Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter VIII
The Grecian Gens

Civilization may be said to have commenced among the Asiatic Greeks with the composition of the Homeric poems about 850 B. C.; and among the European Greeks about a century later with the composition of the Hesiodic poems. Anterior to these epochs, there was a period of several thousand years during which the Hellenic tribes were advancing through the Later Period of barbarism, and preparing for their entrance upon a civilized career. Their most ancient traditions find them already established in the Grecian peninsula, upon the eastern border of the Mediterranean, and upon the intermediate and adjacent islands. An older branch of the same stock, of which the Pelasgians were the chief representatives, had preceded them in the occupation of the greater part of these areas, and were in time either Hellenized by them, or forced into emigration. The anterior condition of the Hellenic tribes and of their predecessors must be deduced from the arts and inventions which they brought down from the previous period, from the state of development of their language, from their traditions and from their social institutions, which severally survived into the period of civilization. Our discussion will be restricted, in the main, to the last class of facts.

Pelasgians and Hellenes alike were organized in gentes, phratries[1] and tribes; and the latter united by coalescence into nations. In some cases the organic series was not complete. Whether m tribes or nations their government rested upon the gens as the unit of organization, and resulted in a gentile society or a people, as distinguished from a political society or a state. The instrument of government was a council of chiefs, with the co-operation of an agora or assembly of the people, and of a basileus or military commander. The people were free, and their institutions democratical. Under the influence of advancing ideas and wants the pens had passed out of its archaic into its ultimate form. Modifications had been forced upon it by the irresistible demands of an improving society; but, notwithstanding the concessions made, the failure of the gentes to meet these wants was constantly becoming more apparent. The changes were limited, in the main, to three particulars: firstly, descent was changed to the male line; secondly, intermarriage in the gens was permitted in the case of female orphans and heiresses; and thirdly, children had gained an exclusive inheritance of their father’s property. An attempt will elsewhere be made to trace these changes, briefly, and the causes by which they were produced.

The Hellenes in general were in fragmentary tribes, presenting the same characteristics in their form of government as the barbarous tribes in general, when organized in gentes and in the same stage of advancement. Their condition was precisely such as might have been predicted would exist under gentile institutions, and therefore presents nothing remarkable.

When Grecian society came for the first time under historical observation, about the first Olympiad (776 B.C.) and down to the legislation of Cleisthenes (509 B.C.), it was engaged upon the solution of a great problem. It was no less than a fundamental change in the plan of government, involving a great modification of- institutions. The people were seeking to transfer themselves out of gentile society, in which they had lived from time immemorial, into political society based upon territory and upon property, which had become essential to a career of civilization. In fine, they were striving to establish a state, the first in the experience of the Aryan family, and to place it upon a territorial foundation, such as the state has occupied from that time to the present. Ancient society rested upon an organization of persons, and was governed through the relations of persons to a gens and tribe; but the Grecian tribes were outgrowing this old plan of government, and began to feel the necessity of a political system. To accomplish this result it was only necessary to invent a deme or township, circumscribed with boundaries, to christen it with a name, and organize the people therein as a body politic. The township, with the fixed property it contained, and with the people who in- habited it for the time being, was to become the unit of organization in the new plan of government. Thereafter the gentilis, changed into a citizen, would be dealt with by the state through his territorial relations, and not through his personal relations to a gens. He would be enrolled in the deme of his residence, which enrolment was the evidence of his citizenship; would vote and be taxed in his deme; and from it be called into the military service. Although apparently a simple idea, it required centuries of time and a complete revolution of pre-existing conceptions of government to accomplish the result. The gens, which had so long been the unit of a social system, had proved inadequate, as before suggested, to meet the requirements of an advancing society. But to set this organization aside, together with the phratry and tribe, and substitute a number of fixed areas, each with its community of citizens, was, in the nature of the case, a measure of extreme difficulty. The relations of the individual to his gens, which were personal, had to be transferred to the township and become territorial; the demarch of the township taking, in some sense, the place of the chief of the gens. A township with its fixed property would be permanent; and the people therein sufficiently so; while the gens was a fluctuating aggregate of persons, more or less scattered, and now growing incapable of permanent establishment in a local circumscription. Anterior to experience, a township, as the unit of a political system, was abstruse enough to tax the Greeks and Romans to the depths of their capacities before the conception was formed and set in practical operation. Property was the new element that had been gradually remoulding Grecian institutions to prepare the way for political society, of which it was to be the mainspring as well as the foundation. It was no easy task to accomplish such a fundamental change, however simple and obvious it may now seem; because all the previous experience of the Grecian tribes had been identified with the gentes whose powers were to be surrendered to the new political bodies.

