Women and Law in Classical Greece

Women and Law in Classical Greece

Women and Law in Classical Greece

Women and Law in Classical Greece


Based on a sophisticated reading of legal evidence, this book offers a balanced assessment of the status of women in classical Greece. Raphael Sealey analyzes the rights of women in marriage, in the control of property, and in questions of inheritance. He advances the theory that the legal disabilities of Greek women occurred because they were prohibited from bearing arms.
Sealey demonstrates that, with some local differences, there was a general uniformity in the legal treatment of women in the Greek cities. For Athens, the law of the family has been preserved in some detail in the scrupulous records of speeches delivered in lawsuits. These records show that Athenian women could testify, own property, and be tried for crime, but a male guardian had to administer their property and represent them at law. Gortyn allowed relatively more independence to the female than did Athens, and in Sparta, although women were allowed to have more than one husband, the laws were similar to those of Athens. Sealey's subsequent comparison of the law of these cities with Roman law throws into relief the common concepts and aims of Greek law of the family.


In 1973 the first visit of the dedicand to California prompted me to pay attention to the women of ancient Greece. Since then my views have changed much. I reached my main conclusion, on the elements of homogeneity in Greek law of the family, only when most of my script had been written.

Discussion with several colleagues has helped me. I am especially indebted to D. Cohen for ideas on the law of adultery, and to J. K. Anderson for information and references on the boar's tusk helmet in Crete, on change in the coastline near Hisarlık, and on the defense of Sinope against Datames. Needless to say, this should not be taken to indicate their view on anything treated in this book. It is a pleasure to thank Lewis Bateman, of the University of North Carolina Press, and his two readers for sympathy and encouragement. They have saved me from several oversights. Translations in this book are my own, and dates are B.C. unless otherwise indicated.

The gentle reader is asked to note that "women and law" is not the same as "women in law." I do not restrict myself to women in law, for I think that I have something to say about law.

Berkeley, California Advent 1988 . . .

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