Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter X
The Institution of Grecian Political Society

The several Grecian communities passed through a substantially similar experience in transferring themselves from gentile into political society; but the mode of transition can be best illustrated from Athenian history, because the facts with respect to the Athenians are more fully preserved. A bare outline of the material events will answer the object in view, as it is not proposed to follow the growth of idea of government beyond the inauguration of the new political system.

It is evident that the failure of gentile institutions to meet the now complicate wants of society originated the movement to withdraw all civil powers from the gentes, phratries and tribes, and re-invest, them in new constituency. This movement was gradual, extending through a long period of time, and was embodied in a series of successive experiments by means of which a remedy was sought for existing evils. The coming in of the new system was as gradual as the going out of the old, the two for a part of the time existing side by side. In the character and objects of the experiments tried we may discover wherein the gentile organization had failed to meet the requirements of society, the necessity for the subversion of the gentes, phratries and tribes as sources of power, and the means by which it was accomplished.

Looking backward upon the line of human progress, it may be remarked that, the stockaded village was the usual home of the tribe in the Lower Status of barbarism. In the Middle Status joint-tenement houses of adobe-bricks and of stone, in the nature of fortresses, make their appearance. But in the Upper Status, cities surrounded with ring embankments, and finally with walls of dressed stone, appear for the first time in human experience. It was a great step forward when the thought found expression in action of surrounding an area ample for a considerable population with a defensive wall of dressed stone, with towers, parapets and gates, designed to protect all alike and to be defended by the common strength. Cities of this grade imply the existence of a stable and developed field agriculture, the possession of domestic animals in flocks and herds, of merchandise in masses and of property in houses and land. The city brought with it new demands in the art of government by creating a changed condition of society. A necessity gradually arose for magistrates and, judges, military and municipal officers of different grades, with a mode of raising and supporting military levies which would require public revenues. Municipal life and wants must have greatly augmented the duties and responsibilities of the council of chiefs, and perhaps have overtaxed its capacity to govern.

It has been shown that in the Lower Status of barbarism the government was of one power, the council of chiefs; that in the Middle Status it was of two powers, the council of chiefs and the military commander; and that in the Upper Status it was of three powers, the council of chiefs, the assembly of the people and the military commander, But after the commencement of civilization, the differentiation of the powers of the government had proceeded still further. The military power, first: devolved upon the basileus, was now exercised by generals and captains under greater restrictions. By a further differentiation the judicial power had now appeared among the Athenians. It was exercised by the archons and dicasts. Magisterial powers were now being devolved upon municipal magistrates. Step by step, and with the progress of experience and advancement, these several powers had been taken by differentiation from the sum of the powers of the original council of chiefs, so far as they could be said to have passed from the people into this council as a representative body.

The creation of these municipal offices was a necessary consequence of the increasing magnitude and complexity of their affairs. Under the increased burden gentile institutions were breaking down. Unnumbered disorders existed, both from the conflict, of authority, and from the abuse of powers not as yet well defined. The brief and masterly sketch by Thucydides of the condition of the Grecian tribes in the transitional period, and the concurrent testimony of other writers to the same effect, leave no doubt that the old system of government was failing; and that a new one had become essential to further progress. A wider distribution of the powers of the government, a clearer definition of them, and a stricter accountability of official persons were needed for the welfare as well as safety of society; and more especially the substitution of written laws, enacted by competent authority, in the place of usages and customs. It was through the experimental knowledge gained in this and the previous ethnical period that the idea of political society or a state was gradually forming in the Grecian mind. It was a growth running through centuries of time, from the first appearance of a necessity for a change in the plan of government, before the entire result was realized.

