The liturgy (leitourgia, ‘work for the people’) is an institution known esp. from Athens, but attested elsewhere, by which rich men were required to undertake work for the state at their own expense. It channelled their expenditure and competitiveness into public‐spirited directions, and was perhaps felt to be less confiscatory than an equivalent level of taxation.
In Athens liturgies were of two kinds: the trierarchy, which involved responsibility for a warship for a year; and various liturgies in connection with festivals. The latter included the choregia (‘chorus‐leading’: the production of a chorus at the musical and dramatic festivals), the gymnasiarchy (responsibility for a team competing in an athletic festival), hestiāsis (‘feasting’: the provision of a banquet), and architheōria (the leadership of a public delegation to a foreign festival). At state level there were at least 97 in a normal year, at least 118 in a year of the Great Panathenaea, and there were also some deme liturgies.
Liability seems to have begun at a property level of c.3–4 talents; in some cases metics as well as citizens could be called on. Appointment was made sometimes by one of the archontes, sometimes by the tribes (phylai). A man who thought that another was richer than himself but had been passed over could challenge the other to perform the liturgy in his place or else accept an exchange of property (antidosis). The most that could legally be required of a man was to perform one festival liturgy in two years or one trierarchy in three, but in the atmosphere of competition surrounding the liturgies many men performed more liturgies and spent more money on them than the minimum possible.
In the 4th cent. bc it became hard to find enough men able to bear the cost of liturgies. Various measures were adopted to spread the cost of the trierarchy more fairly. Between 317 and 307 Demetrius of Phaleron abolished all liturgies, and new magistrates were provided with funds for festivals by the state; but in the Hellenistic world there was a tendency to appoint rich men to offices of this kind and to expect them to add from their own pockets to what the state provided. See euergetism.
Subjects: Classical Studies.