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Solon's Hoplite Assessment Author(s): A. French Source: Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 10, H.

Solon's Hoplite Assessment Author(s): A. French

Source: Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 10, H. 4 (Oct., 1961), pp. 510-512

Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4434718 .

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In the J. H. S. Vol LXXX of I960 (p. I83) K. H. Waters has argued that Solon ac- cepted monetary income, as well as agricultural produce, as a basis for political assessment. To support his argument Waters cites Gomme's calculation of an Athenian hoplite force of at least Ioooo men in the Persian War period. Waters estimates that the force could hardly have been less than half this amount a century earlier, even granted a rapid rate of population growth: he estimates that a farm capable of producing the Zeugites income would average about 50 acres in extent, and concludes that 5000 hoplites would have required 250ooo acres of farmland to support them: in addition the land required for the two higher classes would swell the amount still further. Suggesting that not more than about x6oooo acres of Attica were suitable for farming, he concludes that the hoplites must have included men who owed their status to income derived from sources other than land i. e. that the Solonian assessment included monetary income. Aristotle's precise statement (Ath. Pol. 7. 4) that the Solonian classes were based on produce &x riq olxetas, whatever its source, is at least in harmony with the political conditions of Solon's time and surely merits close consideration; but even if Waters is right in rejecting it, his argument rests on some doubtful assumptions. The postulated figure of ioooo in 479 might be supposed to include some hoplites who did not depend on the land for their income: but the evidence for this theoretical figure rests on the battle strength at Plataea as given by Herodotos (IX 28), and there is no earlier controlling evidence. But if the innovation of including monetary income in the assessment had occurred between Solon's time and the Persian Wars (as some historians believe') then the basis for Waters' own estimate of 5000 at the earlier date disappears: the 479 hoplite strength, including those men assessed on money income, would be no guide to the earlier hoplite strength, based entirely on a property qualification. Waters has assumed that the basis of assessment was the same in Solon's time as in 479; it is possible that this is so, but the assumption adds an imponderable to the calculation. Secondly, the estimate of 5o acres for an average Zeugites farm seems too high, and may be compared with the recorded dimension of actual farms. The estate of Alkibiades comprised 300 plethra2 (about 70 acres): that presented as a national gift to the son of Aristeides was of ioo plethra3 (about 23 acres). Of Lysimachos we know, and of Alkibiades we may guess, that he possessed monetary income in addition to the yield from his farm. Nevertheless we must assume that both these farms were considered large by Attic stan- dards4; they are in fact the largest on record, with one striking exception from the fourth centurys. Accordingly one feels hesitant to accept without further evidence an estimated average of 50 acres for a Zeugites farm. The figure is probably reached by assuming that the basic crop was grain, dividing the Solonian assessment of 285 bushels by the estimated yield per acre, and allowing space for fallowing etc. In Attica's ecological conditions we can

1 See Hignett


of the Athenian Constitution'

p. 225-226.

2 Plato

Alk. I.


8 Plut. Arist. 27.



4 Lys. XIX.


5 Dem.

in Phaen. 5. See Busolt





Jard6 C6reales p. I21.

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would need to sow about 30 acres. If he fallowed on alternate years and grew his own wood, oil etc., he would need over 6o acres. Since grain is the most space-consuming crop, and alternate fallowing the most extravagant way of conserving moisture, this would be a maximum size for a farm producing the minimum Zeugites assessment (Waters naturally excludes the possibility of a farm producing only oil, for which an acreage of about I50 acres would be required, an impossible figure in the circumstances). A Zeugites farm of minimum size would be one producing only wine, for which only 10-15 acres would be needed. We now have a theoretical upper and lower limit of say 65 and io acies for a Zeugites farm producing the minimum assessment: there is however no way of striking an average, because we have no idea of the statistical distribution of the farms between the two limits. The average may be nearer the bigher than the lower, if we make the reasonable assumption that many of Attica's farms were run on a near-subsistence basis i. e. that they produced

a maximum

yield of lo bushels to the acre; hence a farmer who grew only grain

as much of their own bread as possible. But the calculation becomes very uncertain if we assume that all farms grew wine, for the yield per acre is so heavy that even a slight mis- calculation of the proportion of area under vines can upset the validity of the calculation e. g. a farmer who had the equivalent of only 5 acres under vines could produce half his assessed income from them and needed only 15 or so acres sown to grain to complete his assessment: if he fallowed a third of his land each year his farm might attain hoplite level with a total acreage of less than half that estimated by Waters. The fact is that vines rarely compete for space with grains, since they grow on land which it would be uneconomical to plough: as vines are deep-feeding plants they can easily co-exist with surface-rooting growth, hence the space they occupy can bear another crop, such as vegetables, or pasture. Thus the extra few acres allowed for growing wood etc. might simultaneously be producing