The first attempt among the Athenians to subvert the gentile organization and, establish a new system is ascribed to Theseus, and therefore rests upon tradition; but certain facts remained to the historical period which confirm some part at least of his supposed legislation. It will be sufficient to regard Theseus as representing a period, or a series of events. From the time of Cecrops to Theseus, according to Thucydides, the Attic people had always lived in cities, having their own prytaneums and archons, and when not in fear of danger did not consult their basileus, but governed their own affairs separately according to their own councils. But when Theseus was made-basileus, he persuaded them to break up the council-houses and magistracies of their several cities and come into relation with Athens, with one council-house (bouleuterios), and one prytaneum, to which all were considered as belonging.[2] This statement embodies or implies a number of important facts, namely, that the Attic population were organized in independent tribes, each having its own territory in which the people were localized, with its own council-house and prytaneum; and that while they were self-governing societies they were probably confederated for mutual protection, and elected their basileus or general to command their common forces. It is a picture of communities democratically organized, needing a military commander as a necessity of their condition, but not invested with civil functions which their gentile system excluded. Under Theseus they were brought to coalesce into one people, with Athens as their seat of government, which gave them a higher organization than before they had been able to form. The coalescence of tribes into a nation in one territory is later in time than confederations, where the tribes occupy independent territories. It is a higher organic process. While the gentes had always been intermingled by marriage, the tribes were now intermingled by obliterating territorial lines, and by the use of a common council-hall and prytaneum. The act ascribed to Theseus explains the advancement, of their gentile society from a lower to a higher organic form, which must have occurred at some time, and probably was effected in the manner stated.

But another act is ascribed to Theseus evincing a more radical plan, as well as an appreciation of the necessity for a fundamental change in the plan of government. He divided the people into three classes, irrespective of gentes, called respectively the Eupatridae ‘well-born’ the Geomori or ‘Husbandmen,’ and the Demiurgi or ‘artisans.’ The principal offices were assigned to the first class both in the civil administration and in the priesthood. This classification was not only recognition of property and of the aristocratic element in the government of society, but it was a direct movement against the governing power of the gentes. It was the evident intention to unite the chiefs of the gentes with their families, and the men of wealth in the several gentes, in a class by themselves, with the right to hold the principal offices in which the powers of society were vested. The separation of the remainder into two great classes traversed the gentes again. Important results might have followed if the voting power had been taken from the gentes, phraties and tribes, and given to the classes, subject to the right of the first to hold principal offices. This does not appear to have been done although absolutely necessary to give vitality to the classes. Moreover, it did not change essentially the previous order of things with respect to holding office. Those now called Eupatrids were probably the men of the several gentes who had previously been called into office. This scheme of Theseus died out, because there was in reality no transfer of powers from the gentes, phratries and tribes to the classes, and because such classes were inferior to the gentes as the basis of a system,

The centuries that elapsed from the unknown time of Theseus to the legislation of Solon (594 B. C.) formed one of the most important periods in Athenian experience; but the succession of events is imperfectly known. The office of basileus was abolished prior to the first Olympiad (776 B. C.), and the archonship established in its place. The latter seems to have been hereditary in a gens, and it is stated to have been hereditary in a particular family within the gens, the first twelve archons being called the Medontidae from Medon, the first archon, claimed to have been the son of Codrus, the last basileus. In the case of these archons, who held for life, the same question exists which has elsewhere been raised with respect to the basileus; that an election or confirmation by a constituency was necessary before the office could be assumed. The presumption is against the transmission of the office by hereditary right. In 711 B. C, the office of archon was limited to ten years, and bestowed by free election upon the person esteemed most worthy of the position. We are now within the historical period, though near its threshold, where we meet the elective principle with respect to the highest office in the gift of the people clearly and completely established. It is precisely what would have been expected from the constitution and principles of the gentes, although the aristocratical principle, as we must suppose, had increased in force with the increase of property, and was the source through which hereditary right was introduced wherever found. The existence of the elective principle with respect to the later archons is not without significance in its relation to the question of the previous practice of the Athenians. In 683 B. C. the office was made elective annually, the number was increased to nine, and their duties were made ministerial and judicial. We may notice, in these events, evidence of a gradual progress in knowledge with respect to the tenure of office. The Athenian tribes had inherited from their remote ancestors the office of archon as chief of the gens. It was hereditary in the gens as may fairly be supposed, and elective among its members. After descent was changed to the male line the sons of the deceased chief were within the line of succession, and one of their number would be apt to be chosen in the absence of personal objections. But now they reverted to this original office for the name of their highest, magistrate, made it elective irrespective of any gens, and limited its duration, first to ten years and finally to one. Prior to this, the tenure of office to which they had been accustomed was for life. In the Lower and also in the Middle Status of barbarism we have found the office of chief, elective and for life; or during good behaviour, for this limitation follows from the right of the gens to depose from office. It is a reasonable inference that the office of chief in a Grecian gens was held by a Bee election and by the same tenure. It must be regarded as proof of a remarkable advancement in knowledge at, this early period that the Athenian tribes substituted a term of years for their most important office, and allowed a competition of candidates. They thus worked out the entire theory of an elective and representative office, and placed it upon its true basis.

