There was, in Greece, a well organized and rich aristocracy which endured Roman protection right on through into the established and highly stratified Byzantine empire. Only in the development of civilization under Diocletian and his successors in the Eastern empire was there evidence of public policy coming to grips with social class realities. Only then did destructive civil strife and/or laissez-faire give way to systematic labor and provision for the security of the different social levels. So far as the social class results were concerned, not the means, it was not until the third and fourth centuries AD. that social legislation and class organization in the eastern Mediterranean region began to approach the modern "middle way" program.
However, there were characteristics of the social life of Greece during the fifth and fourth centuries which are much in evidence today. They were: (1) election by and public support of the idle and other pressure groups, (2) wars, (3) the exiling and execution of intellectuals, some of the rich, and some of the aristocrats. If the modern trend in Germany, England, and France, for instance, goes the same route as in ancient Greece, as has been predicted by many Europeans, no immediate program of social class stabilization is in sight. An era of plunder, hatred, and recrimination seems to have descended upon Europe. Nor can one take hope in the extremely brutal measures used to disrupt normal associative groupings (the classes) in the Soviet Union. This latter scheme is, of course, quite new in human history, because it is a combination of proscription and confiscation on the one hand and militarism and social planning on the other.
In sum, Greek civilization experienced many more political changes than it did changes in social status. It developed with an aristocracy and merged into Byzantine still possessing one.
Preliminary statement about Roman classes. The purpose of the following is not to survey the development of Rome or to describe the classes, as such. It is to study the changes which took place in the membership of the Roman social classes in an effort to determine, in a general way, whether or not there were significant shifts in the make-up of the classes. Did the class lines hold firm, relatively, through the turmoil of Roman history, or did they break and shatter under the impact of political rights, dictatorship, and decline? When and where was the most social class circulation? When did the common man have a chance to rise? Were there always, from first to last, prominent and aristocratic families? If one aristocracy was destroyed, and/or failed to reproduce itself, where did the Romans recruit their new aristocracy, and how new was it? What did the Romans mean by novus homo?
Precise data as to the amount and incidence of social climbing and falling are missing. However, enough is known to indicate that several of the generalities which have long persisted in sociological literature are in need of revision. One of these, for instance, is that after several centuries of struggle the plebeians broke the hold of the aristocracy and destroyed the barriers to high status for the commonest man. In fact, much more correct data are available than are presented in the material based on this period found in many current social science texts. The purpose here, again, is two-fold: to correct erroneous interpretations based on too little familiarity with history, and to delineate the incidence of social class rigidity.
Early Rome. The first accurate picture of Roman life shows that the gentes were made up of patrons whose followers or serfs were called clients. At that stage of Roman development, when many patricians gathered at Rome from the towns roundabout, with their clients to serve them, they joined together into such a close knit endogamous unit that their organization by Rome expanded so rapidly and the population grew so fast that no castes were formed. On the contrary, the tendency toward the formation of a "caste line" was overcome through the insistence of rich, powerful, and fashionable plebs. Therefore, Rome was characterized by classes; contrary to the experience of India, she never knew the development of established caste organizations.