Several centuries elapsed, after the first attempts were made to found the new political system, before the problem was solved. After experience had demonstrated that the gentes were incapable of forming the basis of a state, several distinct schemes of legislation were tried in the various Grecian communities, who copied more or less each other’s experiment, all tending to the same result. Among the Athenians from whose experience the chief illustrations will be drawn, may be mentioned the legislation of Theseus, on the authority of tradition; that of Draco (624 B. C.); that of Solon (594 B. C.); and that of Cleisthenes (509 B. C.), the last three of which were within the historical period. The development of municipal life and institutions, the aggregation of wealth in walled cities, and the great changes in the mode of life thereby produced, prepared the way for the overthrow of gentile society, and for the establishment of political society in its place.

Before attempting to trace the transition from gentile into political society, with which the closing history of the gentes is identified, the Grecian gens and its attributes will be first, considered.

Athenian institutions are typical of Grecian institutions in general, in whatever relates to the constitution of the gens and tribe, down to the end of ancient society among them. At the commencement of the historical period, the Ionians of Attica were subdivided, as is well known, into four tribes (Geleontes, Hopletes, Aegicores, and Argades), speaking the same dialect, and occupying a common territory. They had coalesced into a nation as distinguished from a confederacy of tribes; but such a confederacy had probably existed in anterior times.[2] Each Attic tribe was composed of three phratries, and each phratry of thirty gentes, making an aggregate of twelve phratries, and of three hundred and sixty gentes in the four tribes, Such is the general form of the statement, the fact being constant with respect to the number of tribes, and the number of phratries in each, but liable to variation in the number of gentes in each phratry. In like manner the Dorians were generally found in three tribes (Hylleis, Pamphyli, and Dymanes), although forming a number of nationalities; as at Sparta, Argos, Sicyon, Corinth, Epidaurus and Troezen; and beyond the Peloponnesus at Megara, and elsewhere. One or more non-Dorian tribes were found in some cases united with them, as at Corinth, Sicyon and Argos.

In all cases the Grecian tribe presupposes the gentes, the bond of kin and of dialect forming the basis upon which they united in a tribe; but the tribe did not presuppose the phratry, which, as an intermediate organization, although very common among all these tribes, was liable to be intermitted. At Sparta, there were subdivisions of the tribes called obes, each tribe containing ten, which were analogous to phratries; but concerning the functions of these organizations some uncertainty prevails.[3]

The Athenian gentes will now be considered as they appeared in their ultimate form and in full vitality; but with the elements of an incipient civilization arrayed against them, before which they were yielding step by step; and by which they were to be overthrown with the social system they created. In some respects it is the most interesting portion of the history of this remarkable organization, which had brought human society out of savagery, and carried it through barbarism into the early stages of civilization.

The social system of the Athenians exhibits the following series: first, the gens (genos) founded upon kin; second, the phratry (phratra and phratria), a brotherhood of gentes derived by segmentation, probably, from an original gens; third, the tribe (phgilon, later phyle), composed of several phratries, the members of which spoke the same dialect; and fourth, a people or nation, composed of several tribes united by coalescence into one gentile society, and occupying the same territory. These integral and ascending organizations exhausted their social system under the gentes, excepting the confederacy of tribes occupying independent territories, which, although it occurred in some instances in the early period and sprang naturally outof gentile institutions, led to no important results. It is likely that the four Athenian tribes confederated before they coalesced, the last occurring after they had collected in one territory under pressure from other tribes. If true of them, it would be equally true of the Dorian and other tribes. When such tribes coalesced into a nation, there was no term in the language to express the result, beyond a national name. The Romans, under very similar institutions, styled themselves the Populus Romanus, which ex- pressed the fact exactly. They were then simply a people, and nothing more; which was all that could result from an aggregation of gentes, curiae and tribes. The four Athenian tribes formed a society or people, which became completely autonomous in the legendary period under the name of the Athenians. Throughout the early Grecian communities, the gens, phratry and tribe were constant phenomena of their social systems, with the occasional absence of the phratry.

