its constant presence is evidence sufficient that its powers were real, essential and permanent. With the simultaneous existence of the agora, and in the absence of proof of a change of institutions, we are led to the conclusion that the council, under established usages, was supreme over gentes, phratries, tribes and nation, and that the basileus was amenable to this council for his official acts. The freedom of the gentes, of whom the members of the council were representatives, presupposes the independence of the council, as well as its supremacy.

Thucydides refers incidentally to the governments of the traditionary period, as follows: ‘Now when the Greeks were becoming more powerful, and acquiring possession of property still more than before, many tyrannies were established in the cities, from their revenues becoming greater; whereas before there had been hereditary basileia with specified powers.’[17] The office was hereditary in the sense of perpetual because it was filled as often as a vacancy occurred, but probably hereditary in a gens, the choice being by a free election by his gennetes, or by nomination possibly by the council, and confirmation by the gentes, as in the case of the rex of the Romans.

Aristotle has given the most satisfactory definition of the basileia and of the basileus of the heroic period of any of the Grecian writers. These then are the four kinds of basileia he remarks: the first is that of the heroic times, which was a government over a free people, with restricted rights in some particulars; for the basileus was their general, their judge and their chief priest. The second, that of the barbarians which is an hereditary despotic government; regulated by laws; the third is that which they call Aesymnetic, which is an elective tyranny. The fourth is the Lacedaemonian, which is nothing more than an hereditary generalship.[18] Whatever may be said of the last three forms, the first does not answer to the idea of a kingdom of the absolute type, nor to any recognizable form of monarchy Aristotle enumerates with striking clearness the principal functions of the basileus, neither of which imply civil powers, and all of which are consistent with an office for life, held by an elective tenure, They are also consistent with his entire subordination to the council of chiefs. The ‘restricted rights,’ and the ‘specified powers’ in the definitions of these authors, tend to show that the government had grown into this form in harmony with, as well as under, gentile institutions. The essential element in the definition of Aristotle is the freedom of the people, which in ancient society implies that the people held the powers of the government under their control, that the office of basileus was voluntarily bestowed, and that it could be recalled for sufficient cause. Such a government as that described by Aristotle can be understood as a military democracy, which, as a form of government under free institutions, grew naturally out of the gentile organization which the military spirit was dominant, when wealth and numbers appeared, with habitual life in fortified cities, and before experience had prepared the way for a pure democracy.

Under gentile institutions, with a people composed of gentes, phratries and tribes, each organized as independent self-governing bodies, the people would necessarily be free, The rule of a king by hereditary right and without direct accountability in such a society was simply impossible. The impossibility arises from the fact that gentile institutions are incompatible with a king or with a kingly government. It would require, what I think cannot be furnished, positive proof of absolute hereditary right in the office of basileus, with the presence of civil functions, to overcome the presumption which arises from the structure and principles of ancient- Grecian society. An Englishman, under his constitutional monarchy, is as free as an American under the republic, and his rights and liberties are as well protected; but he owes that freedom and protection to a body of written laws, created by legislation and enforced by courts of justice. In ancient Grecian society, usages and customs supplied the place of written laws, and the person depended for his freedom and protection upon the institutions of his social system. His safeguard was pre-eminently in such institutions as the elective tenure of office implies.

The reges of the Romans were, in like manner, military commanders, with priestly functions attached to their office; and this so-called kingly government falls into the same category of a military democracy. The rex, as before stated, was nominated by the senate, and confirmed by the comitia curiata; and the last of the number was deposed. With his deposition the office was abolished, as incompatible with what remained of the democratic principle, after the institution of Roman political society.

The nearest analogues of kingdoms among the Grecian tribes were the tyrannies, which sprang up here and there, in the early period, in different parts of Greece. They were governments imposed by force, and the power claimed was no greater than that of the feudal kings of mediaeval times. A transmission of the office from father to son through a few generations in order to super-add hereditary right was needed to complete the analogy. But such governments were so inconsistent with Grecian ideas, and so alien to their democratic institutions, that none of them obtained a permanent footing in Greece. Mr. Grote remarks that “it any energetic man could by audacity or craft break down the constitution and render himself permanent ruler according to his own will and pleasure — even though he might rule well — he could never inspire the people with any sentiment of duty towards him. His sceptre was illegitimate from the beginning, and even the taking of his life, far from being interdicted by that moral feeling which condemned the shedder of blood in other cases, was considered meritorious."[19] 1t was not so much the illegitimate sceptre which aroused the hostility of the Greeks, as the antagonism of democratical with monarchical ideas, the former of which were inherited from the gentes.

