The social structure of any ancient city was a complex organism which is still only imperfectly understood. Written sources usually reflect the viewpoint of the élite and by and large do not concern themselves with descriptions of the way in which their society was ordered. Not surprisingly, knowledge of the workings of their society is taken for granted. Inscriptions give us a glimpse of a wider selection of social groups but even so, the data are biased towards the more affluent sections of ancient society, including many who express their aspirations and desire to enhance their status by copying the conventions of the élite in the ways in which they record themselves and their deeds. The analytical techniques utilised by sociologists and urban geographers can be used to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge, but study of the social structure of Magna Graecia must essentially be study of the urban élite, its activities and its ideologies. The purpose of this chapter is to consider the composition of the élite in the cities of Magna Graecia which retained an urban identity during the first two centuries AD, to examine its behaviour, its relations with the Roman élite and with other social groups, and to examine the ways in which the élite constructed and manipulated its own cultural identity and that of the city.
Some comment has already been made on the ways in which the Greek traditions of these cities were perpetuated in cults and religious practices and in the political and administrative structures. An examination of the behaviour of the élite and the ways in which it sought to construct an identity for itself and for its cities places these elements in a wider context, throwing a revealing light on the process of acculturation. The preservation, or resurrection, of Greek elements of civic life and the perpetuation of the Greek language are all part of what seems to be a deliberate fostering of Hellenism by the élites of those cities for which we have evidence. This is not to say that cities such as Naples, Cumae,