Mr. Grote has collected the principal facts with respect to the Grecian gentes with such critical ability that they cannot be presented in a more authoritative manner than in his own language, which will be quoted where he treats the subject generally. After commenting upon the tribal divisions of the Greeks, he proceeds as follows: “But the Phratries and Gentes are a distribution completely different from this. They seem aggregations of small primitive unities into larger; they are independent of, and do not presuppose, the tribe; they arise separately and spontaneously, without pre-concerted uniformity, and without reference to a common political purpose; the legislator find them pre-existing, and adapts or modifies them to, answer some national scheme. We must distinguish the general fact of the classification, and the successive sub- ordination in the scale, of the families to the gens, of the gentes to the phratry, and of the phratries to the tribe — from the precise numerical symmetry with which this subordination is invested, as we read it,- thirty families to a gens, thirty gentes to a phratry, three phratries to each tribe. If such nice equality of numbers could ever have been procured, by legislative constraint, operating upon pre-existent natural elements, the proportions could not have been permanently maintained. But we may reason- ably doubt whether it did ever so exist.... That every phratry contained an equal number of gentes, and every gens an equal number of families is a supposition hardly admissible without better evidence than we possess. But apart from this questionable precision of numerical scale, the Phratries and Gentes themselves were real, ancient, and durable associations among the Athenian people, highly important, to be understood. The basis of the whole was the house, hearth, or family,- a number of which, greater or less, composed the Gens or Genos. This gens was therefore a clan, sept, or enlarged, and partly factitious, brotherhood, bound together by,- 1. Common religious ceremonies, and exclusive privilege of priesthood, in honour of the same god, supposed to be the primitive ancestor, and characterized by a special surname. 2. By a common burial place.[4] 3. By mutual rights of succession to property. 4. By reciprocal obligations of help, defence, and redress of injuries. S. By mutual right and obligation to intermarry in certain determinate cases, especially where there was an orphan daughter or heiress. 6. By possession, in some cases, at least, of common property, an archon and treasurer of their own. Such were the rights and obligations characterizing the gentile union. The phratric union, binding together several gentes, was less intimate, but still included some mutual rights and obligations of an analogous character; especially a communion of particular sacred rites, and mutual privileges of prosecution in the event of a phrator being slain. Each phratry was considered as belonging to one of the four tribes, and all the phratries of the same tribe enjoyed a certain periodical communion of sacred rites under the presidency of a magistrate called the Phylo-Basileus or tribe-king selected from the Eupatrids."[5]

The similarities between the Grecian and the Iroquois gens will at once he recognized. Differences in characteristics will also be perceived, growing out of the more advanced condition of Grecian society, and a fuller development of their religious system. It will not be necessary to verify the existence of the several attributes of the gens named by Mr. Grote, as the proof is plain in the classical authorities. There were other characteristics which doubtless pertained to the Grecian gens, although it may be difficult to establish the existence of all of them; such as: 7. The limitation of descent to the male line; 8. The prohibition of intermarriage in the gens excepting in the case of heiresses; 9. The right of adopting strangers into the gens: and 10. The right of electing and deposing its chiefs.

The rights, privileges and obligations of the members of the Grecian gens may be recapitulated, with the additions named, as follows:

I. Common religious rites.

II. A common burial place.

III. Mutual rights of succession to property of deceased members.

IV. Reciprocal obligations of help, defence and redress of injuries.

V. The right to intermarry in the gens in the cases of orphan daughters and heiresses.

VI. The possession of common property, an archon, and a treasurer,

VII. The obligation of descent to the male line.

VIII. The obligation not to marry in the gens except in specified cases.

IX. The right to adopt strangers into the gnu.

X. The right to elect and depose its chiefs.

A brief reference to the added characteristics should be made.

