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Women and Family in Athenian Law 

K. Kapparis, edition of March 22, 2003

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· Metics and Slaves ·

Plot on a Map

The numerous aliens living in Athens (“metics”) were in a similar position to that of resident aliens in the US at present. They could not vote or be voted into office, but their property rights were protected and they could represent themselves in court, although in certain procedures they needed to use an Athenian agent (prostates). Marriages between metics were legally valid unions while their person and sanctity of family life were protected by Athenian law. As it happens in several countries today, non-citizens could not own real estate, unless given this right through a special resolution (egtesis) for good service to the state. The most coveted of privileges, Athenian citizenship, was only granted to aliens as an exceptional reward for great services to the Athenian people (andragathia). However, in practice this reward rarely went to metics living in Athens; in the 4th century in particular it had degenerated into some sort of diplomatic gesture for important foreign leaders and dignitaries, who often had not consistently served the best interests of Athens.

Read about the evidence
Xenophon (Xen. Ways).

The large slave population of Attica was mostly under private ownership, except for a small number of public slaves (demosioi). They had no rights, and only very limited protection against abuse or injury. A mistreated slave could always ask to be sold to someone else, but besides that he or she would be completely at the mercy of the master. Slaves were valuable commodity, and an injured or disabled slave would be no good as he/she could lose much of their value. This financial dimension probably afforded more protection against extreme abuse than the law itself. Attractive female slaves bought for the purposes of practicing prostitution would be groomed and pampered, and could be very expensive. Slaves kept as concubines might be treated with generosity and enjoy certain privileges at the discretion of the master. Unions between slaves and procreation were possible if the master permitted it. A 4th century essay on good household management (Xenophon’s Oeconomicus) recommends allowing good slaves to have families as this would make them more cautious and more trustworthy. The children of such unions would be slaves owned by the master of the parents (oikogenes). A slave could be set free by the master as a reward for dedicated service, or sometimes he/she might be able to negotiate with a reasonable master a scheme whereby after a number of years of faithful service and hard work they could gain their freedom. Sometimes a slave could be set free under the condition that he/she would stay and work for the master after liberation for a stated period of time (paramone). Slaves were treated as human beings at their death. Religious scruple demanded the punishment of the killer of a slave (unless of course it was the master), and some burial rites were in order even for the most lowly slave.

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