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LEITU´RGIA (λειτουργία, or in the older form found in inscriptions up to the 3rd century, λῃτουργία, derived from λέϊτος or λήϊτος, a synonym of δημόσιος, and *ἔργω), the name given to certain public services, consisting partly of money and partly of personal labour, performed by wealthy individuals (called liturgi in this relation, Gr. λειτουργοί) for the state, in Athens and other states of Greece. (A list of these other states may be found in Boeckh's Public Economy of Athens, book 3.100.1. The most remarkable are Thebes, of which we read in Plutarch's Aristides, c. i., that Epaminondas assisted by Pelopidas provided there a concert of flute-players; and Aegina, as to which see the singular and amusing story, antecedent to the Persian wars, related in Hdt. 5.83.) We know, however, but little of these “liturgies” in any other state except Athens. At Athens they were among the most characteristic institutions of the democracy; and though they had their faulty side, there was much in the working of them that was brilliant, and even solidly excellent.

The whole idea of the liturgies was that the rich men of the community should expend their substance and devote their labour for the benefit of all, whether in the way of solid protection or by the encouragement of graceful pursuits and exhilarating contests; the honour and glory of thus administering to the entire nation, and sometimes of winning prizes for pre-eminence in the displays, being the sole and a sufficient reward. Nothing exactly similar has ever been seen in modern times; a faint reflection of it may be found in such an office as that of high sheriff among ourselves, which is at once onerous, obligatory, and conveys with it a certain credit to him who holds it.

Our detailed knowledge of these liturgies is for the most part derived from the orators of the 4th century B.C., in whose various speeches, public and private, they are constantly mentioned. Nevertheless, .that century was not the time of their greatest splendour; the Sicilian expedition, and the disastrous close of the Peloponnesian war, had thrown a cloud over the fortunes of individual citizens, as well as over the state at large. They attained their culmination during the few years which succeeded the Peace of Nicias. But on this point, and on their history generally, more will be said in a subsequent part of this article.

There were two main kinds of liturgies at Athens: those relating to the amusements of a population in its peaceable life, which were called “ordinary” (ἐγκύκλιοι); and certain others to which no specific Greek name was assigned (by modern writers they are called “extraordinary” ), but which practically related to the defence of the state against foreign foes.

The ordinary liturgies were principally the Choregia, or maintenance and training of a chorus for the theatrical festivals; Gymnasiarchia, or training and maintenance of gymnasts (likewise with a view to public festivals); with this last the Lampadedromia, or preparation of runners for the torch-race, was closely connected; Hestiasis, or the feasting of the tribe to which the “liturgus” belonged; and lastly the Architheoria, or superintendence and furnishing forth of sacred embassies, such as those to Delphi or Delos. It would be very incorrect to conceive of any of these great offices as a mere tax in money upon the holder of them; they were this indeed, but they were more: the choregus, the gymnasiarch, the phylarch, and the architheorus were bound to bestow personal labour in their respective offices. (See the separate articles: CHOREGUS; GYMNASIUM; LAMPADEDROMIA; HESTIASIS; THEORIA.) Every citizen whose property amounted to three talents or upwards was liable to be called upon to undertake an ordinary liturgy; citizens of less means were, it would appear, not liable. (Compare Dem. c. Aphob. p. 833, with the closing sentences of Isaeus, de Pyrrhi hered.

The extraordinary liturgies were the Trierarchia, or the fitting out of a ship of war, and the Proeisphora, or the advance, in time of need, of the Eisphora, or war-tax, due by less wealthy citizens (who, however, could be made to refund afterwards). The Eisphora itself has sometimes been reckoned among the liturgies; but it is distinguished from them by the fact that no man by paying it escaped from the performance of another liturgy (Dem. c. Leptin. p. 465;. c. Euerg. et Mnesib. p. 1155). [TRIERARCHIA;. EISPHORA; PROEISPHORA.] The Trierarchia was the most expensive of all the liturgies, sometimes costing as much as a talent, and. demanded greater wealth in the holder of it. Hence after the time of the Sicilian expedition it became common to join two persons in the performance of it; and in B.C. 358 the law of Periander made the trierarchy still more like a mere tax, by enacting that it should be contributed by companies (συμμορίαι), like the war-tax. None of the other liturgies suffered this degradation; though for a short time after the Sicilian expedition two persons were permitted to join in the office of choregus (Scholiast, Arist. Ranae, 404; and see also Fränkel's note 757 to Boeckh). The trierarch, like the other liturgi, had to give personal service; he commanded his own ship in the old times: how the actual commander was appointed when the συμμορίαι were introduced, is not clear; he appears sometimes to have been an outside person who contracted to take the duty (Dem. c. Mid. p. 564).