7. The limitation of descent to the male line. There is no doubt that such was the rule, because it is proved by their genealogies. I have not been able to find in any Greek author a definition of a gens or of a gentilis that would furnish a sufficient test of the right of a given person to the gentile connection. Cicero, Varro and Festus have defined the Roman gens and gentilis, which were strictly analogous to the Grecian, with sufficient fullness to show that descent was in the male line. From the nature of the gens, descent was either in the female line or the male, and included but a moiety of the descendants of the founder. It is precisely like the family among ourselves; Those who are descended from the males bear the family name, and they constitute a gens in the full sense of the term, but in a state of dispersion, and without any bond of union excepting those nearest in degree. The females lose, with their marriage, the family name, and with their children are transferred to another family. Grote remarks that Aristotle was the son of the physician Nikomachus who belonged to the gens of the Asklepiads."[6] Whether Aristotie was of the gens of his father depends upon the further question whether they both derived their descent from Aesculapius, through males exclusively. This is shown by Laertius, who states that Aristotle was the son of Nikomachus.... and Nikomachus was descended from Nikomachus the son of Machaon, the son of Aesculapius."[7] Although the higher members of the series may be fabulous, the manner of tracing the descent would show the gens of the person. The statement of Hermann, on the authority of Isaeus, is also to the point. “Every infant was registered in the phratria and clan of its father."[8] Registration in the gens of the father implies that his children were of his gens.

8. The obligation not to marry in the gens excepting in specified cases. This obligation may be deduced from the consequences of marriage. The wife by her marriage lost the religious rites of her gens, and acquired those of her husband’s gens. The rule is stated as so general as to imply that marriage was usually out of the gens. “The virgin who quits her father’s house,” Wachsmuth remarks, “is no longer a sharer of the paternal sacrificial hearth, but enters the religious communion of her husband, and this gave sanctity to the marriage tie."[9] The fact of her registration is stated by Hermann as follows: “Every newly married woman, herself a citizen, was on this account enrolled in the phratry of her husband."[10] Special religious rites (sacra gentilicia) were common in the Grecian and Latin gens. Whether the wife forfeited her agnatic rights by her marriage, as among the Romans, I am unable to state. It is not probable that marriage severed all connection with her gens, and the wife doubtless still counted herself of the gens of her father.

The prohibition of intermarriage in the gens was fundamental in the archaic period; and it undoubtedly remained after descent was changed to the male line, with the exception of heiresses and female orphans for whose case special provision was made. Although a tendency to free marriage, beyond certain degrees of consanguinity, would follow the complete establishment of the monogamian family, the rule requiring persons to marry out of their own gens would be apt to remain so long as the gens was the basis of the social system. The special provision in respect to heiresses tends to confirm this supposition. Becker remarks upon this question, that “relationship was, with trifling limitations, no hindrance to marriage, which could take place within all degrees of anchisteia, or sungeneia, though naturally not in the gens itself."[11]

9. The right to adopt strangers into the gens. This right was practiced at a later day, at least in families; but it was done with public formalities, and was doubtless limited to special cases.[12] Purity of lineage became a matter of high concerns in the Attic gentes, interposing no doubt serious obstacles to the use of the right except for weighty reasons.

10. The right to elect and depose its chiefs. This right undoubtedly existed in the Grecian gentes in the early period. Presumptively it was possessed by them while in the upper Status of barbarism. Each gens had its archon, which was the common name for a chief. Whether the office was elective, for example, in the Homeric period, or was transmitted by hereditary right to the eldest son, is a question The latter was not the ancient theory of the office; and a change so great and radical, affecting the independence and personal rights of all the members of the gens, requires positive proof to override the presumption against it. Hereditary right to an office, carrying with it authority over, and obligations from, the members o$ a gens is a very different thing from an office bestowed by a free election, with the reserved power to depose for unworthy behaviour. The free spirit of the Athenian gentes down to the time of Solon and Cleisthenes forbids the supposition, as to them, that they had parted with a right so vital to the independence of the members of the gens. I have not been able to find any satisfactory explanation of the tenure of this office. Hereditary succession, if it existed, would indicate a remarkable development of the aristocratical element in ancient society, in derogation of the democratical constitution of the gentes. Moreover, it would be a sign of the commencement, at least, of their decadence. All the members of a gens were free and equal, the rich and the poor enjoying equal rights and privileges, and acknowledging the same in each other. We find liberty, equality and fraternity, written as plainly in the constitution of the Athenian gentes as in those of the Iroquoias Hereditary right to the principal office of the gens is totally inconsistent with the older doctrine of equal rights and privileges.

