Saturday, December 28, 2019


Shortage of Population

Polybius 36.17.5-11 (tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert):
In our times the whole of Greece has suffered a shortage of children and hence a general decrease of the population, and in consequence some cities have become deserted and agricultural production has declined, although neither wars nor epidemics were taking place continuously. Now if anyone had proposed that we should consult the gods to find out what we should say or do so as to increase our numbers and repopulate our cities, his advice would have been considered quite futile, since the cause of this situation was self-evident and the remedy lay within our own power. This evil grew upon us rapidly and overtook us before we were aware of it, the simple reason being that men had fallen a prey to inflated ambitions, love of money and indolence, with the result that they were unwilling to marry, or if they did marry, to bring up the children that were born to them; or else they would only rear one or two out of a large number, so as to leave these well off and able in turn to squander their inheritance. For in cases where there are only one or two children and one is killed off by war and the other by sickness, it is obvious that the family home is left unoccupied, and ultimately, just as happens with swarms of bees, little by little whole cities lose their resources and cease to flourish.

In these circumstances it was of no use whatever to turn to the gods for salvation, for any ordinary man would tell you that the remedy lay in the people's own will, and that it was a question of changing the objects of their ambition or else of passing laws to ensure that the children born to them should also be reared. Here neither prophets nor supernatural powers could provide the solution, and the same principle holds good for similar problems.

ἐπέσχεν ἐν τοῖς καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς καιροῖς τὴν Ἑλλάδα πᾶσαν ἀπαιδία καὶ συλλήβδην ὀλιγανθρωπία, δι᾿ ἣν αἵ τε πόλεις ἐξηρημώθησαν καὶ ἀφορίαν εἶναι συνέβαινε, καίπερ οὔτε πολέμων συνεχῶν ἐσχηκότων ἡμᾶς οὔτε λοιμικῶν περιστάσεων. εἴ τις οὖν περὶ τούτου συνεβούλευσεν εἰς θεοὺς πέμπειν ἐρησομένους τί ποτ᾿ ἂν ἢ λέγοντες ἢ πράττοντες πλείονες γινοίμεθα καὶ κάλλιον οἰκοίημεν τὰς πόλεις, ἆρ᾿ οὐ μάταιος ἂν ἐφαίνετο, τῆς αἰτίας προφανοῦς ὑπαρχούσης καὶ τῆς διορθώσεως ἐν ἡμῖν κειμένης; τῶν γὰρ ἀνθρώπων εἰς ἀλαζονείαν καὶ φιλοχρημοσύνην, ἔτι δὲ ῥᾳθυμίαν ἐκτετραμμένων καὶ μὴ βουλομένων μήτε γαμεῖν μήτ᾿, ἐὰν γήμωσι, τὰ γινόμενα τέκνα τρέφειν, ἀλλὰ μόλις ἓν τῶν πλείστων ἢ δύο χάριν τοῦ πλουσίους τούτους καταλιπεῖν καὶ σπαταλῶντας θρέψαι, ταχέως ἔλαθε τὸ κακὸν αὐξηθέν. ὅτε γὰρ ἑνὸς ὄντος ἢ δυεῖν, τούτων τὸν μὲν πόλεμος, τὸν δὲ νόσος ἐνστᾶσα παρείλετο, δῆλον ὡς ἀνάγκη καταλείπεσθαι τὰς οἰκήσεις ἐρήμους, καὶ καθάπερ ἐπὶ τῶν μελιττῶν τὰ σμήνη, τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον κατὰ 9βραχὺ καὶ τὰς πόλεις ἀπορουμένας ἀδυνατεῖν.

ὑπὲρ ὧν οὐδὲ χρεία παρὰ τῶν θεῶν πυνθάνεσθαι πῶς ἂν ἀπολυθείημεν τῆς τοιαύτης βλάβης· ὁ γὰρ τυχὼν τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐρεῖ διότι μάλιστα μὲν αὐτοὶ δι᾿ αὑτῶν, μεταθέμενοι τὸν ζῆλον, εἰ δὲ μή, νόμους γράψαντες, ἵνα τρέφηται τὰ γινόμενα. περὶ τούτων οὔτε μάντεων οὔτε τερατειῶν χρεία. ὁ δ᾿ αὐτὸς λόγος καὶ περὶ τῶν κατὰ μέρος.
F.W. Walbank, A Historical Commentary on Polybius, Vol. III (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p. 680:
'Childlessness and shortage of population' summarize the matter as it concerns the individual and the community. P. traces two causes, refusal to marry, and so by implication refusal to have children, and the practice of infanticide (which in combination with chance deaths could often result in childlessness); §§ 7-8. (Paton's translation of ἀπαιδία as 'a low birth-rate' is inaccurate.) On the change from over-population in earlier centuries to under-population from the third century onwards see Tarn, HC, 100-2, where graphic evidence from c. 230 onwards is adduced for the practice of infanticide, especially of girls (of whom normally only one was reared); see § 7 n. For further discussion see A. Landry, Rev. hist. 177, 1936, 1-33 (with the qualifications of M.I. Finley, JRS, 1958, 158); Rostovtzeff, SEHHW, ii.623-5; iii.1464-5. Tarn argues that the decrease in population was limited to the cities, and that an influx of slaves, freedmen, and foreigners kept up numbers; but P. speaks of Greece generally (τὴν Ἑλλάδα πᾶσαν) and of lack of production (ἀφορία). Against Tarn see Rostovtzeff, SEHHW, iii.1464-5; see also E. Will, Le Monde grec et l'orient (Paris, 1975), 512-17.

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