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Status in Classical Athens

Status in Classical Athens

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 160
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    Status in Classical Athens
    Book Description:

    Ancient Greek literature, Athenian civic ideology, and modern classical scholarship have all worked together to reinforce the idea that there were three neatly defined status groups in classical Athens--citizens, slaves, and resident foreigners. But this book--the first comprehensive account of status in ancient democratic Athens--clearly lays out the evidence for a much broader and more complex spectrum of statuses, one that has important implications for understanding Greek social and cultural history. By revealing a social and legal reality otherwise masked by Athenian ideology, Deborah Kamen illuminates the complexity of Athenian social structure, uncovers tensions between democratic ideology and practice, and contributes to larger questions about the relationship between citizenship and democracy.

    Each chapter is devoted to one of ten distinct status groups in classical Athens (451/0-323 BCE): chattel slaves, privileged chattel slaves, conditionally freed slaves, resident foreigners (metics), privileged metics, bastards, disenfranchised citizens, naturalized citizens, female citizens, and male citizens. Examining a wide range of literary, epigraphic, and legal evidence, as well as factors not generally considered together, such as property ownership, corporal inviolability, and religious rights, the book demonstrates the important legal and social distinctions that were drawn between various groups of individuals in Athens. At the same time, it reveals that the boundaries between these groups were less fixed and more permeable than Athenians themselves acknowledged. The book concludes by trying to explain why ancient Greek literature maintains the fiction of three status groups despite a far more complex reality.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4653-5
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Spectrum of Statuses (pp. 1-7)

    Moses Finley famously argued that we ought to recognize a spectrum of statuses in ancient Greece, with the chattel slave at one extreme, the full-fledged citizen at the other, and a range of statuses in between.¹ Taking up his challenge, this book maps the range of social and legal statuses in classical Athens (451/0–323 BCE). My aim is to provide a thick description of Athenian status, ultimately broaching larger questions about the relationship between Athenian citizenship and civic ideology. By “civic ideology” I refer to the conception that all Athenian citizens—and only Athenian citizens—were autochthonous (that is,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 CHATTEL SLAVES (pp. 8-18)

    Although war among the various Greek poleis was common, the Greeks were nonetheless (in principle) averse to the enslavement of their fellow Greeks (see, e.g., Pl.Rep. 469b–c; Xen.Hell.1.6.14,Ages.7.6).¹ Most chattel slaves, therefore, were of “barbarian”—that is, non-Greek—origin, acquired mainly through Mediterranean trading networks.² In the archaic period (ca. 630–480 BCE), slaves were primarily Scythians and Thracians, coming from areas northeast of Greece. After the Persian Wars, traders began to acquire more slaves from the east, particularly from those areas (like Caria) near the Greek cities of Asia Minor. And in the...


    A subcategory of chattel slave, but one sufficiently distinct (to my mind) to constitute a unique status group, is “privileged” slaves.¹ The term “privileged,” as I am using it here, is not absolute but relative. To define this group, we first have to set up some parameters, especially since scholars have often lumped together two very different kinds of slaves—andrapoda misthophorountaandapophora-bearing slaves—into the category of privileged slaves. As Emily Kazakévich has demonstrated, the only similarity between these two types of slaves is that they both worked outside the confines of the household.² The first of these,...


    Two major subtypes of freed slave existed in classical Athens.¹ This chapter focuses on slaves freed with strings attached; in the following chapter I will turn to unconditionally freed slaves, as well as freeborn resident aliens, with whom they share a very similar status. I would like to begin, however, with some basics on how manumission worked in classical Athens. Slaves in Athens could be freed in a number of different ways.² Sometimes a master freed his own slaves. He could do so through a simple verbal declaration,³ as well as posthumously, through a will.⁴ He could even free his...

  8. CHAPTER 4 METICS (METOIKOI) (pp. 43-54)

    In this chapter we turn tometoikoi, foreigners who, unlikexenoi, were official residents of Athens, rather than just passing through.¹ In its broad sense, the termmetoikosencompassed two subcategories of resident alien, distinguished from each other not only legally but also (more significantly) socially: 1) freeborn foreigners (metoikoior metics in the narrow sense); and 2) freed slaves, most likely those who were not (or who were no longer) bound to their previous masters.² It is unfortunately unclear to us whether freed slaves became metics (in the broad sense) automatically after being released from remaining obligations to their...


