Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 December 2010
Unlike the Republic, which expresses the ideal of an aristocracy of philosophers, that is, essentially the ideal of rule by the most intellectually talented members of the upper classes, the Laws offers a more traditional paradigm of conservative agrarianism, principally founded on the time-honored model of the Greek soldier-farmer. This farmer is the citizen who serves his city economically by ensuring that his plot remains productive and militarily by serving in the army as a heavy infantryman (hoplitês). In all likelihood, some of the citizens of the Laws are leisured landlords and some self-sufficient but not excessively wealthy farmers regularly toiling on their own land. The conservatism of both groups informs much of the thinking of the Laws on social issues.
It is in the framework of this conservatism that the family structure espoused in the Laws can be best understood. The formal prerequisite for citizenship is membership in one of the city's 5,040 households (oikoi). In making membership in the oikos the basic criterion for citizenship Plato follows a long and almost universal Greek tradition. The household was the fundamental social and (to a large extent) economic unit of the Greek world. Aristotle understandably treats it as the first social structure out of which the city (polis) eventually emerges (Politics 1252b9–10).
The land of Magnesia is divided into 5,040 parts to be distributed by lot, one to each head of a family coming into the colony (737c).