In the ancient world, what made the crowd frightening was that there was a polis or a res publica, a public stage, which the crowd could take over in a sense that is almost literal and call its own.1 However it was constituted, the publicness of the thing made it worth occupying or possessing. In an oligarchy, like ancient Thebes for instance, the oligarchs did not claim to be the polis; they claimed to be its guardians, that they knew what was best for it, that it was theirs, but the thing itself was separate from them and in their safekeeping. Possessing the polis was worth it. At the very least it conferred prestige, the most public of all virtues, and it brought with it advantages of a negative but not negligible kind, because the class enemy of the oligarchs could not then use the prestige which possession of the polis brought as a weapon against the rich, and it put that weapon far from the hands of what all oligarchs feared most, a demagogic tyrant. What the ancients understood very clearly was that legitimacy was power on the cheap, power which does not have to be exercised, or power whose exercise does not of itself require the expenditure of precious resources. Legitimate power was power without the socially expensive use of force. Power could be used to alter what the ancients called the constitution and what we would call the arrangements for holding offices, and it was these office-holders who decided, with the connivance in democratic states of popular assemblies, the business of war and peace, which was the only business that conferred prestige and provided fame. The polis existed to make these powers possible, and possessing the polis gave the possessors a chance through fame to live beyond their own deaths. What was true of the polis was true of republican Rome; legitimacy was crucial to the life of all ancient cities because the citystate was always difficult to rule for long by force alone because the only force available to it that it could easily afford was the force of its citizens. All ancient cities expected to go to war, and this made the enslavement of citizens a very short-sighted policy on the part of rulers. Even in an oligarchy and especially in a tyranny, rulers would need the people in arms one day soon. Legitimacy counted for much in cities where there was not much in the way of bureaucracy or a police, so that citizens had to be relied on to obey the law and keep the peace largely by themselves. Ancient writers emphasize the importance of religion and what we would call public opinion, because these were among the cheapest forms of social control available to cities which often lacked the economic surplus to provide officials with the necessary freedom from getting a living from a craft or from the soil which the professionalization of the function of rule required. The most obvious way to get rule free was to delegate it to slaves, and slaves did act as public officials in some states, but giving slaves even limited rights to interfere in the lives of free citizens was dangerous in time of peace, and to arm them in time of war was to invite one of those slave

revolts which all ancient cities dreaded as they dreaded the plague. Hence the to us almost unthinkably amateurish way in which ancient cities conducted their affairs when compared to the civilized despotisms of the East.