Adoption in Ancient Greece The AncientGreek family (or oikos) involved a complex web of relationships between he who was essentially the Man of the...
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Adoption in Ancient Greece 

The Ancient Greek family (or oikos) involved a complex web of relationships

between he who was essentially the Man of the House, and those in his care. The family begins at the head, with the owner, kyrios, of the home. There can be two forms of kyrios: leader of the family estate, and leader of a person. Though these positions are often designated to the same person, there are many exceptions in which this is not the case (Modrzejewski). Every woman and child required a kyrios to care for and protect them. Boys would be overseen by their father until adulthood, and girls would be overseen by their father until marriage. If there was no father, an adult male relative could be the kyrios, or one would be appointed. This is like modern-day foster homes or resource families. When men married, they would be kyrios of their wives who would now live in their estate (MacDowell, 1978). 

The kyrios of the estate oversaw all the land he inherited. If he was the only son, he would retain all his father's land, but if he was one of many sons, they would evenly split the land among them to create separate oikoi from the original. If the man inheriting the land had unmarried sisters, he would have to save a part of the oikos for her dowry to her future husband. The kyrios of the home was the oldest, non-retired man who laid claim to the estate. A man's son could only take over his estate once the man retired or died. When a man retired, he would still live in his home, but his son or sons would now be kyrios of the estate. However, the sons would not become kyrios of their retired father or their mother, just their wives and children. If their father died and the sons still had unmarried sisters, they would become kyrios of those sisters until they married and moved into their husbands' oikos (MacDowell, 1978). 

The organization of Greek law regarding family was rather strict. There was a rigid, Caste-esque system that dictated who inherited power or responsibility, who inherited property, and from whom such prizes were inherited. All the subsequently strict mechanisms of defining family in Ancient Greek culture fell from this notion of succession and inheritance (Modrzejewski). Since succession was only a privilege allotted to males, the only paths of succession fell from 1. Having a male heir, 2. Having no male heir, or 3. Having no heir at all. If the kyrios of an estate has a male heir, that heir will inherit all his property and debts. If the son or sons were not of age when the father died, they would have a guardian care for them until they were old enough. Because of this, orphans (fatherless children) were heavily protected from violence and manipulation under the law (MacDowell, 1978). 

If the kyrios left no male heirs, but left female heirs, the heiress's main goal was to produce a suitable heir for the estate. If she was unmarried, she would be wed to the nearest willing and unmarried male relative to her father, and he would take the land. If she was married, the nearest willing and unmarried relative to her father could still lay claim to her, in which case she would be divorced from her husband and forced into this new marriage with her new kyrios, and it was expected of her to make an heir (MacDowell, 1978). 

If the kyrios died with no heir, male or female, the nearest relative would lay claim to the oikos. Unlike the female child of a diseased kyrios, the wife of a deceased kyrios laid no claim to the oikos whatsoever. Succession was most importantly a direct line of male inheritance, so any sons this widow would have with any other man would lay no claim to the oikos of the deceased (MacDowell, 1978). 

Marriage in Ancient Greece typically consisted of a young woman fourteen or fifteen years of age and an adult man of around thirty years old. For reasons concerning inheritance a woman could not marry men directly related to her, such as her father or son, but could marry her half-brother on her father's side, or anyone more distantly related than that. Though a woman must be faithful to her husband (because they wanted to guarantee clear succession) a man did not have to be faithful to his wife. However, any mistress or concubine a man had was legally illegitimate, and so were any children she may produce, though they may still reside in the man's home with him and his wife (MacDowell, 1978). 

Athenian divorce was messy, mainly because people were directly tied to their estates, and after the joining of different estates it was difficult to determine what was returned and what was to remain (a problem society hasn't definitively solved in over 2000 years). The most common method of divorce is the husband individually and legally declaring he would no longer wish to be married to his wife. Divorce was uncommon, but if a man could marry another woman who would provide him more land, more money, stronger heirs, or access to higher positions of power, he would likely divorce his wife and marry this new woman. The father of a young woman could also remove her from the marriage for seemingly any reason, however it seems this method was only used when the father believed his daughter was being abused (Cohn-Haft). 

Because of inheritance, children in Ancient Greek history were precious, and to be well cared for. There were very few situations in which the child's father was not in full control. The first is if the father has passed then a new kyrios for the child would be found, but there are other exceptions. The woman who takes care of a baby from birth, the baby's nurse, must be allowed a limited amount of power over the child. If a marriage was split or the parents were mistreating the child, a relative or guardian of the state could take over. Situations like this allow for the concession of power for specific reasons. Otherwise, the kyrios is always in charge of the children (Wolff, 1944). But a growing population and a shortage of land also seem to have created internal strife between the poor and the rich in many city-states. 

The major preoccupation of modern legislation on adoption is the welfare of the adopted child. In ancient Greek cities adoption was used mainly as a succession strategy for childless people. It also entailed duties of a religious character for the adopted person. Adoption has always had a public dimension, expressed either with a declaration in the marketplace or in a civic ceremony or, as in Hellenistic Egypt and Byzantium, with the written instrument or, as happens today, with a court decree. The laws of Gortyn regulate in detail the process of adoption (called anpansis). Only male adults had the right to adopt. The adoption took place in public, in the agora. The declaration was followed by a ceremony in the political association (hetaireia) of the adopter and a sacrifice. The existence of natural children was not an impediment to adopting other children. Legal implications related mainly to inheritance. If the adopter died without natural heirs, then the adopted inherited his property as well as the obligation to perform religious rites. If the adopter had natural sons (or daughters), then the adopted received a portion equal to that of the natural heiresses. If the adopted died without natural children, the property he inherited was transferred to the next of kin (epiballontes) of the adopter. The adoption was cancelled in public and the adopter had to pay 10 staters to the judge, who in his turn gave this amount to the adopted. In Athens adoption ((eis)poiesis) was geared towards the establishment of an heir to the adopter's property and the continuation of his oikos (family). Adoptions could be per- formed in one of three ways: during the lifetime of the adopter (inter vivos), by will (testamentary), and posthumously. Only men could adopt, and it was more likely that adult men rather than boys would be adopted. The adopted was able to inherit the of the adopter like a natural son, without any property previous legal formalities. Testamentary adoption was intro- duced by Solon at the beginning of the 6th century BC. It allowed a man without sons to adopt by testament an adult male, who would inherit from him. If there was a natural daughter, the adopted son would either marry her himself or provide her with a dowry equal to half of the paternal property. Elderly people were safeguarded from being manipulated by a law annulling an adoption if the adopter was very old or suffered from a mental or physical illness or was under the influence of drugs or was threatened. Finally, and most curiously, a posthumous adoption could be performed by the family in the context of a mutually acceptable settlement. As for other Greek cities we know that in Sparta an adoption took place in front of the kings while in Thebes there was a connection between adoption and grants of land. Adoptions are attested in many inscriptions, especially from Rhodes.  



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