Lecture9 The Polis – Percentage of Citizens with voting rights?

Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total)
  • Author
  • #16303

    What was, roughly, the percentage of citizens with voting rights (out of to the entire population) in an ancient Greek democracy (such as under Cleisthenes)?

    My assumption is that the percentage of inhabitants eligible for voting was significantly smaller in the typical ancient Greek democracy than it is in today’s typical democracy. Is this correct or is there actually not that much of a difference after all?

    Jason Jewell

    In a democratic state like Athens, all citizens had voting rights, but not all inhabitants were citizens. Citizenship was limited in most poleis to free adult males who had at least one parent from the city in question. This means that in a city like Athens, where the majority of the population was slaves, only a small percentage of the inhabitants were citizens.

    There is a thorough discussion of the concept of Greek citizenship in Book III of Aristotle’s “Politics.”


    I think I remember reading in Rothbard’s History of Economic Thought that it was somewhere in the area of 7%. Would that be about right?

    Jason Jewell

    Rothbard gives the 7% figure on p. 6 of “Economic Thought before Adam Smith.” He doesn’t provide a citation, so I’m not sure where he got that number, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable. When I get back to the office Monday, I’ll check a source or two and see if I come up with anything different. The figure will naturally fluctuate depending on what moment in Athenian history you’re examining.


    I have generally seen 10% and (more often) 20% as the figure.

    Jason Jewell

    The sources I’ve been looking at today put the citizenship figure at around 10% of the Athenian population in the fifth century B.C. Citizens had to prove Athenian ancestry on both the father’s and mother’s sides of the family. Around half the free population of Athens didn’t meet this requirement.


    Meaning 80% were of the inhabitants were slaves and serfs? Sheesh.
    Thanks for the answers!

    Jason Jewell

    Matej, a substantial percentage of the Athenian population was free non-citizens, or “metics.” Think of them as analogous to resident aliens in our society. They participated freely in the commerce and life of the city, but they were unable to vote in the Assembly.


    I’m not sure I’m following… so half of the free population did not meet the requirements for citizenship (i.e. the metics). The other half that did, made up 10% of the population, meaning the free population would have to be 20%. Am I missing something?

    Jason Jewell

    Citizens: ~10%
    Wives of citizens: ~10%
    Children of citizens: ?
    Metics: ~20% or more
    Slaves: the rest

    I hope this helps.


    So roughly 50% were slaves then..
    It absolutely does help, thanks!


    And, don’t forget, that removing to another city state meant that you had no status in the new location. Citizenship was a prized possession in ancient Greece.

Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.