In the time of Solon, it may be further noticed, the Court of Areopagus, composed of ex-archons, had come into existence with power to try criminals and with a censorship over morals, together with a number of new offices in the military, naval and administrative services. But the most important event that occurred about this time was the institution of the naucraries, twelve in each tribe, and forty- eight in all: each of which was a local circumscription of householders from which levies were drawn into the military and naval service, and from which taxes were probably collected. The naucrary was the incipient deme or township which, when the idea of a territorial basis was fully developed, was to become the foundation of the second great plan of government. By whom the naucraries were instituted is unknown. “They must have existed even before the time of Solon,” Boeckh remarks, “since the presiding officers of the naucraries are mentioned before the time of his legislation; and when Aristotle ascribes their institution to Solon, we may refer this account only to their confirmation by the political constitution of Solon."[4] Twelve naucraries formed a trittys, a larger territorial circumscription, but they were not necessarily contiguous. It was, in like manner, the germ of the county, the next territorial aggregate above the township.

Notwithstanding the great changes that had occurred in. the instrumentalities by which the government was administered, the people were still in a gentile society, and living under gentile institutions. The gens, phratry and tribe were in full vitality, and the recognized sources of power. Before the time of Solon no person could become a member of this society except, through connection with a gens and tribe. All other persons were beyond the pale of the government. The council of chiefs remained, the old and time- honoured instrument of government; but the powers of the government were now co-ordinated between itself, the agora or assembly of the people, the Court of Areopagus, and the nine archons. It was the prerogative of the council to originate and mature public measures for submission to the People, which enabled it to shape the policy of the government. It doubtless had the general administration of the finances, and it remained to the end, as it, had been from the beginning, the central feature of the government. The assembly of the people had now come into increased prominence. Its functions were still limited to the adoption or rejection of public measures submitted to its decision by the council; but it began to exercise a powerful influence upon public affairs. The rise of this assembly as a power in the government is the surest evidence of the progress of the Athenian people in knowledge and intelligence. Unfortunately the functions and powers of the council of chiefs and of the assembly of the people in this early period have been imperfectly preserved, and but partially elucidated.

In 624 B. C. Draco had framed a body of laws for the Athenians which were chiefly remarkable for their unnecessary severity; but this code demonstrated that the time was drawing near in Grecian experience when usages and customs were to be superseded by written laws. As yet the Athenians, had not learned the art of enacting laws as the necessity tor them appeared, which required a higher knowledge of the functions of legislative bodies than they had attained. They were in that stage in which lawgivers appear, and legislation is in a scheme or in gross, under the sanction of a personal name. Thus slowly the great sequences of human progress unfold themselves.

When Solon came into the archonship (594 B. C,) the evils prevalent in society had reached an unbearable degree. The struggle for tlie possession of property, now a commanding interest, had produced singular results. A port-ion of the Athenians had fallen into slavery, through debt,- the person of the debtor being liable to enslavement in default of payment; others had mortgaged their lands and were unable to remove the encumbrances; and as a consequence of these and other embarrassments society was devouring itself. In addition to a body of laws, some of them novel’ but corrective of the principal financial difficulties, Solon renewed the project of Theseus of organizing society into classes, not according to callings as before, but according to the amount of their property. It is instructive to follow the course of these experiments to supersede the gentes and substitute a new system, because we shall find the Roman tribes, in the time of Servius Tullius, trying the same ex- periment for the same purpose. Solon divided the people into four classes according to the measure of their wealth, and going beyond Theseus, he invested these classes with certain powers, and imposed upon them certain obligations. It transferred a portion of the civil powers of the gentes, phratries and tribes to the property classes. In proportion as the substance of power was drawn from the former and invested in the latter, the gentes would be weakened and their decadence would commence. But so far as classes composed of persons were substituted for gentes composed of persons, the government was still founded upon person, and upon relations purely personal. The scheme failed to reach the substance of the question. Moreover, in changing the council of chiefs into the senate of four hundred, the members were taken in equal numbers from the four tribes, and not from the classes. But it will be noticed that the idea of property, as the basis of a system of government, was now incorporated by Solon in the new plan of property classes. It failed, however, to reach the idea of political society, which must rest upon territory as well as property, and deal with persons through their territorial relations. The first class alone were eligible to the high offices, the second performed military service on horseback, the third as infantry, and the fourth as light-armed soldiers. This last class were the numerical majority. They were disqualified from holding office, and paid no taxes; but in the popular assembly of which they were members, they possessed a vote upon the election of all magistrates and officers, with power to bring them to an account. They also had power to adopt or reject all public measures submitted by the senate to their decision. Under the constitution of Solon their powers were real and durable, and their influence upon public affairs was permanent and substantial. All freemen, though not connected with a gens and tribe, were now brought into the government, to a certain extent, by becoming citizens and members of the assembly of the people with the powers named. This was one of the most important results of the legislation of Solon.