How were the various liturgi appointed? The answer to this question has some elements of difficulty. Essentially, the tribe was responsible for the appointment; and in the case of an ordinary liturgy, this responsibility centred in the overseers of the tribe (ἐπιμεληταὶ [p. 2.28]τῆς φυλῆς). Supposing a tribe failed to appoint a liturgus, the archon (i. e. the Archon Eponymus or the Archon Basileus, according to the festival concerned) would inquire the reason of such default from the overseers; and lively scenes of recrimination would ensue, as we learn from the speech of Demosthenes against Midias (p. 519), where such a default on the part of the tribe Pandionis is recorded (in this instance Demosthenes himself, though of another tribe, eventually volunteered to take the office). It is not to be inferred, however, that the overseers had an absolute power of appointing the liturgus; had this been the case, the difficulty in the tribe Pandionis could hardly have arisen. The Scholiast to Demosthenes (quoted by Fränkel in note 754 to Boeckh) affirms that the rich men of the tribe took the office by turns. That this should have been the case to some extent, was almost inevitable; but the notices in the orators do not permit us to suppose that such an order was very accurately preserved. If a man was conspicuously wealthy, and especially if he had landed property, he would often be expected to serve, whether it were his turn or not (see Dem. c. Polycl. p. 1208: a passage not less pertinent because it refers to the προεισφορά, an extraordinary liturgy). And in fact, whatever the power of the overseer in this respect or the validity of the rule of rotation in the selection, it is probable that direct election by the votes of the tribe was not unfrequently resorted to. (Observe especially in Dem. c. Boeot. p. 996, the phrase οἱ φυλέται οἴσουσι...χορηχὸν γυμνασίαρχον ἑστιάτορα, and compare Antiphon, Choreut. § § 11-13, where the speaker is choregus of his tribe by direct appointment, and yet from the way in which Amynias, the overseer of the tribe, is mentioned, it seems unlikely that the appointment lay in his hands.) Voluntary offers to undertake a liturgy no doubt sometimes superseded the necessity of a formal appointment; but this would be the exception: in the passage just referred to (Dem. c. Boeot. p. 996) it is assumed that a man would naturally seek to escape the burden of a liturgy. From the next page of the same oration (p. 997) we learn that the two principal archons and the managers of the contests at the Panathenaea (ἀθλοθέται) would on occasions appoint a liturgus; and clearly the Architheorus, for instance, who had a function that concerned the whole state, would not be appointed by any particular tribe. The ἀθλοθέται were, however, tribal officers.

The method of appointment to the extraordinary liturgies was also connected with the tribes; but here the general (στρατηγὸς) was the authority by whom the appointment was made; at any rate this was the case with respect to the trierarchy, and probably with respect to the προεισφορὰ as a rule, though in Dem. c. Polycl. p. 1208 we find the members of the Council (βουλευταὶ) directed by the people to draw up a list of the rich men in their several demes who should make these advances of the war-tax. The generals, it would appear, sat as a united board for the appointment both of the trierarchical classes and the individual trierarchs (Dem. c. Lacrit. p. 940; c. Boeot. 997); we may conjecture that each general would mainly arrange for the trierarchs in his own tribe, and the constitution of Cleisthenes provided that each tribe should contribute an equal number of ships to the state, but nothing is said on these points in later times, and it is possible that the connexion with the tribes gradually dropped out of view in respect of the trierarchy.

As to the limitations on the liability of any special man to be called upon to perform any liturgy, two rules are mentioned: one, that no man could be required to perform two liturgies, ordinary or extraordinary, at once (Dem. c. Lept. p. 462.19); another, that no. man could be required to perform a liturgy during two successive years (Dem. c. Lept. p. 459.8). In spite of these rules, we find in Den. c. Polycl. p. 1209.9, the complainant affirming that he had been chosen to perform the προεισφορὰ while yet performing the office of trierarch: he implies indeed that ne might have refused to do so; but clearly this would have been an unpopular act. So, too, the plaintiff in the speech of Isaeus, Or. 7 [Apollod.], § 38, says of his grandfather, “Besides having served all the other liturgies, he continued his whole time to do the duty of trierarch; not getting his ship in an association like men of the present day, but at his own cost; not jointly with another, but singly; not every other year, but without intermission; not in a perfunctory way (ἀφοσιούμενος), but providing the best possible equipments. For which you not only honoured him in remembrance of his conduct, but prevented his son being deprived of his property,” &c. It is implied no doubt in this passage (as in the similar passage, Lys. pro Polystr. § 31 ff.) that such liberality on the part of the liturgus was in great measure voluntary; but we cannot mistake the fact of there being great irregularity in the practical carrying out of all rules in regard to these appointments.

