Also found in: Dictionary.
in ancient Athens, the fourth and lowest census group of citizens, according to the reform of Solon. The thetes were preceded in rank by the pentakosiomedimnoi, the hippeis, and the zeugitai.
The thetes were made up of citizens with property producing less than 200 medimnoi of grain (1 medimnos = approximately 41–52 liters); they included small landowners, tenant farmers, farm workers, day laborers, and the poor. The thetes were exempt from taxation. They served in the army as soldiers bearing light arms and in the navy as sailors or rowers; they also performed noncombat service. The thetes had the right to take part in the popular assembly and to sit on juries.
Under Themistocles, Pericles, and Cleon, the thetes assumed a more important role in political affairs and the military; this change was brought about by the further democratization of the Athenian state and by the growing importance of the navy. By the fourth century B.C., the thetes were in practice allowed to hold government posts. In the Homeric era (11th to ninth centuries B.C.) the term thetes was applied to impoverished citizens who had lost their ties to their clan and community.