It will be further noticed that the people were now organized as an army, consisting of three divisions; the cavalry, the heavy-armed infantry, and the light-armed infantry, each with its own officers of different grades. The form of the statement limits the array to the last three classes, which leaves the first class in the unpatriotic position of appropriating to themselves the principal offices of the government, and taking no part in the military service. This undoubtedly requires modification. The same plan of organization, but including the five classes, will re-appear among: the Romans under Servius Tullius, by whom the body of the people were organized as an army (exercitus) fully officered and equipped in each subdivision. The idea of a military democracy, different in organization but the same theoretically as that of the previous period, re-appears in a new dress both in the Solonian and in the Servian constitution.

In addition to the property element, which entered into the basis of the new system, the territorial element was partially incorporated through the naucraries before adverted to, in which it is probable there was an enrolment of citizens and of their property to form a basis for military levies and for taxation. These provisions, with the senate, the popular assembly now called the ecclesia, the nine archons, and the Court, of Areopagus, gave to the Athenians a much more elaborate government than they had before known, and requiring a higher degree of intelligence for its management. It was also essentially democratical in harmony with their antecedent ideas and institutions; in fact a logical consequence of them, and explainable only as such. But it fell short of a pure system in three respects: firstly, it was not founded upon territory; secondly, all the dignities of the state were not open to every citizen; and thirdly, the principle of local self-government in primary organizations was unknown, except, as it may have existed imperfectly in the naucraries. The gentes, phratries and tribes still remained in full vitality, but with diminished powers. It was a transitional condition, requiring further experience to develop the theory of a political system toward which it was a great advance. Thus slowly but, steadily human institutions are evolved from lower into higher forms, through the logical operations of the human mind working in uniform but predetermined channels.

There was one weighty reason for the overthrow of the gentes and the substitution of a new plan of government. It was probably recognized by Theseus, and undoubtedly by Solon. From the disturbed condition of the Grecian tribes and the unavoidable movements of the people in the traditionary period and in the times prior to Solon, many persons transferred themselves from one nation to another, and thus lost their connection with their own gens without acquiring a connection with another.’ This would repeat itself from time to time; through personal adventure, the spirit of trade, and the exigencies of warfare, until a considerable number with their posterity would be developed in every tribe unconnected with any gens. All such persons, as before remarked, would be without the pale of the government with which there could be no connection excepting through a gens and tribe. The fact is noticed by Mr. Grote. ‘The phratries and gentes’ he remarks, ‘probably never at any time included the whole population of the country — and the population not included in them tended to become larger and larger in the times anterior to Kleisthenes, as well as afterwards,’[5] As early as the time of Lycurgus, there was a considerable immigration into Greece from the islands of the Mediterranean and from the Ionian cities of its eastern coasts; which increased the number of persons unattached to any gens. When they came in families they would bring a fragment of a new gens with them; but they would remain aliens unless the new gens was admitted into a tribe. This probably occurred in a number of cases, and it may assist in explaining the unusual number of gentes in Greece. The gentes and phratries were close corporations, both of which would have been adulterated by the absorption of these aliens through adoption into a native gens. Persons of distinction might be adopted into some gens, or secure the admission of their own gens into some tribe; but the poorer class would be refused either privilege. There can be no doubt that as far back as the time of Theseus, and more especially in the time of Solon, the number of the unattached class, exclusive of the slaves, had become large. Having neither gens nor phratry they were also without direct religious privileges, which were inherent and exclusive in these organizations. It is not difficult to see in this class of persons a growing element of discontent dangerous to the security of society.

