Like all pre-modern societies, the Greeks were primarily an agricultural people. They practiced the agriculture of the ancient Mediterranean region. involving the cultivation of grains, vines and olives, and the keeping of sheep, goat and cattle.
Farms were very small – mere plots of land of a few acres. Aristocrats and other landowners would own larger farms, worked by slaves; but an estate of 100 acres was considered large.
The main challenge facing Greek farmers was that there was too little good farming land in Greece and the Aegean. This forced them to take to sea-borne trade on a scale unmatched by most other ancient peoples. However, land shortages continued to be a problem throughout the ancient times. They were a source of the social tensions between rich and poor which led, in Athens, to the rise of democracy, and in several other cities, to violent clashes between the different classes.
Very many Greek city-states were located by the sea. Also, many of them, confined as they were by steep hills and mountains, or by the sea itself (if they were on islands), suffered from a shortage of agricultural land. From an early stage in their history, therefore, many Greeks looked to the sea for their livelihood. For a period of about 150 years after 750 BC, many city-states sent out groups of their citizens to found colonies on distant shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. These established strong trading ties with their mother city. Greek traders soon dominated maritime trade of the Mediterranean, edging out the Phoenicians who had preceded them. The adoption of metal coinage must have facilitated this process.
Some Greek cities became large and wealthy trading centers. Athens, the largest Greek city-state of all, was only able to feed her large population through trade. The poor soil of Attica (the area of Greece where Athens was located) was ideal for growing olives on, and so from an early date the Athenians concentrated on growing olives for export. They imported almost all their grain from other states. The Athenians built up a large merchant fleet, and their city became the leading commercial center of Greece. At the height of its glory, almost a third of its population may have been made up of “alien” businessmen and their households, mostly Greeks from other cities. The wealth that this commerce brought Athens enabled it to become the leading city of Greece, both in politics and culture.
Athens also became the major banker to the Greek world. In the fifth century BC the Athenian coinage became the international currency of the Mediterranean.
The social framework varied significantly from city-state to city-state. Most cities, however, had a large class of free, native-born https://tennesseepaydayloans.org/cities/cardova/ peasant farmers. These owned small farms to subsist on. The adult males formed the citizen body of the state. They were entitled to vote in elections, participate in trials in the law courts, and hold public office; They also had a duty to fight in the city’s army. They had a real say in how their city was run and what decisions were made.
Within this group of citizens was a smaller number of wealthier families, who owned more land than the rest. They were the aristocrats. As they could afford to keep horses, they were distinguished from the bulk of the citizens by fighting in the army of horse-back. Their older men were often the leading office-holders in the city, the magistrates and military commanders; they could often trace their families back through generations of office-holders, who had helped shape the city’s history. They had a disproportionate influence on affairs of state. Indeed, in many city-states they formed an aristocratic council who played a leading role in the direction of the state. In those city-states which were democracies, however, it was the bulk of the citizens who held the power, through their assembly.