ElAnt v2n4 - REVIEWS - The Phratries of Attica - S.D. Lambert

Volume 2, Number 4
December 1994

The Phratries of Attica

by S.D. Lambert,
Ann Arbor,
University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Reviewed by:

P.J. Rhodes, 
Department of Classics, 
University of Durham,
Durham, DH1 3EU,

This book, though published by an American university press, is based on an Oxford D. Phil. thesis. Where so much is controversial, the author cannot expect to win universal agreement on every point, but he presents his evidence clearly and argues fairly, and this book will be essential reading in an area in which such a book was badly needed.

The Introduction starts with Cleisthenes' system of tribes, trittyes and demes, as an artificially constructed system to be contrasted with the older system of phratries, and then addresses three questions about the phratries. The tendency to contrast a locally-based deme system with a personally- based phratry system is shown to be a dangerous simplification: the demes were established as groups of people with hereditary membership, while the phratries had a local aspect and (despite the meaning which we should expect the word phrater to bear) never claimed that their members were all descended from a common ancestor. The statement of Ath. Pol. fr. 3 that the phratries were identical with the trittyes of the four old tribes is certainly wrong; whether the phratries were nevertheless in some way sub- groups of the old tribes as the demes were sub-groups of the new tribes cannot be decided on the basis of the available evidence; gene do seem to have been sub-groups of phratries, though the relationship between genos and phratry may not have been the same in every case. Lambert believes that (with one exception, to be noted below) it remained the case in the fifth and fourth centuries that every adult male citizen belonged to a phratry: in the fourth century the number of phratries was probably within the range 30-140, and their average membership in the range 1,000-140.

Chapters 1-7 deal with the phratries after Cleisthenes. We have tended to think of citizenship in classical Athens as based on membership of his system of tribes, trittyes and demes, and certainly it was impossible to be a citizen without having a place in that system; but Lambert insists that there are many classical texts which mention phratry membership as well as, or even in preference to, deme membership in connection with citizenship. He argues that only those foreigners who were granted citizenship en bloc as members of a group (e.g. the Plataeans) were not admitted to a phratry; otherwise every citizen belonged both to a deme and to a phratry; and, whereas most of the rights and duties of a citizen were linked to his deme membership, it was the phratry, to which children and wives were introduced as they were not introduced to the deme, which played the larger part in establishing that a man was entitled to Athenian citizenship by virtue of his legitimate Athenian parentage. In that case, Lambert adds, it is likely that Pericles' citizenship law concerned itself with the phratries. All this I find very persuasive; but I am less happy about what follows.

Lambert accepts the attack by Bourriot and Roussel on the old view of gene as aristocratic clans which dominated the phratries. Gene of the kind whose members were granted automatic admission to their phratries he regards (on the basis of Arist. Pol. I. 1252 b, with its mention of homogalaktes ) not as aristocratic clans but as village-type communities, not unlike a phratry or a deme: they were normally but not invariably sub-groups of phratries, and some citizens but not all belonged to a genos. Groups of orgeones also were sub-groups of phratries, but groups with primarily religious concerns, and again some citizens but not all belonged to one of these groups. Other groups, sometimes called thiasoi, might be formed if a phratry wanted subdivisions which would include all its members. The result is an untidy pattern rather than a systematic one, and a pattern in which there is no room for a privileged and dominant body within the phratry. However, if, as Lambert believes (69-70), priestly gene were among the gene which were sub-groups of phratries, then not all the gene which were sub-groups of phratries were non-aristocratic village- type communities, and the interpretations of the Deceleans and Demotionidae which he is going to rule out a priori (below) ought not to be dismissed so easily.

He proceeds next to the set of documents which must play a large part in any discussion of phratries, the decrees mentioning the Deceleans and the Demotionidae ( IG ii2 1237). These are decrees of phrateres (lines 9, 114), concerned with membership of a phratry (esp. 18-19, 36-8, 89, 96). The first decree names two bodies, the oikos of the Deceleans and the Demotionidae; adjudications are held according to the law of the Demotionidae, candidates who are rejected may appeal to the Demotionidae, and the Demotionidae keep the "first" copy of the register; but advocates to defend a rejection (I agree with Lambert's interpretation of 32-8) are elected by the Deceleans, the priest is priest of the Deceleans, and notices are published in the place frequented by the Deceleans. Wilamowitz thought the Demotionidae were the phratry and the Deceleans a privileged genos within it; Wade-Gery, as modified by Andrewes, that the Deceleans were the phratry and the Demotionidae a privileged genos within it.

