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date: 31 October 2020

aristocracy, attitudes tolocked

  • Nicholas Purcell

Extract

Élites in Greek and Roman societies were identified in a number of ways, of which the most important and inclusive was the sharing in the appreciation, discussion, and propagation of the cultural values in ideas, literature, and the visual arts which have left us the material that we call ‘Classical’. Occasions for the display of these shared but competitive values, such as the religious *festival, the family celebration, or the shared meal (see symposium; convivium), became central to ancient society.Against this background, more selective definitions of widely variable kinds identified the politically powerful from time to time; no aristocratic group survived for long without a connection with the practice of government. Power-élites of whatever kind usually however included the whole kin-group of the practitioners of public, political life, and were therefore prone to regard the qualities—especially aretē, virtus—which they saw in themselves as justifying their status and its rewards as moral and as hereditary: in this they resemble the blood-aristocracies of other cultures. But the difficulties of self-replacement in the demographic circumstances of antiquity entailed a high incidence of élite vacancy, and upward social mobility to fill the gaps, which further encouraged genealogical pride, real or fictitious, and familial inclusiveness, as well as fostering a culture of intense competitiveness among individual aristocrats along with a very strong sense of personal honour (timē, *philotimia).

Subjects

  • Economic History

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