The Greek economy was a result of the combination of slaves, citizens and Metics. The Metic, however, was the driving and most important force behind the Greek economy. The slave was used only when seen fit. The citizen saw work as below the dignity of a free man. He left to others the labors that he was unwilling to perform himself. Firstly, it must be noted that any prejudice against manual labor among the Greeks was of comparatively late origin. Certainly, in the Homeric age, to labor with one’s hands was no disgrace. The prowess of Odysseus comes to mind, who was a mighty worker and built his own house and even his own bedstead. (Hom. Od.13, 31-34) There was no prejudice against manual labor in the time of Solon either, who decreed that a father must see that his son be taught a craft. (Plut. Solon, 22) To what then must be attributed the prejudice against manual labor in the latter part of the fifth and throughout the fourth century B.C.?
Before we go on, it must be noted that most of our evidence on Greek civilization comes from literary works. The majority of which comes from Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Plato and Aristotle. While they cover all aspects of the Greek world, they concentrate more on political, military and diplomatic history, in particular, that of Athens. This gives us a biased and prejudiced view of both the own author’s opinions and that of the Athenian society. As such, any evidence must be treated with caution, and while we cannot say with complete certainty that what they say is true, through the comparison of multiple works we are able to draw conclusions that are sound and reasonable.
It arose after the Persian wars, when the “Marathon Men” were glorified, and the life of the soldier was made to be seen as the only one fit for the freeman. The wars gave new pride to the people, elevating them to a higher status and giving new value to the idea of citizenship. This new found standing gave the citizen the view that he was above manual labor. The plunder gained from wars, and after the founding of the Delian League, the riches gained set up new standards of values and conduct. With the increased wealth, fortunes were made overnight. The citizen enjoyed himself more and saw those who had to work for a living with contempt. Also, with the increased affluence, citizens were able to pay the Metic to carry out trade. Herodotus remarked upon this as something quite new, that the citizens
“practice no trade and only war, which is their hereditary calling. Now, whether this separation, like other customs has come to Greece from Egypt I cannot exactly judge. I know that in Thrace and Scythia and Persia and Lydia and nearly all foreign countries those who learn trades and their descendants are held in less esteem than the rest of the people, and those who have nothing to do with artisan’s work, especially men who are free to practice war, are highly honored.” (Herod. 2, 166-167)
This is a testament that...