The connexion with the tribes, in the ordinary liturgies, existed not only in respect of the appointment of the liturgus, but also in respect of any victory won by his chorus of singers, his gymnasts, &c. On the tripod that he was privileged to put up after such a victory (for which tripods a special street in Athens was set apart), not only his name but the name of his tribe was inscribed.

Various other liturgies of minor importance are mentioned. (See article ARRHEPHORIA; also Boeckh, book iii., 100.21, and the note 755 of Fränkel.) The μέτοικοι or resident aliens were capable of performing the choregia at the festival of the Lenaea (Schol. ad Arist. Plut. 954) and the Hestiasis (Ulpian, adDem. Leptin. § 15); possibly, too, there were some peculiar to the μέτοικοι. A liturgy which citizens performed was called λειτουργία πολιτική, in opposition to a λειτουργία τῶν μετοίκων.

How far the liturgies were an oppressive burden on the rich Athenians, is a point on which differences of opinion have existed. The threat of Cleon to the Sausage-seller in the Knights (5.912), “1 will make you serve as trierarch, with an old ship and a rotten sail,” &c., is evidence enough that such oppression was possible. The orators clearly show, as we should expect, that while some persons sought these offices for the sake of the popularity they conferred, others tried to escape them. On the whole, however, it would appear that the necessary legal burden [p. 2.29]which they imposed was not ruinous (see Boeckh on the point); and though some persons did ruin themselves by their liturgies, this is generally attributed to their ambitious extension of the duty rather than to its intrinsic character. Yet Antiphanes (in Athenaeus, 3.62) speaks of the people as bidding a man waste his money on a chorus, till he has to go in rags. (See Aristot. Pol. 5.8; Xen. de Rep. Ath. 1.1. 3; Dem. c. Euerg. et Mnesib. p. 1155.54; various parts of Lysias, de Aristophanis bonis; and Isocr. de Big. 15.)

The archons, also heiresses and orphans until the commencement of the second year after their coming of age, were free from all liturgies. So we must conclude from Dem. de Symmor. p. 182, and Lysias, c. Diogeit. § 24; though, were it not that these passages especially related to the trierarchy, we might infer from Dem. c. Leptin. pp. 462-465, that that office was an exception as far as the heiresses and orphans are concerned: so express is the affirmation in this last oration that no one but the nine archons was by law free from the trierarchy. Even the descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, it is said, who were free from the other liturgies, were obliged to perform the trierarchy. The exemption of the descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton was one of those special immunities which afterwards, in the 4th century, were granted much more freely than had been the case previously; and these never included the trierarchy. Leptines (B.C. 356) procured the passing of a law which prohibited these immunities in general; Demosthenes endeavoured, and it is generally thought with success, to get this law rescinded about a year afterwards. (On this, see Kennedy's 1st appendix to his translation of Leptines.)

Of all the customs connected with the liturgies, none was more singular than the right which every citizen who was nominated for one of them had, of proposing to any other citizen equally bound with himself and of greater wealth, either to take the liturgy in his place or to exchange properties. That this right was no dead letter, the speeches of the orators show; though the actual exchange probably was seldom carried out. [ANTIDOSIS]

It remains to make some observations on the history and development of these liturgies. We cannot rely on the specific ascription of them to Solon as their originator; and yet probably those who weigh the entire probabilities of the case will be of opinion that they commenced not later than his time, and owed, if not their actual beginning, at all events much of their subsequent growth, to that liberal impulse which he imparted to the internal policy of Athens. It is true, as Fränkel (note 752 to Boeckh) remarks, that the liturgies, as we know them, were in close connexion with the ten tribes of which Cleisthenes was the author, and that therefore our knowledge of them, strictly speaking, does not commence earlier than his date. It is true also, that we may refuse to believe even so precise a statement as that of Aeschines (c. Timarch. § 7) to the effect that the actual Solonic laws on the subject were visible at Athens in his time, without any imputation of falsehood against Aeschines, or of forgery against anyone else: for the whole series of Athenian laws was revised and remodelled after the expulsion of the Thirty Tyrants, under the archonship of Eucleides; and as the object of the revisers was not antiquarian accuracy, but present expediency, much would be set down under the name of Solon that was really contributed by the revisers, or perhaps by some earlier authority. Still we must not refuse all weight to what Aeschines says; and the second (probably not genuine) book of Aristotle's Oeconomics affirms that they were in existence in the age of the sons of Pisistratus. The probabilities of the case also are in favour of an early date for them. The objects for which the liturgies existed were valid before as well as after the time of Cleisthenes; the dithyrambic chorus, for instance, was very ancient, and even the first dramatic exhibition dates, from B.C. 535. It is in the abstract conceivable that the state paid the whole expense of this; but the contrary is more probable; for the dithyrambic singers were closely connected with the rhapsodists, and surely these were not state-paid? And if Cleisthenes had made any great change in the manner of defraying such expenditure, should we not have been told of it? Nor can we fail to see the analogy between the naucraros, or chief of the naucrary (which in the Solonian constitution was obliged to contribute a trireme and two horsemen for the state service, Pollux, 8.108), and the trierarch of a later date. The naucraros would not of course contribute the whole ship from his own resources; but it is natural to suppose that the duty of keeping it in good trim was mainly imposed on him, so that the difference between him and the trierarch would be small. (Cf. in Hermann's Griech. Staatsalt. § 98, note 3, the quotation from Bekker's Anecdota.) Besides, the whole look of such an institution as the liturgy is of something springing spontaneously out of the popular sentiment, and therefore of gradual growth; the ordinary liturgy was no political, nor even a religious, necessity (see Dem. c. Leptin. pp. 494, 495). And the derivation of λειτουργία, the antique character of the first half of the word, implies considerable antiquity in the thing it represents.

