Pre-Solonian «Sixth-Patters» and Debt Question in Archaic Athens

Surikov Igor E.

In scholarly literature the question of the so-called hektemoroi (literally «sixth-parters», i.e. peasants who had to pay one sixth part of their crops) in pre-Solonian Athens is often connected with the debt question. Many historians think that hektemoroi were insolvent debtors who mortgaged their plots to ensure their debts. According to this theory, they were liberated by Solon's seisachtheia (cancellation of debts). But Aristotle and Plutarch, who give evidence on the «Solonian crisis», do not identify hektemoroi as debtors, and Solon himself does not even mention «sixth-parters» in his poems or his laws. As a matter of fact, the status of hektemoroi did not result from any debts. The class of «sixth-parters» came into existence most likely during the «Dark Ages» as a result of extra-economical factors: in the course of the development of Attic lands local aristocrats stimulated small peasants to occupy and work free plots, while giving them some kind of defense and demanding a fixed tax (one sixth part) in return. So hektemoroi were not a pre-Solonian novelty, but an old traditional status. Earlier the necessity to pay one sixth part was not thought to be a heavy burden, but by early 6th century B.C. the peasants had started considering it intolerable, and it became one of the causes of the crisis. But the main cause was surely the debt question. Although there was no coinage in pre-Solonian and even Solonian Athens, there already was some kind of pre-coin money. And the main argument is that in archaic societies the origin of debts lies not in the peculiarity of money economy, but in the ceremonial gift-exchange practiced by the aristocrats. There were many aristocrats in pre-Solonian Athens who suffered from debts, and the seisachtheia improved their condition. As to the hektemoroi, their status was not abolished by Solon. Rather, it was modified by Peisistratos, who made peasants pay tax to him and not to their local lords, but at the same time reduced the amount of the tax from one sixth to one tenth part. Hippias reduced it further to a twentieth part, and after the expulsion of the tyrants the tax was totally abolished.