UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Early Greek kinship Varto, Emily


Kinship is an important factor in modern explanations of social, political, and economic change in Early Greece (ca. 1000-450 BCE), particularly in social evolutionary schemes that see states develop from kinship-based clan societies. Following challenges to such schemes in several disciplines, including Classics, and following theoretical and methodological upheavals in anthropological kinship studies, our ideas and methodologies concerning families, descent groups, and kinship in Early Greece need to be reconsidered. In this dissertation, in order to avoid both applying typologies and employing universal biological kinship terminologies as points of analysis, a contextual methodology was developed to explore textual and archaeological evidence for ideas of kinship. Using this methodology, the expression and manifestation of kinship ideas were examined in Early Greek genealogical material, burial practices and patterns, and domestic architecture, taking each source individually to achieve a level of interpretative independence. Early Greek genealogies are usually linear and descendent-focused or tendrilled and ancestor-focused, and include sections of story-telling that are an integral part of the descent information. List-like genealogies are therefore not the standard structure for Early Greek genealogies and the few late extant examples may be associated with literary techniques or epigraphic traditions. The genealogies are mythico-historical and connected the legendary past with the present in the interests of individuals and states and were not charters determining status or membership in particular groups. Early Greek burial practices and patterns were informed by an idea of descent and an idea of households over a few generations, represented by small mixed burial groups. Residency patterns and changes in Early Greek domestic architecture suggest household units, some of which were participating and became successful in the domestic economy and in agricultural trade. A synthesis of the evidence reveals three broad overlapping Early Greek kinship ideas: blood and biology, generational households, and descent and ancestors. These ideas involve inheritance, ethnicity, success, wealth, and elitism. They therefore illuminate kinship’s role in social, political, and economic differentiation and power and resituate it in theorizing about the developing Greek polis.

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