    The status group I am calling “privileged metics” is somewhat motley; in fact, there is no one word or phrase in Greek for this category. However, I find it useful to categorize together, for heuristic purposes, all metics who possessed rights superior to the average metic. Within this rubric, each subcategory of “privileged” metic was distinguished from the next by a particular privilege or bundle of privileges.¹ Some of these privileges, in turn, conferred more honor (timē), and therefore a higher social status, than others.

    One such privilege wasenktēsis, the right to own real property.² Most of our evidence...

  10. CHAPTER 6 BASTARDS (NOTHOI) (pp. 62-70)

    The status ofnothoihas long been a vexed question.¹ At least as early as Solon’s legislation (594/3 BCE), anothoswas defined as the child of two parents who were not legally married, hence the term’s standard translation: “bastard.”² After Pericles’s citizenship legislation in 451/0—referred to as a law “onnothoi” (Plut. Per. 37.2)—the status ofnothoibecame a bit more complicated, with repercussions for their entitlement to citizen status. Moreover, this new post–451/0 status can be divided into two distinct sub-statuses of illegitimate children (see, e.g., LSJ s.v.nothos): 1) a child born to a...


    In determining the legal and social status ofatimoi, I must first define what I mean byatimia. I am concerned in this chapter only withatimiain its classical sense—“disenfranchisement”—as opposed to its archaic sense of outlawry (i.e., deprivation of all protections of the law).¹ But even in the classical period,atimiacame in many different forms. First of all, it could be total or partial. Totalatimia, depending on the offense warranting it, was either temporary or permanent,² and entailed being deprived of the rights to take part in the Assembly or Council; to serve as...


    In this chapter, I argue that naturalized citizens, while nearly the equal of natural-born citizens in the eyes of the law, were markedly different in social status. In order to flesh out this complex status, it is useful first to outline the basics of how naturalization worked.¹ The institution was practiced on an ad-hoc basis as early as Solon, who was said to have naturalized refugees and other foreigners who came to Athens to practice a trade (Plut.Sol.24.4). We are also told that the Athenian statesman Cleisthenes introduced many foreigners and slaves into the civic body, but, as...


    I have chosen to devote an entire chapter to the status of female citizens (but not to, say, female metics) because female citizenship is sufficiently different from male citizenship to warrant a distinct status category.¹ That is, female citizens are less equal to male citizens than female slaves are to male slaves, female ex-slaves to male, female metics to male, and so on.² However, to avoid treating all women in Athens as an “undifferentiated mass,”³ I will distinguish between different types of female citizens as appropriate below. One of the most distinctive attributes of Athenian women is that although they...

  14. CHAPTER 10 FULL CITIZENS: MALE (pp. 97-108)

    Just as with chapter 9, I begin this chapter with a disclaimer: I have chosen to dedicate one chapter to male citizens, but in a sense this chapter could also have been split into multiple chapters. In theory, all male citizens were equal in legal status, but this was not the case in practice, and they were certainly not equal in social status. Within the status group of “male citizens,” then, there was a range of sub-statuses, varying by wealth and age, among other factors.¹

    The process of integrating male citizens into the civic body began early. Within the first...

  15. CONCLUSION Status in Ideology and Practice (pp. 109-116)

    Through close analysis of various forms of evidence—literary, epigraphic, and legal—I have demonstrated that classical Athens had a spectrum of statuses, ranging from the base chattel slave to the male citizen with full civic rights. I have also shown that factors not previously taken into account alongside one another (e.g., property ownership, corporal inviolability, and religious rights) made for significant legal and social differences between groups of individuals in the city.

    As we have seen, the status of the basest chattel slave (e.g., a mining slave; chapter 1) was characterized by a (nearly) complete lack of rights: he...

  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 117-134)
  17. INDEX LOCORUM (pp. 135-140)
  18. GENERAL INDEX (pp. 141-144)