), the government of a few,
term the application of which by writers on political science is less wide
than its etymological signification might have warranted. (See Plb. 6.4
; Arist. Pol.
4.4, p. 1290, from whom we learn that some writers used Oligarchia as a
generic name, including Aristocratia as one of its species.) It is shown
under what conditions the limitation of political power to a portion of the
community was regarded as a proper and regular constitution (ὀρθὴ πολιτεία
), whose guiding principle was
the common good, not the private interest of those in power (Arist. Pol.
3.6, p. 1279; 4.2, p. 1289). The term
was applied to that perversion (παρέκβασις
) of an Aristocratia
into which the latter passed when, owing to the rise of the demus
] and the vanishing of those substantial grounds of
pre-eminence which rendered an Aristocratia not unjust, the rule of the
dominant portion of the community ceased to be the exponent of the general
interests of the state, and became the ascendency of a faction, whose
efforts were directed chiefly towards their own aggrandisement and the
maintenance of their own power and privileges (Arist. Eth.
8.12; Plb. 6.8.4
preservation of power under such cir-cumstances of course depended chiefly
upon the possession of superior wealth and the other appliances of wealth
which were its concomitants. Thus it came to be regarded as essentially
characteristic of an oligarchy, that the main distinction between the
dominant faction and the subject portion of the community was the possession
of greater wealth on the part of the former. (Arist. Pol.
4.4, p. 1290 b, δῆμος μέν ἐστιν
ὅταν οἱ ἐλεύθεροι κύριοι ὦσιν, ὀλιγαρχία δὲ δ̔́ταν οἱ
A little further on he says: ὀλιγαρχίαι δὲ ὅταν οἱ πλούσισι καὶ εὐγενέστεροι, ὀλίγοι
ὄντες, κύριοι τῆς ἀρχῆς ὦσιν.
Comp. 4.6, p. 1293;
Plat. de Rep.
viii. pp. 550 C, 553 A.) The case of the
wealthy portion being also the more numerous would be a very rare exception.
Their dominion, of course, would not be an oligarchy; but neither would it
be a democracy (Arist. Pol.
4.4, p. 1290). When
an aristocracy passed in the natural development of society into an
oligarchy, the oligarchs would, of course, be high-born as well as rich. But
high birth was not an essential condition. It very commonly happened that
the oligarchs were themselves only a section of the old nobility, having
excluded the poorer members of their order from the possession of power.
Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 4.5
, p. 1292
b) distinguishes various species of oligarchy:--1. Where a certain large
amount of property is the only requisite for being a member of the ruling
class: 2. Where the property qualification is not large, but the members of
the government themselves supply any vacancies that may occur in their ranks
by electing others to fill them: 3. Where the son succeeds to the power of
his father: 4. Where, besides this being the case, the rulers govern
according to no fixed laws, but arbitrarily. (Camp. Plat. Polit.
pp. 301, 302.) The first kind, where privileges were
distributed according to certain gradations of property, especially when the
was not extravagently high, so
that a considerable number shared political power, though only a few of them
might be eligible to the highest offices, was sometimes called τιμοκρατία
(Arist. Eth. Nic.
8.12). It approximates closely to the πολιτεία,
and hence Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 4.11
) calls it ὀλιγαρχία
that is, an oligarchy so moderate as to be nearly a
: where more extensive
privileges were given to large property, it was called πλουτοκρατία
(Xen. Mem. 4.6
): Plato, in Rep.
p. 547 D, uses τιμοκρατία
in a different
To the conditions of 3 and 4, where the rule of the few is both arbitrary and
hereditary, or, in other words, where arbitrary power has come into the
possession of a few ruling families, the name δυναστεία
is given (Arist. Pol.
4.5, 2, p. 1292 b): this is described as the extreme oligarchy and
) to the extreme
is described as existing in
Boeotia at the time of the Persian invasion, and in Thessaly (Thuc. 3.62
sometimes in Crete (Arist. Pol.
2.10, p. 1272
b), and the danger of it is given as one cause for ostracism (Arist.
5.3, p. 1302).
The term Aristocratia
is not unfrequently applied to what the
more careful distinctions of the writers on political science would term
; Xen. Hell. 5.2.7
; Aristoph. Birds 125
.) [p. 2.267]
Besides the authorities quoted above, the reader may consult Wachsmuth,
§ § 36,
44, 47, 63, 64; Schömann, Antiq. of Greece,
Hermann, Lelrbuch der griech. Staatsalterthümer,
§ § 58-61; Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece,
i. ch. 10. [C. P. M.