a grape harvest which would upset the calculation. Waters' calculations really assume that the farm programme was normally planned with an eye to producing the maximum of nutritional commodities. But the utilisation of land on a farm is also influenced by the size of the household and the optimum use of the labour thus available. A grain crop requires a high input of labour only at sowing and harvest, and the labour force has to be large enough to cope with these crisis periods: hence to avoid the worst evils of underemployment at other seasons of the year it is normal to run several crops, the harvesting of which falls at different times.' In early Attica wine was the most attractive second crop to grain because of its high yield, its keeping qualities, and its intrinsic goodness. Its output was not limited either by the drinking capacity of the household or by the potential market outside; wine is a product which lends status even to the humble; its value lies outside the commercial sphere since it is the medium of votive offerings and hospitality. Thus it is unwise to assume that farm production was planned with a view to maximising production of grain: the basic elements in rural production are land and labour, and any sensible planning takes into account the need to use both to the best advantage. Viticulture was important in the Attic farm economy even in Solon's time; but the estimated average size of the farms must be sharply reduced in proportion to the importance that we assign to it. Since its relative importance in Solon's time is speculative, so must be the estimated average size of the farms. The above remarks should illustrate the complexity of the problem of calculating average farm areas: the possibilities can be narrowed, but the imponderables make it unwise to strike a definite average and use it as a base for further calculation. There is an

1 A modem farm can draw on mechanical aids and casual labour: but the latter can be available only where there are other occupations to maintain the casual hands for the rest of the year.

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additional disquieting feature of the method of calculation. It assumes that one farm would provide only one hoplite; but is this necessarily so ? If a farmer had four sons, would he serve with the hoplites while they served with the Thetes ? When the father died would the 67r)r be inherited by the eldest son? If the farm were divided perhaps none of the heirs would qualify for hoplite status, and what then would happen to the 67Xm? As fragmentation of estates continued we should expect the number of hoplites to fall rather than rise, but it seems foolish to imagine that a man who owned the equipment should not use it because he no longer owned, or had not inherited a large enough farm. In any case it is clear that the ability to supply the equipment did not necessarily depend on farm, or any other, income. Socrates was a hoplite, though he had neither a farm nor any adequately gainful employment.1: we can only assume that he had inherited the equipment. Solon's assess- ments were minimal i. e. each Zeugites farm was expected to supply at least one hoplite; Solon could have had no objection to a farm exceeding its complement. At a later stage, when Attic institutions were no longer exclusively geared to a farming economy, his assessments became a historical curiosity, as Aristotle implies2: the status was probably in practice hereditary, and there would be no reason to apply a means test when enrolling the epheboi, unless a citizen complained that he could not afford to supply the equipment. Waters' calculations seem hard to accept because of the many unknown factors in- volved. Of course our statistical data are so very limited that one has to do the best one can, accepting a fair risk of error: fluctuations in the hoplite strength are among the best evidence we have with regard to changes in the level of population and, to some extent, of real wealth; but extreme caution is needed in applying them, and conclusions will be limited to the extent of fluctuation, not to absolute figures. We cannot therefore assume, on the basis of these figures, that there were in Solon's time any hoplites who were landless, or whose income was derived from non-farming sources. But even this were so, it would be hazardous to conclude that such men were necessarily entrepreneurs.


of Adelaide



In Historia IX (I96o), I61-2, I drew attention to the likelihood that Solon conceived his task as one of writing the laws down, not of changing the laws. This led me to doubt the theory, advocated amongst others by Professor H. T. Wade-Gery and recently by Professor F. R. Wust, that Solon substituted wealth for birth as the qualification for

political office. So I discussed the question of a eupatrid class (pp. 178-80); I suggested that belief in the sometime existence of such a class was due to comparatively late spe- culation, and I drew attention to the curious outcrop of claims to eupatridhood in a small

social circle of the late fifth century.

I have now several things to add.

i. Mr. D. M. Lewis has kindly drawn my attention

to a document of the sixth century

and a discussion. The document is a sepulchral inscription recording XaapEov'AOevodTho E1D=rcrpt86v.(I. G. XII, 9, 296 - I. G. I2, p. 273, lines 96-9). Professor A. E. Raubitschek (Dedications from the Athenian Acropolis 11-2, 364-5) suggests that Chairion was con- nected with the Cleinias-Alcibiades family. Raubitschek thinks that the eupatridai were

I Plato Symp. 22ia. 2 Ath. Pol. 7. 4.

Socrates' property at death was 5 minae Xen. Oik II.


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