The schemes of Theseus and of Solon made imperfect provision for their admission to citizenship through the classes; but as the gentes and phratries remained from which they were excluded, the remedy was still incomplete. Mr. Grote further remarks, that ‘it is not easy to make out distinctly what was the political position of the ancient Gentes and Phratries, as Solon left them. The four tribes consisted altogether of gentes and phratries, insomuch that no one could be included in any one of the tribes who was not also a member of some gens and phratry. Now the new probouleutic or pre-considering senate consisted of 400 members,- 100 from each of the tribes: persons not included in any gens and phratry could therefore have had no access to it. The conditions of eligibility were similar, according to ancient custom, for the nine archons — of course, also, for the senate of Areopagus. So that there remained only the public assembly, in which an Athenian, not a member of these tribes, could take part: yet he was a citizen, since he could give his vote for archons and senators, and could take part in the annual decision of their account- ability, besides being entitled to claim redress for wrong from the archons in his own person — while the alien could only do so through the intervention of an avouching citizen, or Prostates. It seems therefore that all persons not included in the four tribes, whatever their grade or fortune might be, were on the same level in respect to political privilege as the fourth and poorest class of the Solonian census. It has already been remarked, that even before the time of Solon, the number of Athenians not included in the gentes or phratries was probably considerable: it tended to become greater and greater, since these bodies were close and un-expansive, while the policy of the new lawgiver tended to invite industrious settlers from other parts of Greece to Athens.’[6] The Roman Plebeians originated from causes precisely similar. They were not members of any gens, and therefore formed no part of the Populus Romanus. We may find in the facts stated one of the reasons of the failure of the gentile organization to meet the requirements of society, In the time of Solon, society had outgrown their ability to govern, its affairs had advanced so far beyond the condition in which the gentes originated. They furnished a basis too narrow for a state, up to the measure of which the people had grown.

There was also an increasing difficulty in keeping the members of a gens, phratry and tribe locally together. As parts of a governmental organic series, this fact of localization was highly necessary. In the earlier period, the gens held its lands in common, the phratries held certain lands in common for religious uses, the tribe probably held other lands in common. When they established themselves in country or city, they settled locally together by gentes, by phratries and by tribes, as a consequence of their social organization. Each gens was in the main by itself — not all of its members, for two gentes were represented in every family, but the body who propagated the gens. Those gentes belonging to the same phratry naturally sought contiguous or at least near areas, and the same with the several phratries of the tribe. But in the time of Solon, lands and houses had come to be owned by individuals in severalty, with power of alienation as to lands, but not of houses out of the gens. It doubtless became more and more impossible to keep the members of a gens locally together, from the shifting relations of persons to land, and from the creation of new property by its members in other localities. The unit of their social system was becoming unstable in place, and also in character. Without stopping to develop this fact of their condition further, it must have proved one of the reasons of the failure of the old plan of government. The township, with its fixed property and its inhabitants for the time being, yielded that element of permanence now wanting in the gens. Society had made immense progress from its former condition of extreme simplicity. It was very different from that which the gentile organization was instituted to govern. Nothing but the unsettled condition and incessant warfare of the Athenian tribes, from their settlement in Attica to the time of Solon, could have preserved this organization from overthrow. After their establishment in walled cities, that rapid development of wealth and numbers occurred which brought the gentes to the final test, and demonstrated their inability to govern a people now rapidly approaching civilization. But their displacement even then required a long period of time.

The seriousness of the difficulties to be overcome in creating a political society are strikingly illustrated in the experience of the Athenians. In the time of Solon, Athens had already produced able men; the useful arts had attained a. very considerable development; commerce on the sea had become a national interest; agriculture and manufactures were well advanced; and written composition in verse had commenced. They were in fact a civilized people, and had been for two centuries; but their institutions of government were still gentile, and of the type prevalent throughout the Later Period of barbarism. A great impetus had been given to the Athenian commonwealth by the new system of Solon; nevertheless, nearly a century elapsed, accompanied with many disorders, before the idea of a state was fully developed in the Athenian mind. Out of the naucrary, a conception of a township as the unit of a political system was finally elaborated; but it required a man of the highest genius, as well as great personal influence, to seize the idea in its fullness, and give it an organic embodiment. That man finally appeared in Cleisthenes (509 B.C.), who must, he regarded as the first of Athenian legislators — the founder of the second great plan of human government, that under which modern civilized nations are organized.

