In Ancient Athens how did the laws of state aim to preserve the individual oikos?
With reference to dowry laws and inheritance.
- Anonymous9 years agoBest Answer
Athens was primarily an agricultural society and a significant proportion of citizen families, even poor ones, would have owned land. The family together with its land was called an oikos. Since a woman could neither farm nor continue the oikos of her father---any children she produced would belong to the family of her husband---it was important to have a male heir. The end of an oikos was a social death that was thought to be even more horrendous than the physical death that must befall everyone eventually. The city-state had as much interest in the perpetuation of each oikos as the individual citizen: if land were concentrated in the hands of too few people the result might be the end of democracy and the beginning once again of class warfare. The inheritance rules of Athens were designed to ensure the survival of the “family farm” and of the “family name”. While the society as a whole professed to have a very low opinion of women’s ability and importance, we have no way of knowing what emotions existed within the family itself. Undoubtedly there were many where genuine feelings of love and affection made women more important in reality than they were in theory, but the need to preserve the integrity of the oikos was more important than anything else. Women with one or more brothers could not inherit from their fathers’ estates. Whatever share of the family wealth the daughter was to get passed to her in the form of a dowry; her share came early but it rarely equaled what her brother would get. A man with no children could always adopt a son, who would then inherit as long as he had renounced all claim to the estate of his natural father. The law was much more complicated for families with a daughter but no son. This must have been the case in twenty percent of the families. If time permitted many fathers took care of this by marrying off their daughter to a man willing to be adopted as a son as well as a son-in-law. . The Athenians were very anxious to avoid any situation where two farms could have the same owner; thus no man could inherit from both a father and a father-in-law. If a son-in-law had not been adopted he could not inherit. The estate would then pass to his daughter’s husband and the family oikos would be continued. If this arrangement had not been made in advance then the daughter became an epikleros. This term is sometimes translated as “heiress” but literally it means “with the property”. In other words, the estate passes to the closest male member of the family willing to marry her. First in line would be the deceased’s brothers and their descendents. Next would be the sons and grandsons of the sisters. If the epikleros were already married, a willing candidate could force her to divorce and marry him, and a claimant who was already married would have to divorce his first wife in order to marry the epikleros and inherit the estate. It should be noted that an epikleros’ husband kept the estate and enjoyed its income only until her son reached maturity, at which time the estate passed to him. This legal catch was something a married candidate would want to keep in mind before divorcing his first wife: his hold on the inheritance would be temporary.
The system was designed to accomplish 3 things:
1. Ensure that all property was administered by a man
2. Ensure the survival of a man’s oikos
3. Maintain as high a number of landowners as possible to ensure the continuation of democracy in Athens. The fewer men owned land the easier it would be to concentrate power in the hands of a small aristocracy.
- 3 years ago
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