Social mobility in classical Athens

Begin - Einde 
2009 - 2013 (afgewerkt)
Vakgroep Geschiedenis



Traditionally, social mobility has been considered a characteristic feature of modern Western meritocratic societies, whereas pre-industrial societies have been categorized as static, hierarchical and rigid. This opinion, clearly a legacy of 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century economists and sociologists, such as Smith, Marx, Weber and Durkheim, has during the last few decades been challenged by ancient, medieval and early-modern historians, who, drawing on historical data from a wide variety of sources, have been able to cast doubt on the presumption of relatively little mobility in pre-industrial societies. However, while extensive studies of social mobility exist for Sparta and Rome, only restricted (mainly economic) aspects of social mobility in ancient Athens have been considered, and then only incidentally. Thus, despite the obvious importance of this topic for our understanding of classical Athenian society, we still lack a specific study of Athenian social mobility. The aim of this project is to address this lack of study by assessing the scope for upward and downward social mobility in fifth and fourth century Athens within the citizen body, among metics, slaves, and women. It will verify to what extent citizen families were able to preserve or improve their status through time, what the possibilities were for metics to overcome their unprivileged status, what the chances were for slaves of socio-economic achievements or even freedom, and if it is meaningful to talk about social mobility for women. In sum, this project will examine to what extent Athenian society provided opportunities for people to move freely up and down the social ladder, and what the causes of these opportunities were. Following Bourdieu, it will take into account not only the aspect of wealth and property, but, on the contrary, all the different kinds of ‘capital’ that could be used as social means of power and as a whole determined one’s position in Athenian society.