Greece and Rome (Second Series)

Research Article

Polis and Oikos in Classical Athens1

J. Roy

This paper is intended to discuss the household in which Classical Athenians typically lived, and the interest in it shown by the polis. Aristotle saw the household – in his vocabulary the oikos, or sometimes the oikia – as the basic social unit of the polis. He defines the primary relationships within the household as: master and slave, husband and wife, father and child. Clearly for Aristotle the household was paradeigmatically made up of the nuclear family together with whatever slaves the family owned. Modern scholars, while often differing about the roles of the members of the household, have generally accepted that the polis, and in particular Classical Athens, was indeed made up of a number of such households. The slave's role in the household, though important, was obviously different from the roles of the members of the nuclear family, and slaves will be left out of account in this paper.


1 A version of this paper was delivered at the annual conference of the Classical Association at Lampeter in April 1998, and I am grateful for helpful comments made at the time, particularly by Lin Foxhall and Alan Sommerstein.