Whether the higher offices of anax, koiranos, and basileus were transmitted by hereditary right from father to son, or were elective or confirmative by a larger constituency, is also a question. It will be considered elsewhere. The former would indicate the subversion, as the latter the conservation, of gentile institutions. Without decisive evidence to the contrary every presumption is adverse to hereditary right. Some additional light will be gained on this subject when the Roman gentes are considered. A careful re-investigation of the tenure of this office would, not unlikely, modify essentially the received accounts.

It may be considered substantially assured that the Grecian gentes possessed the ten principal attributes named. All save three, namely, descent in the male line, marrying into the gens in the case of heiresses, and the possible transmission of the highest military office by hereditary right, are found with slight variations in the gentes of the Iroquois. It is thus rendered apparent that m the gentes, both the Grecian and the Iroquois tribes possessed the same original institution, the one having the gens in its later, and the other in its archaic form.

Recurring now to the quotation from Mr. Grote, it may be remarked that had he been familiar with the archaic form of the gens, and with the several forms of the family anterior to the monogamian, he would probably have modified essentially some portion of his statement. An exception must be taken to his position that the basis of the social system of the Greeks “was the house, hearth, or family.” The form of the family in the mind of the distinguished historian was evidently the Roman, under the iron-clad rule of a pater familias, to which the Grecian family of the Homeric period approximated in the complete domination of the father over the household. It would have been equally untenable had other and anterior forms of the family been intended. The gens, in its origin, is older than the monogamian family, older than the syndyasmian, and substantially contemporaneous with the punaluan. In no sense was it founded upon either. It does not recognize the existence of the family of any form as a constituent of itself. On the contrary, every family in the archaic as well as in the later period was partly within and partly without the gens, because husband and wife must belong to different gentes. The explanation is both simple and complete; namely, that the family springs up independently of the gens with entire freedom to advance from a lower into a higher form, while the gens is constant, as well as the unit of the social system. The gens entered entire into the phratry, the phratry entered entire into the tribe, and the tribe entered into the nation; but the family could not enter entire into the gens because husband and wife must belong to different gentes.

The question here raised is important, since not only Mr. Grote, but also Niebuhr, Thirhwall, Maine, Mommsen, and many other able and acute investigators have taken the same position with respect to the monogamian family of the patriarchal type as the integer around which society integrated in the Grecian and Roman systems. Nothing whatever was based upon the family in any of its forms, because it was incapable of entering a gens as a whole. The gens was homogeneous and to a great extent permanent in duration, and as such, the natural basis of a social system. A family of the monogamian type might have become individualized and powerful in a gens, and in society at large; but the gens nevertheless did not and could not recognize or depend upon the family as an integer of itself. The same remarks are equally true with respect to the modern family and political society. Although individualized by property rights and privileges, and recognised as a legal entity by statutory enactment, the family is not the unit of the political system. The state recognizes the counties of which it is composed, the county its townships, but the township takes no note of the family; so the nation recognized its tribes, the tribe its phratries, and the phratry its gentes; but the gens took no note of the family. In dealing with the structure of society, organic relations alone are to be considered. The township stands in the same relation to political society that the gens did to gentile society. Each is the unit of a system.

There are a number of valuable observations by Mr. Grote, upon the Grecian gentes, which I desire to incorporate as an exposition of them; although these observations seem to imply that they are no older than the then existing mythology, or hierarchy of the gods from the members of which some of the gentes claimed to have derived their eponymous ancestor. In the light of the facts presented, the gentes are seen to have existed long before this mythology was developed — before Jupiter or Neptune, Mars or Venus were conceived in the human mind.

