Josine Blok & Ineke Sluiter

The value of allotment: anchoring innovation in ancient Greek political institutions

Home > Projects > The value of allotment: anchoring innovation in ancient Greek political institutions
The value of allotment: anchoring innovation in ancient Greek political institutions

The theme Anchoring innovation in polis institutions comprises four projects in the domain of Politics which also support the strategic theme Institutions: understanding the dynamics of open societies. Between ca. 800 and 300 BCE, the Greek poleis developed into a network of small-scale but resilient and politically self-conscious political units spanning the entire ancient Mediterranean world.

The value of allotment

In a relatively short time span most poleis developed into societies based on pluralistic institutions with various degrees of access, stable legal procedures, a quite high level of shared knowledge and some redistribution of wealth among the citizen population. Polis institutions were typically embedded, embodying the coherence of social, economic, religious and political interests of the polis in various ways. In response to both external and internal pressures, institutional innovation took place continuously, but innovation itself was not considered a social good; to be acceptable, institutional change needed to be anchored in existing values and structures. The four projects examine how such processes of institutional innovation came about.

Allotment was a common phenomenon in many premodern societies, but only the poleis of ancient Greece used this method for the allocation of political office on a truly large scale. Using the lot for allocation of goods, whether commodities or honours, creates absolute equality amongst the candidates. Over and against a political value system based on inequality (merit, wealth) the increasing use of allotment raises questions how such an innovation could be acceptable. Which values were at stake in the perception of this method: was it considered new and its use an innovation, or could it be taken to be ‘old’? Which practices and discourses were involved in the evaluation of allotment and how was the anchoring of this method effectuated? The project investigates discourse (semantics, discourse analysis), political practice (data on allotted functions) on the working hypothesis that the ‘anchoring’ value resided in the equality of Greek partible inheritance rights.