State patronage and private charity in Athens

Some notes from Paul Millett’s essay referred to here:

  • The tyrant Pisistratus offered monetary support to farmers “so that,” in Aristotle’s words, “they should continue to maintain themselves by farming.” Millett comments that “The effect of this would presumably be to reduce peasants’ dependence on local, wealthy landowners, and transfer allegiance to the tyrant, thereby centralising patronage and buttressing the tyranny.” Millet thinks that this was funded by a tax on crops (23).
  • “The survival of the Athenian system of democracy depended on the participation of the demos, which in turn relied on preserving their independence of the wealthy.” This meant that “public pay” to the poor was a way to achieve their equality in the political system by keeping them out of patron-client relations whereby the rich could control the poor. They were not meant to level out wealth: “The solution to the problem of economic independence seems to lie, not with the distribution of property, but with the redistribution of income.” Millet believes that Isocrates and Plato criticized the system of public pay because it empowered the poor to participate in politics (37-38).
  • There were many types of public pay, including pay earned for officeholding, jury service, going to the assembly, and serving as a naval oarsman. There were also “the occasional handouts known as theorika.” The payments didn’t usually seem to be enough to pay a full day’s wage, but even small amounts seem to have been welcome. The money for this seems to have come from the spoils of the Athenian empire, built in the 5th century BC.
  • Aid from philoi (“relatives, neighbors, and friends”) was “a secondary redistributive mechanism, serving to focus funds where they were most desperately needed,” such as sickness. Philoi‘s “obligations extend from borrowing [does he mean lending?] household goods (Theophrastus, Characters 10. 13) to the lending or giving of large sums of money (Demosthenes 53, 4-13).” This was not a state program, but a cultural expectation (41-42).
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