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The Injustice of Chiefs to Peasants

The poet Hesiod1 reveals that a state of heightened tension had developed between aristocratic chiefs and the peasants (the free proprietors of small farms, who might own a slave or two, oxen to work their fields, and other movable property of value) in the eighth century. Their property made peasants the most influential group among the men ranging from poor to moderately well-off who made up the bands of followers of aristocratic chiefs in late Dark Age Greece. Assuming the perspective of a peasant farming a small holding, the poet insisted that the divine origin of justice should be a warning to “bribe-devouring chiefs,”2 who settled disputes among their followers and neighbors “with crooked judgments.” This feeling of outrage evidently felt by non-aristocrats at not receiving equal treatment in the settlement of disputes served as a stimulus for the gradual movement toward new forms of political organization in Greece.

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