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Aristocrats and Non-aristocrats in the City-state

For the city-state to be created as a political institution in which all free men had a share, non-aristocratic men had to insist that they deserved equitable treatment1, even if aristocrats were to remain in leadership positions and carry out the policies agreed on by the group. The invention of the concept of citizenship as the basis for the city-state and the extension of citizen status to non-aristocrats responded to that demand. Citizenship above all carried certain legal rights, such as access to courts to resolve disputes, protection against enslavement by kidnapping, and participation in the religious and cultural life of the city-state. It also implied participation in politics, although the degree of participation open to poor men varied among the different city states. The ability to hold public office, for example, could be limited in some cases to owners of a certain amount of property or wealth. Most prominently, citizen status distinguished free men and women2 from slaves3 and metics (resident aliens)4, foreigners who were officially granted limited legal rights and permission to reside in a city-state that was not their homeland. Thus, even the poor had a distinction setting themselves apart from others.

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