When the Athenians established the new political system, founded upon territory and upon property, the government was a pure democracy. It was no new theory, or special invention of the Athenian mind, but an old and familiar system, with an antiquity as great as that of the gentes themselves. Democratic ideas had existed in the knowledge and practice of their forefathers from time immemorial, and now found expression in a more elaborate, and in many respects, in an improved government. The false element, that of aristocracy, which had penetrated the system and created much of the strife in the transitional period connected itself with the office of basileus, and remained after this office was abolished; but the new system accomplished its overthrow. More successfully than the remaining Grecian tribes, the Athenians were able to carry forward their ideas of government to their logical result. It is one reason why they became, for their numbers, the most distinguished, the most intellectual and the most accomplished race of men the entire human family has yet produced. In purely intellectual achievements they are still the astonishment of mankind. It was because the ideas which had been germinating through the previous ethnical period, and which had become interwoven with every fibre of their brains, had found a happy fruition in a democratically constituted state. Under its life-giving impulses their highest mental development occurred.

The plan of government instituted by Cleisthenes rejected the office of a chief executive magistrate, while it retained the council of chiefs in an elective senate, and the agora in the popular assembly. It is evident that the council, the agora and the basileus of the gentes were the germs of the senate, the popular assembly, and the chief executive magistrate (king, emperor and president) of modern political society. The latter office sprang from the military necessities of organized society, and its development with the upward progress of mankind is instructive. It can be traced from the common war-chief, first to the Great War Soldier, as in the Iroquois Confederacy; secondly, to the same military commander in a confederacy of tribes more advanced, with the functions of a priest attached to the office, as the Teuctli of the Aztec Confederacy; thirdly, to the same military commander in a nation formed by a coalescence of tribes, with the functions of a priest and of a judge attached to the office, as in the basileus of the Greeks; and finally, to the chief magistrate in modern political society. The elective archon of the Athenians, who succeeded the basileus, and the president of modern republics, from the elective tenure of the office were the natural outcome of gentilism. We are indebted to the experience of barbarians for instituting and developing the three principal instrumentalities of government now so generally incorporated in the plan of government in civilized states. The human mind, specifically the same in all individuals in all the tribes and nations of mankind, and limited in the range of its powers, works and must work, in the same uniform channels, and within narrow limits of variation. Its results in disconnected regions of space, and in widely separated ages of time, articulate in a logically connected chain of common experiences. In the grand aggregate may still be recognized the few primary germs of thought, working upon primary human necessities, which, through the natural process of development, have produced such vast results.


1. “History of Greece,” iii, 58.

2. Wachsmuth’s “Historical Antiquities of the Greeks,” 1. c., i, 449, app. for text.

3. “Iliad,” ii, 362.

4. Tacitus, “Germania,” cap. vii.

5. Grote’s “History of Greece,” iii, 55. The Court of Areopagus took jurisdiction over homicides.- lb., iii, 79.

6. “Eum.,” 656.

7. “The Ancient City,” Small’s Trans., p, 157. Boston, Lee & Shepard.

8. Aristot1e, Thucydides, and other writers, use the term basileia for the governments of the heroic period;

9. Dionysius, 2, xii.

10. Aeschylus. “The Seven against Thebes,” 1005.

11. Euripides, “Orestes,” 884.

12. Aeschylus, “The Suppliants,” 607.

13. “History of Greece,” ii, 69.

14. “History of Greece,” ii, 69, and “Iliad,” ii, 204.

15. Mr. Gladstone, who presents to his readers the Grecian chiefs of the heroic age as kings and princes, with the superadded qualities of gentlemen, is forced to admit that “on the whole, we seem to have the custom or law of primogeniture sufficiently, but not over-sharply defined.” — “Juventus Mundi,” Little an Brown’s ed, p. 428.

16. Smith’s Dic., Art. Rex,’ p. 991.

17. “Thucydides,” i, 13.

18. Aristotle, “Politics,” iii, c, x.

19. “History of Greece,” ii, 61, and see 69.