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N.S. Gill

Conscription in Ancient Athens

By April 29, 2007

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In "Conscription of Hoplites in Classical Athens," Matthew R. Christ writes about the Athenian draft. Hoplite service was compulsory in Classical Athens, although the idea of conscription seems to be at odds with the personal freedom of Athenian democracy.

Christ says there were 2 methods of conscription in the Classical period. During the Peloponnesian War, generals selected names to post on the 10 conscription lists which were known as katalogoi (whence, catalog). The 10 lists corresponded with the 10 tribes.

In the Archaic period, before the ten tribe reforms of Cleisthenes (508/507) hoplite service was mandatory for those who could afford the weaponry and armor. It may have been under Cleisthenes that the katalogos method of conscription was developed. Conscription was part of the process initiated when the Assembly approved a military action. The Assembly gave the number of hoplites needed and voted on which of the 10 generals should be in command. In addition to conscription, volunteers were welcome.

There were 4 stages in the conscription process:

  1. making up the list
  2. notifying the men by posting the catalogs in the Agora, on the base of the statues of the eponymous heroes of each tribe
  3. allowing for exemptions for reasons like being of the wrong age group (the right age was between 18-50 or 59) or without adequate wealth, although in the fourth century the state started supplying shield and spear, and
  4. assembling the men.
The second conscription method was to keep lists of potential hoplites by age group and then to call up all men between one age and another. Christ believes the change to the second method took place between 386 and 366 and was part of a move to make sure citizens carried out their civic responsibilities equitably.

See "Conscription of Hoplites in Classical Athens," by Matthew R. Christ. The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 2. (2001), pp. 398-422.


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