PROPERTY IN GREECE.
The Roman idea of a right of absolute property was always foreign to Greece. The territory of the state was regarded as belonging to it alone; the citizens had merely an enjoyment of it, subordinate to the general interest, hence the frequent partitions of the soil and the constant intervention of the law to regulate the distribution of property. The philosophers, the politicians, and the legislators of antiquity, all evinced the same desire; that every citizen should have a portion of landed property, and that the law should prevent excessive inequality. In the Republic of Plato the land is divided in equal parts among all the citizens. In order that all might be interested in the defence of the country, Aristotle would have every one hold two plots of land, assigned by lot, one near the city, the other near the frontier.(1) In the majority of Greek states we find measures intended to maintain equality in landed property. In Leucadia the sale of hereditary property was absolutely forbidden; among the Locrians it was only allowed to meet a necessity on proof of such necessity. At Corinth, the legislator Phidon, to maintain the equality of the lots, endeavours to make the number of citizens invariable. Phiolaus, a Corinthian by birth, who gave laws to Thebes, endeavoured to attain the same end by regulating adoptions, and Phileas of Chalcedonia hoped to re-establish the equality of property by enacting that the rich should give portions to their daughters, but should not receive them; while the poor should receive them, but not give them.(2)
Sparta, at the time when it appears in history, had already discontinued the system of primitive community. It had, apparently, arrived at the system of collective property in the gens, or clan. The elementary unit of society was the , the same word as the Roman gens, and corresponding to the lignées and geschlächter of the towns of the middle ages. It was a group of families, connected by traditional descent from a common ancestor, whom they worshipped in common, their religious ceremonies being celebrated at the same altar. The patrimony was inalienable. There, as among the Jews, the object of all land legislation was the preservation of the family. When a daughter was the only heir of a family, the nearest relation was obliged to marry her, and even to divorce his existing wife for the purpose. He might also claim her, even against her will. In theory, every inheritor succeeded by individual title; but the community was generally maintained between brothers. There was no partition. "All the children remained grouped round the same hearth," M. Jannet tells us; "one of the brothers, the most capable, and, as a rule, the eldest, by reason of the sacred privilege of his birth, regulated the community and bore the expressive name of -µ, the preserver of the hearth. Plutarch, in his Treatise on Paternal Affection, shews that these communities played a very important part in the ancient social condition of Greek nations. They were probably the pivot of the family organization. Partition among the children was only effected in exceptional cases. In course of time this was reversed; but then the principle of compulsory partition was at variance with the other institutions, all of which had in view the preservation of the patrimony in the family. Hence arose the incoherence of the Greek law, which Cicero notices, in comparison with the Roman system based on the testamentary institution of an heir."
The Sons and their male descendants completely excluded the daughters, as at Athens and in other Greek states. The testament here, as in all primitive Greece, was unknown. Right and the interests of society, not the arbitrary will of the individual, fixed the succession. The constitution of property was, therefore, the same at Sparta, as among the Southern Slays of the present day, or in the rural districts of France in the middle ages.
The primitive community left deep traces on the social organization of Sparta. Plutarch, in his Life of Lycurgus, c. xvi., tells us that, at the birth of each child, the elders of the tribe assigned to it one of the 9000 lots of land in the territory of the state. The truth of this statement is denied, because it would follow that there was no right of succession, and that the earth was common, which is contrary to established facts. But, side by side with the family patrimonies, there may very well have existed a collective domain, like the Germanic Allmend, in which every one obtained his share.
Sparta had a communal domain of great extent, the produce of which served in some measure to maintain the public repasts. There, as in the majority of the other Greek states, it comprised forests and mountain.(3) The public repasts, Syssities, which were arranged in messes of fifteen persons, were the basis of the military and political organization, under the name of Phidities and Andries. A similar institution existed in almost all of the Greek states. Its economic importance was not everywhere the same, but depended on the common revenue. At Sparta every one had to contribute towards it a certain number of measures of oil and barley. In Crete, according to Aristotle, the Phidities contributed most to the maintenance of equality.
Grote and other historians regard with doubt the famous division of property into 9000 equal parts, which, according to Plutarch, was effected by Lycurgus. There may be some doubt with regard to the details, but the division, in itself, is entirely in harmony with the spirit of ancient politics. A division of property seems to have taken place at the time of the foundation of the state, about the year 1000 B. C., and after the conquest of Messenia under Polydorus (700 B.C.). However this may be, Aristotle reproaches Spartan legislators for not having taken efficient steps to maintain equality of condition. The population, he Bays, was divided into rich and poor: all the wealth was in the hands of a few individuals, possessed of colossal fortunes. According to Aristotle this concentration of landed property was carried so far, that in the time of Agis III., the whole of Laconia was the property of one hundred persons. The population rapidly decreased. The number of men capable of bearing arms was reduced from 10,000 to 1,000 even in the time of Aristotle, and was only `704) in the time of Plutarch. Aristotle saw no other remedy for the decay of the state than a partition of lands, with a view to the re-establishment of equality of property. The struggle between the rich and the poor had already begun at the period when the Stagyrite wrote. In several towns, he says, the rich had taken this oath: "I swear to be the enemy of the people, and to do them all the harm in my power."(4) At Sparta, and in many other Greek states, the kings placed themselves at the head of the people in opposition to the aristocracy. Caesarism was democratic and socialistic. Agis advocated a division of property, but was killed. The king Cleomenes (238222 B.C.) carried out the popular programme:the abolition of debts, the partition of property, and the grant of political rights to all who had been deprived of them. Laconia was divided into 15,000 parts allotted to the Periaeci, and 4,500 to the citizens. Cleomenes, overthrown in foreign war, was succeeded by other "tyrants," who continued to oppress and despoil the rich, to retain the favour of the people. The economic history of Sparta, repeated in the other Greek states, is very similar to that of Rome. So long as equality was maintained by the families preserving their patrimony, political liberty survived. When once the rich usurped the soil, the struggle of classes began, and was only ended by the establishment of despotism and the destruction of the state.
Aristotle, in his Politics, sums up in a few words the conclusion derived from the economic history of Greece. "For them (the legislators) the crucial point seems to be the organization of property, the one source, in their opinion, of revolutions. Phileas of Chalcedonia was the first to lay down the principle that equality of fortune was indispensable among the citizens." In fact, when the division of property is too unequal, democracy leads to social revolution; for the man who has the suffrage, seeks also to have property. Democratic institutions have only brought man peace, when, as in Switzerland and in primitive time, manners are simple and conditions very equal.
In the other Greek republics we find the same economic evolution as at Sparta,the concentration of landed property, the advance of inequality, cultivation by slaves, whose number is continually increasing; and finally depopulation. When Greece became a Roman province it was transformed into a desert, where the flocks wandered at will, and wild beasts lurked in the ruins of temples and cities. At the end of the first century of our era, the population was so reduced-that the whole of Greece could hardly produce 3,000 fully armed warriors, the number which Megara alone sent to the battle of Platea. Equality was the basis of Greek democracies; inequality was their ruin.(5)
1. Arist. Politics, iv. 9, 7.
2. Aristotle, Politics, ii. 4, § 4;II. 3, § 7;II. 4, §§ 1, 2.
3. See Herodotus, VI, 57; Pausanias III. 20; Plato, Laws, I, The Cretan towns derived from their common lands, cultivated by a particular class of serfs, sufficient to provide the public repasts. The citizens had therefore at least the means of subsistence.
4. Politics, viii. 7.
5. See the instructive work of Karl Bücher, Die Aufstände der unfreien Arbeiter, 1874, ch. iv.