Ancient Greek History

Eupatridae: Nobility of Attica in Ancient Greece

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While Ancient Greece is mostly remembered as the cradle of democracy, this isn’t all that happened here. In fact, democracy was developed out of a political situation that was caused from the people’s discontent with the ruling nobility. Attica, the region which surrounds the ever-important city of Athens, is not only a vital subject of study for understanding the Greece of antiquity as a whole, but also has its own rich political history worthy of investigation. The Eupatridae family is one of the noble families that was part of the ruling class of Athens. Here’s more about them:

Attica and Athens Before Democracy

Like many ancient cultures of the Mediterranean, Attica relied on a well-organized caste system for allotting social roles and determining where to vest its political power prior to the adoption of a more democratic system beginning 594 BC and fully blossoming in 508 BC. Prior to these reforms, power was centralized in the figurehead of a king. Immediately beneath the king lay a second class of Attican citizens, so-named the Eupatridae. Not unlike Europe’s later Middle Ages, the Eupatridae of Greece effectively filled the social role of nobility and therefore had access to all the privileges and responsibilities students of history would expect from this social ranking.

Myth and History of the Eupatridae Family

Though translations vary somewhat, Eupatridae essentially means “born of noble fathers.” In that sense, it is clear this social class has hereditary origins, a common feature for noble classes throughout history. Just as many of the ancient kings of Attica straddle the line between myth and history, so too do the Eupatridae exist in both worlds. Theseus, a mythical hero and the legendary founder of Athens, is credited with uniting Attica through his political and social reforms, one of which was the creation of the three social classes: Eupatridae, Geomori, and Demiurgi.

Unlike the Geomori and Demiurgi, who were peasant farmers and craft artisans respectively, the Eupatridae were responsible for the organization and governance of Attic society at large. This noble class would have resided in Athens proper, since this was the seat of Attica’s political power. Members of this class could hold political office, served key religious functions as priests, and generally owned more property and wealth thanks to their distinguished lineage. Two of the most important positions they could hold were that of polemarch and archon, powerful governmental roles designed to balance out the authority of the king. By the 700’s BC, Eupatridae even earned the privilege of holding the kingship itself.

Decline of the Eupatridae Family

After experiencing the rule of various tyrants and growing tired of the monopoly the Eupatridae had on political and religious authority, the population of Attica demanded reform. By the 600’s BC, the Eupatridae lost their monopoly on influence as positions of power were gradually opened to citizens of other social castes. Solon, a key reformer and lawmaker who came to power during this time, enacted many reforms that limited the number of offices held by the Eupatridae and used land ownership as the means of earning a political office, rather than hereditary caste. This culminated in 508 BC with the establishment of democracy by Cleisthenes.

The decline of the Eupatridae has occurred in political systems across the globe and throughout time. In order to truly understand Ancient Attica, it is important to take a closer look at these noble families.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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