Cleisthenes went to the bottom of the question, and placed the Athenian political system upon the foundation on which it remained to the close of the independent existence of the commonwealth. He divided Attica into a hundred demes, or townships, each circumscribed by metes and bounds, and distinguished by a name. Every citizen was required to register himself, and to cause an enrolment of his property in the deme in which he resided. This enrolment was the evidence as well as the foundation of his civil privileges. The deme displaced the naucrary. Its inhabitants were an organized body politic with powers of local self-government, like the modern: American township. This is the vital and the remarkable feature of the system. It reveals at once its democratic character. The government was placed in the hands of the people in the first of the series of territorial organizations. The demotae elected a demarch, who had the custody of the public register; he had also power to convene the demotae for the purpose of electing- magistrates and judges, for revising the registry of citizens, and for the enrolment of such as became of age during the year. They elected a treasurer, and provided for the assessment and collection of taxes, and for furnishing the quota of troops required of the deme for the service of the state. They also elected thirty dicasts or judges, who tried all causes arising in the deme where the amount involved fell below a certain sum. Besides these powers of local self-government, which is the essence of a democratic system each deme had its own temple and religious worship, and its own priest, also elected by the demotae. Omitting minor, particulars, we find the instructive and remarkable fact that the township, as first instituted, possessed all the powers of local self-government, and even upon a fuller and larger scale than an American township. Freedom in religion is also noticeable, which was placed where it rightfully belongs, under the control of the people. All registered citizens were free, and equal in their rights and privileges, with the exception of equal eligibility to the higher offices. Such was the new unit of organization in Athenian political society, at once a model for a free state, and a marvel of wisdom and knowledge. The Athenians commenced with a democratic organization at the point where every people must commence who desire to create a free state, and place the control of the government in the hands of its citizens.

The second member of the organic territorial series consisted of ten demes, united in a larger geographical district. It was called a local tribe, to preserve some part of the terminology of the old gentile system.[7] Each district was named after an Attic hero, and it was the analogue of the modern county. The demes in each district were usually contiguous, which should have been true in every instance to render the analogy complete, but in a few cases one or more of the ten were detached, probably in consequence of the local separation of portions of the original consanguine tribe who desired to have their deme incorporated in the district of their immediate kinsmen. The inhabitants of each district or county were also a body politic, with certain powers of local self-government. They elected a phylarch, who commanded the cavalry; a taxiarcb, who commanded the foot-soldiers and a general, who commanded both; and as each district was required to furnish five triremes, they probably elected as many trierarchs to command them. Cleisthenes increased the senate to five hundred and assigned fifty to each district. They were elected by its inhabitants. Other functions of this larger body politic doubtless existed, but they have been imperfectly explained.

The third and last member of the territorial series was the Athenian commonwealth or state, consisting of ten local tribes or districts. It was an organised body politic embracing the aggregate of Athenian citizens. It was represented by a senate, an ecclesia, the court of Areopagus, the archons, and judges, and the body of elected military and naval commanders.

Thus the Athenians founded the second great plan of government upon territory and upon property. They substituted a series of territorial aggregates in the place of an ascending series of aggregates of persons. As a plan of government it rested upon territory which was necessarily permanent and upon property which was more or less localised; and it dealt with its citizens, now localized in demes through their territorial relations. To be a citizen of the state it was necessary to be a citizen of a deme. The person voted and was taxed in his deme, and he was called into the military service from his deme. In like manner he was called by election into the senate, and to the command of a division of the army or navy from the larger district of his local tribe. His relations to a gens or phratry ceased to govern his duties as a citizen. The contrast between the two systems is as marked as their difference was fundamental. A coalescence of the people into bodies politic in territorial areas now became complete.

