Why was the wealth distributed so unevenly in the Hellenistic world?

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This is a great question. I am glad that there are some people actually studying this fascinating time of history. The Hellenistic world is very much like many other ancient time periods in terms of its economy. There was a very very small percentage of people who were wealthy and the rest of the population was poor. There was no such thing as a middle class. This might seem surprising, but if you think about how the ancient world operated, it makes good sense. Let me give you two perspectives.

First, you had your landed aristocracy. These were the people who possessed land and prestige. This land and power would be passed down from one generation to another and it rarely ever left families. So, it was very difficult for anyone to break into this class. The rest of the population would be poor and die poor.

Second and more importantly, the Hellenistic world was based on what we call patronage. This basically meant that the poor would be supported by rich patrons. The landed aristocracy would give money, food and other support to many people in their community. The rich would also be the ones who built roads, aqueducts, and other large projects. From this perspective, the poor had a recourse to survive through the patronage system that was in place. More importantly, this patronage system perpetuated the divide between the rich and everyone else.