Metics were free resident aliens who lived permanently in the city. The majority of metics had come to Athens to benefit from the Athenian economic miracle, and were usually involved in commerce. It is noteworthy that ancient sources contrast metics not with the citizens but with the townsfolk. Only a small percentage of metics were former slaves who had opted to stay on in Athens after being given their freedom.

A metic did not have the right to acquire land or a house. This right was only given to a foreigner by the city in recognition of services rendered. Moreover, a metic was liable for an annual tax - twelve drachmai for a man, six for a woman. This payment, the metoikion, was not a punishing sum: it was a day's wage for a working man. However, if the metic failed to pay, he or she risked going into slavery, as did (until the start of the fourth century B.C. at any rate) any metic who had not declared a 'protector'. This protector would be an Athenian citizen, who would guarantee, by whatever means, that the foreigner was fit to become a permanent resident of Athens. He would ensure that the foreigner had legal recourse to the competent court, presided over by the polemarchos. The richest metics (like the richest Athenian citizens) were liable for a further tax, the eisphora, should an emergency such as war demand it.

Some metics played an important role in the Athenian economy, including prominent entrepreneurs in particularly lucrative financial operations such as commerce, industry, or banking ventures. But on the whole they were involved in less profitable occupations - for instance as cooks, gardeners and workmen engaged on public buildings (the Erechtheion in 409/8 and 408/7 B.C.; Eleusis in 329/8 B.C.), cooks and gardeners. Because of their jobs, metics tended to live in demes either in or next to the asty. Archaeological finds, inscriptions from gravestones, tell us that in the Classical period demes such as Melite (in north-west Athens) and Piraeus had the highest concentrations of metics. Although the metics may have been a special social group, subject to legal restrictions and without the right to participate directly in the political process, this did not stop them playing an active part in Athenian social life.

They became friends with Athenian citizens, held symposia, they took part in city festivals and made personal contributions for the endowment of altars and even for putting up building installations, as in Piraeus. Votes of thanks to metics are frequent from the fourth century B.C., indicating an increase in the number of sponsorships by them and that the value of their contribution was now being recognized by the city.

| introduction | oikos | polis | Classical period

Note: Click on the icons for enlargements and explanations.
Underlined links lead to related texts; those not underlined ones are an explanatory glossary.