Joining the Athenian community. The participation of metics in Athenian...


Update content

Title Joining the Athenian community. The participation of metics in Athenian polis religion in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.
Period 09 / 2004 - 02 / 2010
Status Completed
Dissertation Yes
Research number OND1305822
Data Supplier Projectleider


Citizenship and participation in cults in classical Athens Ever since Durkheim wrote his Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse in the early twentieth century, religion has been regarded as fundamentally social. Although his statement has readily been accepted as common knowledge not much research has since then been done to illustrate the ways in which ancient Greek religion works as an important way to define society and its constituent social identities. Structuralists have claimed to do so but they view religion, through ancient literary testimonies, as structuring society in symbolic bi-polar oppositions and by doing so have moved away from describing actual people who participated in religious acts on a daily basis. Some important exceptions do of course exist, like De Polignac s work on early cults and the origins of the Greek poleis (La naissance de la cité grecque: cultes, espace et société VIIIe-VIIe siècles avant J.-C., Paris 1984) and the numerous publications on the social dimensions of great polis festivals like the Panathenaia and the City Dionysia. The main aim of my research on cult activities in the Athenian polis in the fifth and fourth centuries BC will be to illustrate how public religious acts in Attica were the basic means to define a rapidly changing society. My thesis will focus on three ways in which religious acts played a fundamental role in defining social identities and relations in the widest sense of the word social . First, I will look at different social groups, like men and women and citizens and non-citizens, participating with each other and on their own in religious acts. For example, in the case of metics, a very large, important and recent population in fifth-century Athens, it is interesting to look at their participation at great polis festivals to see how a metic identity was shaped vis-à-vis other groups in Athenian society. We could furthermore compare this with cults in which metics predominantly participated, like the cult of the Thracian goddess Bendis. Secondly, I will look at the integration of administrative units into the polis structure by means of religious acts. For example, how religion in the demes created a particular deme identity and at the same time always defined its relationship to the superstructure of the polis. Finally, throughout my thesis it will become apparent that religion was also important to create territorial unity. Although this has long been acknowledged this still needs further stressing. My research will primarily be based on material evidence, i.e. epigraphical and archaeological sources. Literary sources offer an additional, often elitist and always male view, not to be discredited as such, but to be used with extreme caution. Material sources will facilitate us to approach the daily religious activities of the common Athenian more accurately. By illustrating the important formative role of Athenian religion in defining social structures I hope to contribute to the VICI-project, which aims to redefine the concept of Athenian citizenship by not only looking at the qualifications to receive that status but also by focusing on the activities, among which religious ones, that put citizenship into action, together creating and guaranteeing citizen-status.

Abstract (NL)

Immigranten in klassiek Athene (5e/4e eeuw voor Christus) waren geen buitenstaanders, zoals tot nu toe werd verondersteld. Ze waren juist diep geïntegreerd in de Atheense gemeenschap. Dat concludeert Sara Wijma in haar proefschrift over de status van immigranten (metoiken) in de antieke polissamenleving. Ook al zouden de metoiken nooit volwaardige polisleden worden, zoals de Atheense burgers waren op basis van hun afkomst, toch hadden zij hun eigen positie als leden van de Atheense samenleving, stelt Wijma. De metoiken waren namelijk op allerlei manieren betrokken bij polisfestivals, die een belangrijk element in de Atheense polisreligie vormden. Festivals Wijma onderzocht in welke festivals metoiken deelnamen en vooral op welke manieren: waar liepen zij in de optocht voor Athena Polias? Hoeveel vlees kregen zij van het offer aan Hephaistos vergeleken met de andere deelnemers? Op basis daarvan reconstrueerde Wijma hoe de Atheners het polislidmaatschap van metoiken hebben vormgegeven door hen op een gedifferentieerde wijze te laten deelnemen aan de polisreligie. Nieuw begrip van burgerschap Wijma komt tot haar conclusie op basis van een nieuw begrip van wat het betekende om Atheens burger te zijn, waarbij het zwaartepunt ligt bij actieve deelname in de polisgemeente en vooral in de religieuze activiteiten van de polis. Deze opvatting van burgerschap komt veelvuldig voor in bronnen uit de 5de en 4de eeuw voor Christus Dit nieuwe inzicht roept vragen op over de positie van bepaalde sociale groepen die traditioneel gezien worden als buitenstaanders, maar die op basis van hun actieve deelname in de Atheense polisreligie misschien wel degelijk als polisleden gezien moeten worden. Behalve aan metoiken kan daarbij bijvoorbeeld worden gedacht aan vrouwen, kinderen en slaven.

Related organisations

Related people

Supervisor Prof.dr. J.H. Blok
Co-supervisor Dr. S. Lambert
Doctoral/PhD student Dr. S.M. Wijma


D34100 Antiquity

Go to page top
Go back to contents
Go back to site navigation