Mr. Grote proceeds: “Thus stood the primitive religious and social union of the population of Attica in its gradually ascending scale — as distinguished from the political union, probably of later introduction, represented at first by the trittyes and naukraries, and in after times by the ten Kleisthenean tribes, subdivided into trittyes and demes. The religious and family bond of aggregation is the earlier of the two; but the political bond, though beginning later will be found to acquire constantly increasing influence throughout the greater part of this history. In the former, personal relation is the essential and pre- dominant characteristic — local relation being subordinate; in the latter, property and residence become the chief considerations, and the personal element counts only as measured along with these accompaniments. All these phratric and gentile associations, the larger as well as the smaller, were founded upon the same principles and tendencies of the Grecian mind — a coalescence of the idea of worship” with that of ancestry, or of communion in certain special religious rites with communion of blood, real or supposed. The god or hero, to whom the assembled members offered their sacrifices, was conceived as the primitive ancestor to whom they owed their origin; often through a long list of intermediate names, as in the case of the Milesian Hekataeus, so often before referred to. Each family had its own sacred rites and funeral commemorations of ancestors, celebrated by the master of the house, to which none but members of the family were admissible..... The larger associations, called gens, phratry, tribe, were formed by an extension of the same principle — of the family considered as a religious brother-. hood, worshiping some common god or hero with an appropriate surname, and recognizing him as their joint ancestor; and the festival of Theoenia, and Apaturia (the first Attic, the second common to all the Ionian race) annually brought together the members of these phratries and gentes for worship, festivity, and maintenance of special sympathies; thus strengthening the larger ties without effacing the smaller..... But the historian must accept as an ultimate fact the earliest state of things which his witnesses make known to him, and in the case now before us, the gentile and phratric unions are matters into the beginning of which we cannot pretend to penetrate."[13]

“The gentes both at Athens, and in other parts of Greece, bore a patronymic name, the stamp of their believed common paternity.[14].... But at Athens, at least after the revolution of Kleisthenes, the gentile name was not employed: a man was described by his own single name followed first by the name of his father, and next by that of the deme to which he belonged,- as Aeschines son of Atrometus, a Kothokid.... The gens constituted a close incorporation, both as to property and as to persons. Until the time of Solon, no man had any power of testamentary disposition. If he died without children, his gennetes succeeded to his property, and so they continued to do even after Solon, if he died intestate. An orphan girl might be claimed in marriage of right by any member of the gens, the nearest agnates being preferred; if she was poor, and he did not choose to marry her himself, the law of Solon compelled him to provide her with a dowry proportional to his enrolled scale of property, and to give her out in marriage to another.... If a man was murdered, first his near relations, next, his gennetes and phrators, were both allowed and required to prosecute the crime at law; while his fellow demots, or inhabitants of the same deme, did not possess the like right of prosecuting. All that we hear of the most ancient Athenian laws is based upon the gentile and phratric divisions, which are treated through- out as extensions of the family. It is to be observed that this division is completely independent of any property qualification — rich men as well as poor being comprehended in the same gens. Moreover, the different gentes were very unequal, in dignity, arising chiefly from the religious ceremonies of which each possessed the hereditary and exclusive administration, and which, being in some cases considered of pre-eminent sanctity in reference to the whole city, were therefore nationalized. Thus the Eumolpidae and Kerykes, who supplied the hierophant and superintendent of the mysteries of the Eleusinian Demeter — and the Butadae who furnished the priestess of Athene Polias, as well as the priest of Poseidon Erechtheus in the Acropolis — seem to have been reverenced above all the other gentes."[15]

Mr. Grote speaks of the gens as an extension of the family, and as presupposing its existence; treating the family as primary and the gens as secondary. This view for the reasons stated, is untenable. The two organizations proceed upon different principles and are independent of each other. The gens embraces a part only of the descendants of a supposed common ancestor, and excludes the remainder; it also embraces a part, only of a family, and excludes the remainder. In order to be a constituent of the gens, the family should enter entire within its folds, which was impossible in the archaic period, and constructive only in the later. In the organization of gentile society the gens is primary, forming both the basis and the unit of the system. The family also is primary and older than the gens; the punaluan and the consanguine families having preceded it in the order of time; but it was not a member of the organic series in ancient society any more than it is in modern.

