It is important to define what a peasant is in the sense of the peasant farmers of Classical Greece. Peasant is often used as an unflattering term, in which the person is somehow weaker, and less efficient. However, most of Classical Greece was among the peasantry. Peasantry denoted the rights they had, which set them above slaves, and far beneath the upper echelons of society (Croix, 1981: 110). In the terms of Greek society, the peasantry consisted of agricultural labourers (Croix, 1981: 110). They mainly worked as family units, and the sons inherited the plots of land upon their father’s death. With the exception of Sparta, women were not allowed to own land, and their primary purpose in ...view middle of the document...
This evidence was thanks to the Greek’s thorough documentation of legal contracts and records carved into rocks (Zenker, 2009).
The quality of the soil and climate also influenced what crops the farmers would grow, or what animal could be raised (Zenker, 2009). Though most of Greece did not support crops, it was still the primary means of feeding the populace.
The economic status of the peasant was not a lofty one. Though the urban cities depended on agriculture and the surplus it provided, this did not necessarily translate to profits for the farmer (Zenker, 2009). Safety from hunger, when so much depended on the unpredictable weather, was never guaranteed in the peasantry (Engen, 2004). Therefore, regardless of wealth it was rare that a peasant farmer could live a life of ease. That was relegated to the upper class, whose economy was based on trade and sometimes craftwork.
Though the life of a Greek peasant wasn’t a leisurely one, neither was it an unhappy one. That is a case by case basis, rather than a universal truth. This is exemplified in Van Gogh’s painting The Potato Eaters (Croix, 1981: 210). The Potato Eaters are poor, but not miserable. There is no trace of self-pity. Though they toil their entire life, and only produce enough to sustain themselves, they do not bemoan their fate. They are, simply put, another way of life apart from the upper class, no more and no less.
Relationship between Rural and Urban Classical Greeks
Interest in the rural condition of Classical Greece was kindled in the early 1960s. It was then that several popular works related to environmentalism arose, and spawned a global interest in past effects on the terrain (Zenker, 2009). In light of the more popular studies of Classical Greece, the relationship between the dismissed peasantry and upper class remained untouched. This was further bolstered by the distribution of the literature. While there was much literature written by the elite of Greek society, none was written by the...