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Women and Family in Athenian Law 

K. Kapparis, edition of March 22, 2003

page 5 of 11

· Women and Citizenship ·

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 57).
Plot on a Map

After the Periclean citizenship law a child would be of citizen status only if both parents were citizens. However, since the Athenians did not keep birth records citizen identity was conferred upon the child gradually, and it would mean different things for boys and girls. Traditionally a boy would be presented to the members of the phratry and possibly the genos or other such associations to which his father belonged not long after his birth. After the reforms of Kleisthenes membership of these bodies was not an obligatory requirement for citizenship, but most Athenians belonged to them, and failure to present a legitimately born citizen boy to these bodies might give rise to questions, and later prejudice his registration with the deme. Thus the presentation to these bodies amounted to an early declaration of the boy’s legitimacy and citizen status by the father to the community. Then the father or legal guardian had the obligation to educate the boy and teach him how to become a good citizen of Athens. In adolescence the boy would become a full member of the phratry or genos. When he reached his 18th year he would appear before the deme and seek registration sponsored by his father or legal guardian. Once he was registered with the deme he became a full citizen. If he was rejected by the deme, he could appeal the decision before the court, but this was risky: if he lost, he was sold as a slave (cf. Dem. 57). Thus the state firmly discouraged frivolous claims of citizenship.

Read about the evidence
Isaeus (Isaeus 3).
Apollodorus (Dem. 59).

For women the process was considerably different. There is some evidence that girls could be presented to the phratry, but this was not obligatory, and some Athenian men might not even bother presenting their daughters, as this had no real legal significance. This is why the evidence for presentation of girls to the phratry is rather sporadic. Girls were educated at home, and were taught how to become good mothers and prudent housewives, how to count, and in some households how to read and write. When time came, ideally while still in adolescence, they were given in marriage to an Athenian man. Girls were not registered with the deme. Their citizen status should be known to family members and other women in the community, but respectability demanded that a woman ought not be discussed in public. In cases of dispute of a woman’s citizen status, as in Isaios 3 “On the Estate of Pyrrhos,” or in Dem. 59 “Against Neaira,” it would be difficult to produce conclusive proof, and it would be up to the jury to believe one side or the other. Precisely because it was not easy to prove or disprove objectively a woman’s citizenship status, the state felt the need to introduce some safeguards in the early 4th century. A law imposed severe penalties upon a man who had tricked another man into marrying an alien woman by assuring him that she was Athenian (Dem. 59.52).

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