The demography of Greece is a very difficult subject to investigate because of the shortage of relevant statistical data. Ancient authors did not write any books about demography and give hardly any figures for population sizes, and none at all for vital rates. Owing to the emphasis on war in ancient historiography, most ancient demographic estimates relate to the size of military forces or to the manpower available for military purposes—i.e., to adult males only. Total population sizes must be extrapolated from such information because women, children, and slaves were usually not enumerated at all. Moreover, literary authors were prone to exaggeration—with respect to the size of Persian armies, for example—although Thucydides (2) was a notable exception to this rule. Even in Classical Athens, for which the sources are relatively abundant, it seems unlikely that there was a central register of hoplites in addition to the deme registers. In general, Greek states did not have taxes payable by all inhabitants that would have required the maintenance of detailed records for financial purposes, and censuses of citizens were rare in the ancient Greek world. It is certain, however, that both mortality and fertility in ancient Greece were high by the standards of modern developed countries. Human mobility, whether voluntary or involuntary, was also an important factor in the population history of individual cities.
Elena Isayev and George Baroud
There is no one discrete term in the ancient world that is equivalent to modern conceptions of “migration” today. Although the English term “migration” is derived from the Latin migratio, English usage, meaning a move across a national border for the purpose of permanent residence, dates to 18th-century North America. In ancient Greece and Rome, there was a wide-ranging vocabulary that referred to a variety of practices relevant to human mobility, and this reflects the cultural, legal, political, and other assumptions and practices surrounding movement idiosyncratic to each society and time period. How migration is conceptualized and practiced is therefore historically specific rather than universal, and we must be careful not to retroject contemporary, anachronistic attitudes, prejudices, and assumptions about migration and migrants onto the past. In the Classical world, for example, there was no equivalent to the national border and its sophisticated apparatus used to control civilian movement. This does not mean that ancient society was necessarily more inclusive, or disinterested in managing populations, but rather that there were different modes of understanding inclusivity, methods of control, and the way that geopolitical space related to these. This signals a different spatial perception from our own, and with it a particular relationship between community and land. As an object of study, migration poses unique challenges: evidence for migration is complex, spread over literary, archaeological, and epigraphic sources, and sometimes based on speculative demographic models. Further, what “counts” as migration is itself a theoretical question subject to interpretation. Realizing this affects how we investigate contingent questions about the agency of the mobile, displacement, or journey endings, not only in relation to antiquity, but in general.
People’s life courses are shaped by the complex interactions of contextual factors, of individual behavior, and of opportunities and constraints operating at the macro level. Demography studies these processes with a focus on particular transitions in the life course: birth, leaving home, marriage, and other transitions in civil status (divorce, remarriage, and transitions into widowhood), the birth and survival of offspring, migration, and finally the end of the life cycle—death.
Initial work on the ancient world focussed primarily on macro-level data, trying to establish overall trends in population development on the basis of census figures and other population estimates. This approach has received further impetus with the advent of survey demography (see Population Trends). More recently, attention has turned to single events in the life course. Core demographic studies have attempted to establish patterns and rates of marriage, fertility, migration, and mortality. Others have taken a complementary approach with a stronger focus on qualitative data. These support investigation of sociological, cultural, and economic aspects of demographic phenomena. The remainder of this article focusses on a concise evaluation of current understanding of marriage, fertility, migration, mortality, and population trends in the ancient Greco-Roman world.
Roman population size and population trends have been debated for long by proponents of low and high counts; these have recently been joined by proponents of a middle count. Each is based on a different interpretation of the enigmatic Roman census figures. Different understandings of patterns of death and disease, of marriage, of childbearing, and of infanticide follow on from these interpretations. Recent studies have added new perspectives, drawing on archaeological finds, and have started to pay more attention to migration flows.
There are two different kinds of questions historians might wish to ask about the population of the Roman world: How large was it or any of its constituent parts? And what were the patterns and tendencies of birth rates, death rates, and migration rates, with their implications for overall growth or decline?
Five sources of information offer imperfect answers to the first kind of question: census figures, mostly but not exclusively, for the Roman Republic and early Empire, where they served for taxation, military recruitment, and political purposes; figures relating to the feeding of (part of) the population of the city of Rome; occasional references to the population of particular cities or areas, usually without any possibility of knowing on what they were based; figures for the carrying capacity of different areas of the Roman world in the earliest post-Roman periods for which reasonably reliable figures exist; and, finally, archaeological survey evidence that provides indications of change in land use, and implicitly of population change over time.
Guy D. Middleton
Denise Eileen McCoskey
Contrary to the assumptions of previous eras, since the late 20th century, race has been widely regarded as a form of identity based in social construction rather than biology. The concept of race has experienced a corresponding return to classical studies, although this approach gives it significant overlap with terminology like ethnicity and cultural identity. The ancient Greeks and Romans did not consider human biology or skin color the source of racial identity, although the belief that human variation was determined by the environment or climate persisted throughout antiquity. Ancient ethnographic writing provides insight into ancient racial thought and stereotypes in both the Greek and Roman periods. Race in the Greek world centered in large part around the emergence of the category of Greek alongside that of barbarian, but there were other important racial frameworks in operation, including a form of racialized citizenship in Athens. Modes for expressing racial identity changed in the aftermath of the campaigns of Alexander the Great, a figure whose own racial identity has been the subject of debate. In the Roman period, Roman citizenship became a major factor in determining one’s identity, but racial thought nonetheless persisted. Ideas about race were closely correlated with the Roman practice of empire, and representations of diverse racial groups are especially prominent in conquest narratives. Hellenistic and Roman Egypt provide an opportunity for looking at race in everyday life in antiquity, while Greek and Roman attitudes towards Jews suggest that they were perceived as a distinct group. Reception studies play a critical role in analyzing the continuing connections between race and classics.