In ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, a phratry (phratria)ατρία, "brotherhood", "kinfolk", derived from φρατήρ meaning "brother") was a social division of the Greek tribe (phyle
Phyle is an ancient Greek term for clan or tribe. They were usually ruled by a basileus...

). The nature of these phratries is, in the words of one historian, "the darkest problem among the [Greek] social institutions." Little is known about the role they played in Greek social life, but they existed from the Greek Dark Ages
Greek Dark Ages
The Greek Dark Age or Ages also known as Geometric or Homeric Age are terms which have regularly been used to refer to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean Palatial civilization around 1200 BC, to the first signs of the Greek city-states in the 9th...

 until the 2nd century BC; Homer refers to them several times, in passages that appear to describe the social environment of his times.

In Athens, enrollment in a phratry seems to have been the basic requirement for citizenship in the state before the reforms of Cleisthenes
Cleisthenes was a noble Athenian of the Alcmaeonid family. He is credited with reforming the constitution of ancient Athens and setting it on a democratic footing in 508/7 BC...

 in 508 BC. From their peak of prominence in the Dark Ages, when they appear to have been a substantial force in Greek social life, phratries gradually declined in significance throughout the classical period as other groups (such as political parties) gained influence at their cost.

Phratries contained smaller kin groups called gene
Genos was the ancient Greek term for kind; race; family; birth; origin which identified themselves as a unit, referred to by a single name...

; these appear to have arisen later than phratries, and it appears that not all members of phratries belonged to a genos; membership in these smaller groups may have been limited to elites. On an even smaller level, the basic kinship group of ancient Greek societies was the oikos
An oikos is the ancient Greek equivalent of a household, house, or family....



In anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, the Greek term is used to describe a kinship division consisting of two or more distinct clans which are considered a single unit, but which retain separate identities within the phratry. Among Native Americans, a phratry is often identified by a nature sign. In some cultures, such as the Tlingit, and the Lenape
The Lenape are an Algonquian group of Native Americans of the Northeastern Woodlands. They are also called Delaware Indians. As a result of the American Revolutionary War and later Indian removals from the eastern United States, today the main groups live in Canada, where they are enrolled in the...

, intermarriage between phratries was mandated.


  • Fine, John V. A. The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History. Harvard University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-674-03314-0

Further reading

  • S.D. Lambert, The Phratries of Attica (University of Michigan Press, 1993, 1998), limited preview
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