Related Content

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Classical studies


Show Summary Details



Quick Reference

In Greek states, groups with hereditary membership and probably normally associated with specific locality(ies). The members were ‘phrateres’, related to words which in other Indo‐European languages mean ‘brother’. Phratry names often, but not always, had the patronymic ending ‐idai.

Phratries are attested in a wide range of Greek states. Ionian Greeks, including Athenians, conceived of the institution as part of their Ionian heritage (see ionians). Celebration of the annual phratry festival Apaturia was regarded as a criterion of Ionian identity.

We know most about phratries at Athens. In addition to numerous references in literary sources, esp. the orators, inscriptions attest them from the 7th to the 2nd cents. bc. Some nine phratries are now known by name. In total there were probably c.30. Before the reforms of Cleisthenes (2) (508) every Athenian male belonged to a phratry, and phratries functioned as social groups concerned with matters of family and descent. Under Draco's law on homicide, dating from the 620s, and re‐enacted at the end of the 5th cent., members of the phratry of a victim of unintentional homicide are required to support the victim's family, and, if the victim has no family, to take on its role. This function as natural unit of community beyond the family was characteristic.

After Cleisthenes phratry membership continued to be necessary for a native‐born Athenian citizen, along with membership of Cleisthenes' new institutional structure of phylai, trittyes and demes. The phratry apparently continued to play a major role in controlling matters relating to legitimacy of descent, including access to citizenship and inheritance of property. Phratry members appear as witnesses in 4th‐cent. legal cases where matters of descent are in dispute. Down to the 2nd cent., naturalized citizens were normally enrolled in a phratry and a deme. The most substantial evidence for an individual Athenian phratry is three decrees, inscribed on stone in the early 4th cent., which regulate in detail admissions procedures.

Male children probably underwent a dual process of phratry introduction, in infancy at the meion and in adolescence at the koureion. There might also be a separate process of scrutiny, including a vote by the phratry on a candidate's eligibility. Under Pericles' citizenship law, citizen descent was necessary in the female line as well as the male. The phratries seem to have taken greater account than the demes of women, who, while not normally regarded as phratry members, might sometimes be introduced to their fathers' phratries and were presented to their husbands' phratries at the gamēlia.

While phratries might pursue common activities throughout the year, phratry admissions normally took place at the Apaturia, at which there was also religious observance, esp. cult of Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria, feasting and competitions. Phratries could own property, which provided a source of income to support cultic and other activities and for loans to members; see credit.

Subjects: Classical studies

Reference entries

View all reference entries »