Lambert tries by means of a new theory to have his cake and eat it: the decrees are enacted by the Deceleans, and concern membership of the oikos of the Deceleans, but the Deceleans are a sub-group (resembling a genos as Lambert understands gene, but not a genos, since they call themselves an oikos), though one which is asserting an increasing degree of independence, within the phratry of the Demotionidae. This is ingenious and well worked out, but I am not in the end persuaded. I do not doubt that the kind of fission which he postulates could have occurred; but the natural reading of the text is that these are decrees of a whole phratry, concerning the membership of the whole phratry, and I do not think Lambert's case for rejecting that is strong enough. I think he has been led to reject it by his conviction that there cannot have been a privileged body within the phratry. As Wade- Gery said ( CQ [25] 1931, p. 139 = Essays , p. 129), "It is disastrous to block enquiry at the start by a preconceived generality. Our notions about the Attic aristocracy are exceedingly insecure, and we have to cut them to fit the instances, not the instances to fit them." If we remain open- minded on this issue, I think the easiest conclusion is that a version of the Wade-Gery--Andrewes interpretation must be right, that the Deceleans are the phratry, and that the Demotionidae, whether or not they are a genos in the sense of Philochorus, FGH 328 F 35, are a body which in the first of these decrees has a special status with regard to regulating the membership of the phratry. I hope to pursue this matter at greater length elsewhere.

In a chapter about the Apaturia and admission to the phratry Lambert is wisely sceptical about Vidal-Naquet's interpretation of the anti-hoplite Melanthus as a model for the Athenian epheboi. He suggests that there was room for variation between the different phratries, and that each would vote on a young candidate for membership only once, but not each at the same stage in the candidate's life; and that there was also room for variation between phratries in practice concerning the introduction of members' daughters and (normally but not invariably done) members' wives.

Phratries, like demes and other corporations of citizens, owned, leased and sold landed property, in particular lending money to members against the security of a fictitious sale ( prasis epi lysei ). Again like demes and other corporations of citizens, they engaged in religious activities. However, there is much less evidence for phratry activity than for deme activity, and the religious observances of phratries do not display the local particularism which is characteristic of the religious observances of demes: instead the phratries concentrated on Zeus Phratrios, Athena Phratria and Apollo Patroos. More particular cults seem to have been the preserve of the sub-groups rather than of the whole phratries. Phratriarchs were appointed by election whereas demarchs were appointed by lot, but phratriarchs like demarchs were local worthies rather than men of distinction.

The second part of the book is devoted to Cleisthenes and before; and here too Lambert has new interpretations to advance. He rightly rejects the statement of Ath. Pol. fr. 3 that the phratries were identical with the trittyes of the four old tribes; but he accepts the statement of Ath. Pol. 8. 3 that there were twelve naucraries in each of the old tribes, claims that these had 'a local and hereditary character similar to the demes', and supposes that the tribe-trittys-deme system after Cleisthenes corresponds to a tribe-trittys-naucrary system before Cleisthenes, that the phratries were outside that old system as they were outside Cleisthenes' new system, and that before Cleisthenes citizenship was linked to membership both of a phratry and of the old system as after Cleisthenes it was linked to membership both of a phratry and of the new system. I am happy to see the phratries detached from the old tribes and their trittyes, but I think Lambert is far too confident in his interpretation of the mysterious naucraries, and surprisingly willing to see a tidy correspondence between pre-Cleisthenic and post-Cleisthenic institutions when he has shown a welcome willingness to avoid too much tidiness in his interpretation of the phratries themselves. As for the origins of the pre-Cleisthenic units, he is more willing than Andrewes to believe in phratries and perhaps in tribes too in the Mycenaean period, but not eager to push trittyes or naucraries back beyond the archaic period.

Appendixes give texts and translations of, and notes on, inscriptions concerning phratries; a discussion of Ath. Pol. fr. 3; and notes on the principle of Athenian descent as the basis for citizenship, on Solon's laws concerning the naucraries, and on the size of the deme Halimus in 346/5.

This is a very useful book, then, and a very stimulating book. It is not a book to be believed uncritically on every point -- but no book on the phratries which was useful and stimulating would be able to command uncritical belief.

P.J. Rhodes

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 2 Issue 4 - December 1994
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606