The gens existed in the Aryan family when the Latin, Grecian and Sanskrit speaking tribes were one people, as is shown by the presence in their dialects of the same term (gens, genos, and ganas) to express the organization. They derived it from their barbarous ancestors, and more remotely from their savage progenitors. If the Aryan family became differentiated as early as the Middle period of barbarism, which seems probable, the gens must have been transmitted to them in its archaic form. After that event, and during the long periods of time which elapsed between the separation of these tribes from each other and the commencement of civilization, those changes in the constitution of the gens, which have been noticed hypothetically, must, have occurred. It is impossible to conceive of the gens as appearing, for the first time, in any other than its archaic form; consequently the Grecian gens must have been originally in this form. If, then, causes can be found adequate to account for so great a change of descent as that from the female line to the male, the argument will be complete, although in the end it substituted a new body of kindred in the gens in place of the old. The growth of the idea of property, and the rise of monogamy, furnished motives sufficiently powerful to demand and obtain this change in order to bring children into the gens of their father, and into a participation in the inheritance of his estate. Monogamy assured the paternity of children; which was unknown when the gens was instituted, and the exclusion of children from the inheritance was no longer possible. In the face of the new circumstances, the gens would be forced into reconstruction or dissolution. When the gens of the Iroquois, as it appeared in the Lower Status of barbarism, is placed beside the gens of the Grecian tribes as it appeared in the Upper Status, it is impossible not to perceive that they are the same organization, the one in its archaic and the other in its ultimate form. The differences between them are precisely those which would have been forced upon the gens by the exigencies of human progress.

Along with these mutations in the constitution of the gens are found the parallel mutations in the rule of inheritance. Property, always hereditary in the gens, was first hereditary among the gentiles; secondly, hereditary among the agnates, to the exclusion of the remaining gentiles; and now, thirdly, hereditary among the agnates in succession, in the order of their nearness to the decedent, which gave an exclusive inheritance to the children as the nearest agnates. The pertinacity, with which the principle was maintained down to the time of Solon, that the property should remain in the gens of the deceased owner, illustrates the vitality of the organization through all these periods. It was this rule which compelled the heiress to marry in her own gens to prevent a transfer of the property by her marriage to another gens. When Solon allowed the owner of property to dispose of it by will, in case he had no children, he made the first inroad upon the property rights of the gens.

How nearly the members of a gens were related, or whether they were related at all, has been made a question. Mr. Grote remarked that “Pollux informs us distinctly that the members of the same gens at Athens were not commonly related by blood,- and even without any express testimony we might have concluded such to be the fact. To what extent the gens, at the unknown epoch of its formation was based upon actual relationship, we have no means of determining, either with regard to the Athenian or the Roman gentes, which were in the main points analogous. Gentilism is a tie by itself distinct from the family ties, but presupposing their existence and extending them by an artificial analogy, partly founded in religious belief, and partly on positive compact, so as to comprehend strangers in blood. All the members of one gens, or even of one phratry, believed themselves to be sprung, not indeed from the same grand-father or great-grandfather, but from the same divine or heroic ancestor.... And this fundamental belief, into which the Greek mind passed with so much facility, was adopted and converted by positive compact into the gentile and phratric principle of union.... Doubtless Niebuhr, in his valuable discussion of the ancient Roman gentes, is right in supposing that they were not real families, procreated from any common historical ancestor. Still it is not the less true (although he seems to suppose otherwise) that the idea of the gens involved the belief in a common first father, divine or heroic — a genealogy which we may properly call fabulous, but which was consecrated and accredited among the members of the gens itself; and served as one important bond of union between them.... The natural families of course changed from generation to generation, some extending themselves, while others diminished or died out; but the gens received no alterations, except through the procreation, extinction, or subdivision of these component families. Accordingly the relations of the families with the gens were in perpetual course of fluctuation, and the gentile ancestorial genealogy, adapted as it doubtless was to the early condition of the gens, became in process of time partially obsolete and unsuitable. We hear of this genealogy but rarely because it is only brought before the public in certain cases pre-eminent and venerable. But the humbler gentes had their common rites, and common superhuman ancestor and genealogy, as well as the more celebrated: the scheme and ideal basis was the same in all."[16]