The territorial series enters into the plan of government of modern civilized nations. Among ourselves, for example, we have the township, the county, the state, and the United States; the inhabitants of each of which are an organized body politic with powers of local self-government. Each organization is in full vitality and performs its functions within a definite sphere in which it is supreme. France has a similar series in the commune, the arrondissement, the department, and the empire, now the republic. In Great Britain the series is the parish, the shire, the kingdom, and the three kingdoms. In the Saxon period the hundred seems to have been the analogue of the township[8] but already emasculated of the powers of local self- government, with the exception of the hundred court. The inhabitants of these several areas were organized as bodies politic, but those below the highest with very limited powers. The tendency to centralization under monarchical institutions has atrophied, practically, all the lower organizations.

As a consequence of the legislation of Cleisthenes, the gentes, phratries and tribes were divested of their influence, because their powers were taken from them and vested in the deme, the local tribe and the state, which became from thenceforth the sources of all political power. They were not dissolved, however, even after this overthrow, but remained for centuries as a pedigree and lineage, and as fountains of religious life. In certain orations of Domosthenes, where the cases involved personal or property rights, descents or rights of sepulture, both the gens: and phratry appear as living organizations in his time.[9] They were left undisturbed by the new system so far as their connection with religious rites, with certain criminal proceedings, and with certain social practices were concerned, which arrested their total dissolution. The classes, however, both those instituted by Theseus and those afterwards created by Solon, disappeared after the time of Cleisthenes.[10]

Solon is usually regarded as the founder of Athenian democracy, while some writers attribute a portion of the work to Cleisthenes and Theseus. We shall draw nearer the truth of the matter by regarding Theseus, Solon and Cleisthenes as standing connected with three great movements of the Athenian people, not to found a democracy, for Athenian democracy was older than either, but to change the plan of government from a gentile into a political organization. Neither sought to change the existing principles of democracy which had been inherited from the gentes. They contributed in their respective times to the great movement for the formation of a state, which required the substitution of a political in the place of gentile society. The invention of a township, and the organization of its inhabitants as a body politic, was the main feature in the problem. It may seem to us a simple matter; but it taxed the capacities of the Athenians to their lowest depths before the idea of a township found expression in its actual creation. It was an inspiration of the genius of Cleisthenes; and it stands as the master work of a master mind. In the new political society they realized that complete democracy which already existed in every essential principle, hut which required a change in the plan of government to give it a more ample field and a fuller expression. It is precisely here, as it seems to the writer, that we have been misled by the erroneous assumption of the great historian, Mr, Grote, whose general views of Grecian institutions are so sound and perspicuous, namely, that the early governments of the Grecian tribes were essentially monarchical.[11] On this assumption it requires a revolution of institutions to explain the existence of that Athenian democracy under which the great mental achievements of the Athenians were made. No such revolution occurred, and no radical change of institutions was ever effected, for the reason that they were and always had been essentially democratical. Usurpations not unlikely occurred, followed by controversies for the restoration of the: previous order; but they never lost their liberties, or those ideas of freedom and of the right of self-government which had been their inheritance in all ages.

Recurring for a moment to the basileus, the office tended to make the man more conspicuous than any other in their affairs. He was the first person to catch the mental eye of the historian by whom he has been metamorphosed into a king; notwithstanding he was made to reign, and by divine right, over a rude democracy. As a general in a military democracy, the basileus becomes intelligible, and without violating the institutions that actually existed. The introduction of this office did not change the principles of the gentes, ‘phratries and tribes, which in their organization were essentially democratical; and which of necessity impressed that character: on their gentile system. Evidence is not wanting that the popular element was constantly active to resist encroachments on personal rights. The basileus belongs to the traditionary period; when the powers of government were more or less undefined; but the council of chiefs existed in the centre of the system, and also the gentes, phratries and tribes in full vitality. These are sufficient to determine the character of the government.[12] The government as reconstituted by Cleisthenes contrasted strongly with that previous to the time of Solon. But the transition was not only natural but inevitable if the people followed their ideas to their logical results. It was a change of plan, but not of principles nor even of instrumentalities. The council of chiefs remained in the senate, the agora in the ecclesia; the three highest archons were respectively ministers of state, of religion, and of justice as before, while the six interior archons exercised judicial functions in connection with the courts, and the large body of dicasts now: elected annually for judicial service. No executive officer existed under the system, which is one of its striking peculiarities. The nearest approach to it was the president of the senate, who was elected by lot for a single day, without this possibility of a re-election during the year. For a single day he presided over the popular assembly, and held the keys of the citadel and of the treasury. Under the new government the popular assembly held the substance of power, and guided the destiny of Athens. The new element which gave stability and order to the state: was the deme or township, with its complete autonomy, and local self- government. A hundred demes similarly organized would determine the general movement of the commonwealth. As the unit, so the compound. It is here that the people, as before remarked, must begin if they would learn the art of self-government, and maintain equal laws and equal rights and privileges. They must retain in their hands, all the powers of society not necessary to the state to insure an efficient general administration, as well as the control of the administration itself.

