Ancient Greek History: Nothos (Nothoi), the Greek Word for Bastard

The Ancient Greek Word for Bastard

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece. cheminsnumeriques/Getty Images

Nothos is an ancient Greek term that means bastard, as in an illegitimate child. Nothoi is the plural of the word nothos, and means bastards.

Modern Day

In modern society, the term bastard is often used as a general insult for an individual who is "mean" or acts in a mean manner, but its true definition is a child born of unmarried parents, also known as an illegitimate child. The meaning of the word nothos, or bastard, varied slightly in ancient times depending on the time period and society in which it was used.


In Classical Athens, only children born of two Athenian citizens were officially considered citizens themselves. Thus, a child that was born to an Athenian citizen and a non-Athenian citizen was not to be considered a legitimate citizen, and thus they would not have normal citizenship rights, such as inheritance.


In Rome, a nothi (plural: naturales) was a child conceived by a man and a concubine, or a mistress. Prominent male figures in Ancient Roman society often had concubines, sometimes more than one at a time, and thus such nothi children were not uncommon.

Nothi were not given many rights, and were often treated as outcasts. Nothi were not given their father's actual last name, and they were not considered members of the father’s family. Thus, they were also not allowed to succeed their father in seat or office, and they could not claim the advantages of civil law. They could however legally succeed their mother, and they were largely the responsibility of the mother.


An individual’s status as a nothos in ancient Greek society held several legal implications, all the way down to their basic rights as a citizen. Nothos were not granted inheritance from their father’s family, and they were not granted the basic rights that regular Athenian citizens were granted.

From the Glossary of Athenian Legal Terms:

"In the classical period, Athenian citizenship was confined to those born of citizen parents on both sides. The child of an unmarried union between citizen and non-citizen was clearly illegitimate, and had rights neither of inheritance nor of citizenship. The status of the child of unmarried citizen parents is less clear, as such a person was clearly a nothos without rights of inheritance, but it is disputed whether he or she was or was not a citizen. It is possible, though less certain, that the word nothos was used to describe the child of a mixed marriage even in those contexts (e.g. before 450 BCE) where such a marriage was legally permissible, even though such a child might have full rights to inheritance as well as to citizenship."

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Gill, N.S. "Ancient Greek History: Nothos (Nothoi), the Greek Word for Bastard." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2016, Gill, N.S. (2016, March 10). Ancient Greek History: Nothos (Nothoi), the Greek Word for Bastard. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Ancient Greek History: Nothos (Nothoi), the Greek Word for Bastard." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 14, 2017).