We may assume, then, that the liturgies were in process of development during the 6th century B.C. The institution of the ten tribes by Cleisthenes would necessitate their re-arrangement; the immense increase of the Athenian power during the succeeding century would foster them into splendour. In no other century do we find mention of such an incident as that of Cleinias, who, in the battle of Artemisium, fought in a ship built and manned (with 200 men) at his own expense entirely. Plutarch tells us of the magnificence with which Nicias conducted the religious embassy at Delos, and of the still greater display of Alcibiades at the Olympic games. The Sicilian disaster and the defeat of Athens at the close of the Peloponnesian war caused a great fall from this exuberance. Isocrates (de Antid. p. 84, § § 159, 160) forcibly describes the change in public feeling: in his own boyhood, he says, every one sought to make himself appear richer than he was; now (rather before the middle of the 4th century) every one tries to conceal his wealth, for fear of informers. This has been thought [p. 2.30]to be the grumbling of an old man; but it was no unnatural result, and there is corroborative evidence. Thus Demosthenes (c. Lept. p. 492) implies that the state in his time was much poorer than formerly; and he even appears to connect the growth of the exemptions from liturgies from this cause; the state could make more valuable gifts in land and money formerly, he says. It was, however, the trierarchy that suffered most from this comparative poverty; this is clear from the very institution of the “symmories,” and it is emphasised by Demosthenes (Phil. i. p. 50.35): “How is it,” he asks, “that your magnificent festivals always take place at the appointed time, while all your armaments are after the time? Because in the former case everything is ordered by law, and each of you knows long beforehand, who is the choregus of his tribe, who the gymnasiarch, when, from whom, and what he is to receive, and what to do. Nothing there is left unascertained or undefined: whereas in the business of war and its preparations all is irregular, unsettled, undefined. Therefore it is only when we have heard some news that we appoint trierarchs; then we dispute about exchanges, and consider about ways and means; . . . during these delays the objects of our expedition are lost.” It will be seen that this passage implies what we should also gather from the orators, that the offer of exchange of property (ἀντίδοσις) was far more frequent in the case of the trierarchy than in the case of the other liturgies; this is another sign of the comparative unpopularity of the trierarchy in these later times as compared with the other liturgies. The reason is obvious, that there was much less show about it, and therefore less personal aggrandisement of the liturgus. Yet exceptions must in fairness be admitted; as the splendid discharge of this office by the banker Pasion, if we way trust his son Apollodorus (Dem. c. Steph. p. 1127); and the more certain fact that volunteers were for the first time found for the trierarchy in the enthusiastic movement, brought about by Timotheus, for the recovery of Euboea, B.C. 358 (Dem. de Cor. p. 259; de Cherson. 108). It may be observed that Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 5.8) disapproved of the ordinary liturgies; remarking that “it would be better if the people would prevent the rich men, when they offer to exhibit a number of unnecessary and yet expensive entertainments of plays, torch-races, and the like.” He may have been justified in his own time, while yet in earlier ages the liturgies may have been a result of true patriotic impulse, and a binding link between the rich and the poor.

On the subject of the liturgies, see especially Boeckh's Staatshaushaltung der Athener; Hermann, Staatsalterth. § 161; Wolf, Prolegom. in Demosth. Leptin. p. lxxxvi., &c.; Wachsmuth, vol. ii., p. 92, &c.; Kennedy's translation of the Oration against Leptines, &c., Appendix ii. p.242.


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 5.1309a
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.83
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 3.62
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