Athens rose rapidly into influence and distinction under the new political system. That remarkable development of genius and intelligence, which raised the Athenians to the highest eminence among the historical nations of mankind, occurred under the inspiration of democratic institutions.

With the institution of political society under Cleisthenes, the gentile organization was laid aside as a portion of the rags of barbarism. Their ancestors had lived for untold centuries in gentilism, with which they had achieved all the elements of civilization, including a written language, as well as entered upon a civilized career. The history of the gentile organization will remain as a perpetual monument of the anterior ages, identified as it has been with the most remarkable and extended experience of mankind. It must ever be ranked as one of the most remarkable institutions of the human family.

In this brief and inadequate review the discussion has been confined to the main course of events in Athenian history, Whatever was true of the Athenian tribes will be found substantially true of the remaining Grecian tribes, though not exhibited on so broad or so grand a scale. The discussion tends to render still more apparent one of the main propositions advanced — that the idea of government in all the tribes of mankind has been a growth through successive stages of development.


1. “Thucydides,” lib. i, 2-13.

2. “Thucyd.,” Iib. ii, c. 15. Plutarch speaks nearly to the same effect: “He settled all the inhabitants of Attica in Athens, and made them one people in one city, who before were scattered up and down, and could with difficulty be assembled on any urgent occasion for the public welfare... Dissolving therefore the associations, the councils, and the courts in each particular town, he built one common prytaneum and court hall, where it stands to this day. The citadel with its dependencies, and the city or the old and new town, he united under the common name of Athens.” — Plutarch. “Vit. Theseus,” cap. 24.

3. “Of the nine archons, whose number continued unaltered from 683 B. C, to the end of the democracy, three bore special titles — the Archon Eponymus, from whose name the designation of the year was derived, and who was spoken of as ‘the Archon,’ the Archon Basileus (King), or more frequently, the Basileus; and the Polemarch. The remaining six passed by the general name of Thesmothetae..... The Archon Eponymus determined all disputes relative to the family, the gentile, and the phratric relations: he was the legal protector of orphans and widows. The Archon Basileus (or King Archon) enjoyed competence in complaints respecting offences against the religious sentiment and respecting homicide. The Polemarch (speaking of times anterior to Kleisthenes) was the leader of military force, and judge in ‘disputes between citizens and non-citizens.” — “Grote’s ‘History of Greece,” 1. c,, iii, 74.

4. “Public Economy of Athens;” Lamb’s Trans., Little & Brown’s ed., p. 353.

5. “History of Greece,’’ iii 65.

6. “History of Greece,” iii 133:

7. The Latin ‘tribus’=tribe, signified originally ‘a third part,’ and was used to designate a third part of the people when composed of three tribes; but in course of time, after the Latin tribes were made local instead of consanguine, like the Athenian local tribes, the term tribe lost its numerical quality and came, like the phylon of Cleisthenes to be a local designation. -- Mommsen’s “History of Rome” 1,c, I, 71.

8. “Anglo Saxon Law,” by Henry Adams and others, pp. 20, 23.

9. See particularly the Orations against Eubulides, and Mareatus.

10. Hermann’s “Political Antiquities of Greece,” 1. c. p. 187, 96.

11. “The primitive Grecian government is essentially monarchical, reposing on personal feeling and divine right.” — “History of Greece,” ii, 69.

12. Sparta retained the office of basileus in the period of civilization. It was a dual general ship, and hereditary in a particular family. The powers of government were co-ordinated between the Gerousia or council, the popular assembly, the five ephors, and two military commanders. The ephors were elected annually, with powers analogous to the Roman tribunes. Royalty at Sparta needs qualification. The basileis commanded the army, and in their capacity of chief priests offered the sacrifices to the gods.