Women and Marriage in Ancient Greece

Close up of wedding wagon painted on pottery.
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The Greeks thought that Cecrops—one of the early kings of Athens who wasn't entirely human—was responsible for civilizing mankind and establishing monogamous marriage. Men were still free to establish relationships with courtesans and prostitutes, but with the institution of matrimony, lines of heredity could be traced, and marriage established who was in charge of the woman.

Marriage Partners

Since citizenship was passed through to one's offspring, there were limits on whom a citizen might marry. With the enactment of Pericles' citizenship laws, resident aliens—or metics—were suddenly taboo. As in the Oedipus story, mothers were taboo, as were full sisters, but uncles might marry nieces and brothers could mary their half-sisters primarily in order to keep property in the family.

Types of Marriage

There were two basic types of marriage that provided legitimate offspring. In one, the male legal guardian (kurios) who had charge of the woman arranged her marriage partner. This type of marriage is called enguesis 'betrothal'. If a woman was an heiress without a kurios, she was called an epikleros and might be (re-)married by the marriage form known as epidikasia.

Marital Obligations of the Greek Heiress

It was unusual for a woman to own property, so the marriage of an epikleros was to the next closest available male in the family, who thereby gained control of the property. If the woman were not an heiress, the archon would find a close male relative to marry her and become her kurios. Women married in this way produced sons who were legal heirs to their fathers' property.

The dowry was an important provision for the woman since she would not inherit her husband's property. It was established at the enguesis. The dowry would have to provide for the woman in case of either death or divorce, but it would be managed by her kurios.

The Month for Marriage

One of the months of the Athenian calendar was called Gamelion for the Greek word for wedding. It was in this winter month that most Athenian weddings took place. The ceremony was a complicated ceremony involving sacrifice and other rituals, including registration of the wife in the phratry of the husband.

Greek Women's Living Quarters

The wife lived in the gynaikonitis 'women's quarters' where she overlooked the management of the home, tended to the educational needs of the young children, and of any daughters until marriage, cared for the sick, and made clothing.