The several statements of Pollux, Niebuhr and Grote are true in a certain sense, but not absolutely so. The lineage of a gens ran back of the acknowledged ancestor, and therefore the gens of ancient date could not have had a known progenitor; neither could the fact of a blood connection be proved by their system of consanguinity; nevertheless the gentiles not only believed in their common descent, but were justified in so believing. The system of consanguinity which pertained to the gens in its archaic form, and which the Greeks probably once possessed, preserved a knowledge of the relationships of all the members of a gens to each other. This fell into desuetude with the rise of the monogamian family, as I shall endeavour else- where to show. The gentile name created a pedigree beside which that of a family was insignificant. It was the function of this name to preserve the fact of the common descent of those who bore it; but the lineage of the gens was so ancient that its members could not prove the actual relationship existing between them, except in a limited number of cases through recent common ancestors. The name itself was the evidence of a common descent, and conclusive, except as it was liable to interruption through the adoption of strangers in blood in the previous history of the gens. The practical denial of all relationship between its members made by Pollux and Niebuhr, which would change the gens into a purely fictitious association, has no ground to rest upon. A large proportion of the number could prove their relationship through descent from common ancestors within the gens, and as to the remainder the gentile name they bore was sufficient evidence of common descent for practical purposes. The Grecian gens was not usually a large body of persons. Thirty families to a gens, not counting the wives of the heads of families, would give, by the common rule of computation, an average of one hundred and twenty persons to the gens.

As the unit of the organic social system, the gens would naturally become the centre of social life and activity. It was organized as a social body, with its archon or chief, and treasurer; having common lands to some extent, a common burial place, and common religious rites. Beside these were the rights, privileges and obligations which the gens conferred and imposed upon all its members. It was in the gens that the religious activity of the Greeks originated, which expanded over the phratries, and culminated in periodical festivals common to all the tribes. This subject has been admirably treated by M. De Coulanges in his recent work on “The Ancient City.”

In order to understand the condition of Grecian society, anterior to the formation of the state, it is necessary to know the constitution and principles of the Grecian gens; for the character of the unit determines the character of its compounds in the ascending series, and can alone furnish the means for their explanation.


1. The phratries were not common to the Dorian tribes. — Muller’s “Dorians,” Tufnel and Law’s Trans., Oxford ed., ii, 82.

2. Hermann mentions the confederacies of Aegina. Atkens, Prasia, Nauplia, etc.- “Political Antiquities of Greece,” Oxford Trans., ch. i, s. 11.

3. In the ancient “Rhetra” of Lycurgus, the tribes and obes are directed to be maintained unaltered: but the statement of O. Muller and Boeckh that there were thirty obes in all, ten to each tribe — rests upon no higher evidence than a peculiar punctuation in this “Rhetra,” which various other critics reject; and seemingly with good reason. We are thus left without any information respecting the obe, though we know that it was an old peculiar and lasting division among the Spartan people. — Grote’s “History of Greece,” Murray’s ed., ii, 362. But see Muller’s “Dorians,” 1. c., ii, 80.

4. Demosthenes, “Eubulide,” 1307.

5. “History of Greece,” iii, 53.

6. “History of Greece,” iii, 60.

7. Diogenes, Laertius, “Vit. Aristotle,” v, I.

8. “Political Antiquities of the Greeks,” c. v, s. 100; and vide “Eubulides” of Demosthenes, 24.

9. “Historical Antiquities of the Greeks,” Woolrych’s Trans., Oxford ed., 1837, i, 451.

10. “Political Antiquities, 1. c., cap. v, s. 100.

11. “Charicles.” Metcalfe’s Trans., Lond, ed., 1866, p. 477; citingIsaevs de Cir. her.’ 217: ‘Demosthenes adv. Ebul’ 1304.: ‘Plutarch, Themist., 32: ‘Pausanias,’ i, 7, 1: ‘Achill. Tat.,’ i, 3

12. Hermann, ‘I. c.,’ v, s. 100 and 101.

13. “History of Greece,” iii, 55.

14. “We find the Asklepiadae in many parts of Greece — the Aleuadae in Thessaly — the Midylidae, Psa1ychidae, Belpsiadx, Euxenidai at Aegina — the Branchidae at Miletus — the Nebridae at Kos — the Iamidae and Klytiadae at Olympia — the Akestoridae at Argos — the Kinyradae at Cyprus — the Penthilidae at Mitylene — the Talthybiadae at Sparta — not less than the Kodridae, Eumolpidae, Phytalidae, Lykomedae, Butadae, Euneidae, Hesychidae, Brytiadae, etc, in Attica. To each of these corresponded a mythical ancestor more or less known, and passing for the first father as well as the eponymous hero of the gens — Kodrus, Eumolpus, Butes Phytalus, Hesychus, etc.” — Grote’s “Hist. of Greece,” iii, 62.

15. “History of Greece,” iii, 62, et seq.

16. “History of Greece,” iii, 58, ct seq.