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The thetes (Greek: θῆτες, thêtes, sing. θής, thēs, "serf") were the lowest social class of citizens in ancient Athens after the political reforms of Solon. The thetes were those who were workers for wages, or had less than 200 medimnoi (or their equivalent) as yearly income. This distinction spanned from some time earlier than 594/593 BC until 322 BC.[citation needed]

Rights under the Solonian Constitution (594/593 BC)[edit]

Under the Solonian Constitution, the thetes were defined as citizens who did not qualify as zeugitae, although the thetes may have predated the Solonian reforms.

Under Solon's reforms, they could participate in the Ecclesia (the Athenian assembly), and could be jurors serving in the law court of the Heliaia, but were not allowed to serve in the Boule or serve as magistrates.[citation needed]

Reforms of Ephialtes[edit]

In the reforms of Ephialtes and Pericles around 460-450 BC, the thetes were empowered to hold public office.[1]

Disenfranchisement and expulsion[edit]

12,000 thetes were disenfranchised and expelled from the city after the Athenian defeat in the Lamian War. There is debate among scholars whether this represented the entire number of thetes, or simply those who left Athens, the remainder staying behind.

In the navy[edit]

Unlike the popular concept of galley slaves, ancient navies generally preferred to rely on free men to row their galleys. In the 4th and 5th century Athens generally followed a naval policy of enrolling citizens from the lower classes (the thetes), metics and hired foreigners.[2] However, under some conditions, for example during the Mytilenean revolt, higher classes were enrolled as rowers also. This made them crucial in the Athenian Navy and therefore gave them a role in Athens' affairs (see Constitution of the Athenians).

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson describes a society dominated by so-called "phyles" or tribes. People who do not belong to any phyle are known as "thetes" and are often socially disadvantaged and economically poor. The protagonist of the book, Nell, is a thete.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Raaflaub, 2008, p. 140
  2. ^ Sargent 1927, pp. 266–268; Ruschenbusch 1979, pp. 106 & 110