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Page 5

The Voting Population of Athens

 

    Nevertheless when we ask about this "whole folk," and who the voters are, we soon discover that Athens is very far from being a pure democracy. The multitudes of slaves are of course without votes, and so is the numerous class of the important, cultivated, and often wealthy metics. To get Athenian citizenship is notoriously hard. For a stranger (say a metic who had done some conspicuous public service) to be given the franchise, a special vote must be passed by the Ecclesia itself; even then the new citizen may be prosecuted as undeserving before a dicastery, and disfranchised. Again, only children both of whose parents are free Athenian citizens can themselves be enrolled on the carefully guarded lists in the deme books. The status of a child, one of whose parents is a metic, is little better than a bastard.[3]

    Under these circumstances the whole number of voters is very much less than at a later day will appear in American communities of like population. Before the Peloponnesian War, when the power of Athens was at its highest point, there were not less than 30,000 full citizens and possibly as many as 40,000. But those days of imperial power are now ended. At present Athens has about 21,000 citizens, or a few more. It is impossible, however, to gather all these in any single meeting. A great number are farmers living in the remote villages of Attica; many city dwellers also will be too busy to think the 3-obol (9-cent [1914 or $1.55 2000]) fee for attendance worth their while.[4] Six thousand seems to be a good number for ordinary occasions and no doubt much business can be dispatched with less, although this is the legal quorum set for most really vital matters. Of course a great crisis, e.g. a declaration of war, will bring out nearly every voter whose farm is not too distant.

 

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