and their wives and children, we have two divisions of society: the citizens, with their own organization of relief and charities; and the slaves, permanently maintained by reason of their dependence on individual members of the civic class. Thus, there is no poverty but that of the poor citizens. Poverty is limited to them. The slaves—that is to say, the bulk of the labouring population—are provided for.
From times relatively near to Hesiod’s we may trace the growth and influence of the clan-family as the centre of customary charity within the community, the gradual increase of a class of poor either outside the clan-family or eventually independent of it, and the development of a new organization of relief introduced by the state to meet newer demands. We picture the early state as a group of families, each of which tends to form in time a separate group or clan. At each expansion from the family to the clan the members of the clan retain rights and have to fulfil duties which are the same as, or similar to, those which prevailed in the family. Thus, in Attica the clan-families (genos) and the brotherhoods (phratria) were “the only basis of legal rights and obligations over and above the natural family.” The clan-family was “a natural guild,” consisting of rich and poor members—the well-born or noble and the craftsman alike. Originally it would seem that the land was divided among the families of the clan by lot and was inalienable. Thus with the family was combined the means of supporting the family. On the other hand, every youth was registered in his phratry, and the phratry remained till the reforms of Cleisthenes (509 B.C.) a political, and even after that time a social, organization of importance.
First, as to the family—the mother and wife, and the father. Already before the age of Plato and Xenophon (450–350 B.C.) we find that the family has suffered a slow decline. The wife, according to later Greek usage, was married as a child, hardly educated, and confined to the house, except at some festival or funeral. But with the decline came criticism and a nobler conception of family life. “First, then, come laws regarding the wife,” writes the author of the so-called Economics of Aristotle, and the law, “thou shalt do no wrong; for, if we do no wrong, we shall not be wronged.” This is the “common law,” as the Pythagoreans say, “and it implies that we must not wrong the wife in the least, but treat her with the reverence due to a suppliant, or one taken from the altar.” The sanctity of marriage is thus placed among the “commandments” of Hesiod, beside the duty towards the stranger and the orphan. These and other references to the Pythagoreans suggest that they, possibly in common with other mystics, preached the higher religion of marriage and social life, and thus inspired a deeper social feeling, which eventually allied itself with the Christian movement.
Next, as to parents and children: the son was under an obligation to support his father, subject, after Solon’s time, to the condition that he had taught him a trade; and after Solon’s time the father had no claim for support from an illegitimate son. “The possession of children,” it was said (Arist. Econ.), “is not by nature for the public good only, but also for private advantage. For what the strong may gain by their toil for the weak, the weak in their old age receive from the strong... Thus is the nature of each, the man and the woman, prearranged by the Divine Being for a life in common.” Honour to parents is “the first and greatest and oldest of all debts” (Plato, Laws, 717). The child has to care for the parent in his old age. “Nemesis, the minister of justice (δίκη), is appointed to watch over all these things.” And “if a man fail to adorn the sepulchre of his dead parents, the magistrates take note of it and inquire” (Xen. Mem. ii. 14). The heightened conception of marriage implies a fuller interpretation of the mutual relations of parent and child as well; both become sacred.
Then as to orphans. Before Solon’s time (594 B.C.) the property of any member of the clan-family who died without children went to the clan; and after his time, when citizens were permitted to leave their property by will, the property of an intestate fell to the clan. This arrangement carried with it corresponding duties. Through the clan-family provision was made for orphans. Any member of the clan had the legal right to claim an orphan member in marriage; and, if the nearest agnate did not marry her, he had to give her a dowry proportionate to the amount of his own property. Later, there is evidence of a growing sense of responsibility in regard to orphans. Hippodamus (about 443 B.C.), in his scheme of the perfected state (Arist. Pol. 1268), suggested that there should be public magistrates to deal with the affairs of orphans (and strangers); and Plato, his contemporary, writes of the duty of the state and of the guardian towards them very fully. Orphans, he proposes (Laws, 927), should be placed under the care of public guardians. “Men should have a fear of the loneliness of orphans ... and of the souls of the departed, who by nature take a special care of their own children.... A man should love the unfortunate orphan (boy or girl) of whom he is guardian as if he were his own child; he should be as careful and diligent in the management of the orphan’s property as of his own—or even more careful still.”
To relieve the poverty of citizens and to preserve the citizen-hood were objects of public policy and of charity. In Crete and Sparta the citizens were wholly supported out of the public resources. In Attica the system was different. The citizens were aided in various ways, in which, as often happens, legal or official and voluntary or private methods worked on parallel lines. The means were (1) legal enactment for release of debts; (2) emigration; (3) the supply of corn; (4) poor relief for the infirm, and relief for the children of those fallen in war; (5) emoluments; (6) voluntary public service, separate gifts and liberality; (7) loan societies.
(1) In 594 B.C. the labouring class in Attica were overwhelmed with debts and mortgages, and their persons pledged as security. Only by a sharp reform was it possible to preserve them from slavery. This Solon effected. He annulled their obligations, abolished the pledge of the person, and gave the labourers the franchise (but see under Solon). Besides the laws above mentioned, he gave power to the Areopagus to inquire from what sources each man obtained the necessaries of life, and to punish those who did not work. His action and that of his successor, Peisistratus (560 B.C.), suggest that the class of poor (ἄποροι) was increasing, and that by the efforts of these two men the social decline of the people was avoided or at least postponed. Peisistratus lent the poor money that they might maintain themselves in husbandry. He wished, it is said (Arist. Ath. Pol. xvi.), to enable them to earn a moderate living, that they might be occupied with their own affairs, instead of spending their time in the city or neglecting their work in order to visit it. As rent for their land they paid a tenth of the produce.
(2) Akin to this policy was that of emigration. Athenians, selected in some instances from the two lowest political classes, emigrated, though still retaining their rights of citizenship. In 570–565 B.C. Salamis was annexed and divided into lots and settled, and later Pericles settled more than 2750 citizens in the Chersonese and elsewhere—practically a considerable section of the whole body of citizens. “By this means,” says Plutarch, “he relieved the state of numerous idle agitators and assisted the necessitous.” In other states this expedient was frequently adopted.
(3) A third method was the supply of corn at reduced rates—a method similar to that adopted, as we shall see, at Rome, Constantinople and elsewhere. The maintenance of the mass of the people depended on the corn fleets. There were public granaries, where large stores were laid up at the public expense. A portion of all cargoes of corn was retained at Athens and in other ways importation was promoted. Exportation was forbidden. Public donations and distributions of corn were frequent, and in times of scarcity rich citizens made large contributions with that object. The distributions were made to adult citizens of eighteen years of age and upwards whose names were on the registers.
(4) In addition to this there was a system of public relief for those who were unable to earn a livelihood on account of bodily defects and infirmities. The qualification was a property test. The property of the applicant had to be shown to be of a value of not more than three minae (say £12). Socrates, it may be noted, adopts the same method of estimating his comparative poverty (Xen. Econ. 2. 6), saying that his goods would realize about five minae (or about twenty guineas). The senate examined the case, and the ecclesia awarded the bounty, which amounted to 1 or 2 obols a day, rather more than 1½d. or 3d.—out-door relief, as we might say, amounting at most to about 1s. 9d. a week. There was also a fund for the maintenance of the children of those who had fallen in war, up to the age of eighteen.
(5) But the main source of support was the receipt of emoluments for various public services. This was not relief, though it produced in the course of time the effect of relief. It was rather the Athenian method of supporting a governing class of citizens.