In the article, “Household, Gender, and Property in Classical Athens,” Lin Foxhall examines how the household influenced various aspects of daily lives of classical Athenians. In the modern world, households form the primary basis for the expression of kinship, age, sex roles, socialization as well as economic cooperation. The article thus examines whether the household had such an influence in classical Athens, especially on gender roles and ownership of property. The author focuses on the issue of male dominance in classical Athens where women were assumed to play minor roles in making decisions. The author argues that although women could not own property, it is wrong to assume that they played a minor role in determining how their households would use those resources. The author reveals that normally the property is not used by individuals that mean decisions about its usage could be made by other individuals in the household other than the one who owns it legally. Due to this, the author argues that it is likely that an Athenian wife could have had a major influence on decisions relating to her household’s property.

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The author reveals that definition of gender varied depending on the context; in the household context, male and female operated as a single entity where they made decisions as a single unit. While in the community context, male and female were separate and only males made decisions on behalf of everyone. Foxhall highlights this difference in assigning gender roles and defining property ownership rights. In the community, women had no right to make decisions in regards to property, but in their households, a social entity, their opinions were taken into consideration before making a single decision as a household. Although men could have had more say in household decisions, interests of the women in those households were not entirely submerged.

Foxhall claims many scholars’ conclude that women did not own property in classical Athens based on the meaning that “ownership” of property gives the owner right and ability to dispose of the property. However, the author points out that although men possessed the properties, their women had right to use them. In practice, the individual who has the power to use property may derive more happiness from that property than the one who has right of possession and does not use the property. The article also points out that it is contradictory to say women did not own property in the context of “masters and slaves.” In Classical Athens, masters were different from salves in that while they could use the property as they wished, slaves could not. In this context, the wife of the master also belonged to the masters’ group and thus had rights to use her husband’s property compared to their slaves.

In addition, although a woman was allowed to own her dowry; the laws barred women from the public arena where properties were traded. Due to this, it was impossible for women to dispose of their property (even those given as dowry). Foxhall also reveals that although men were seen to wield absolute power in public, the same cannot be said of them when they retreated to their private households where they integrated with their women (wife, sisters, and aunts among others). Foxhall also points out that the property discrimination against women greatly limited their civic privileges as property played a major role in interactions between individual and the state. Because women did not own property, their interaction with the state was limited.

This ideal had a great effect on the evolution of custom and law concerning women relationship to property. The article reveals that relationship of women to property was different to that of men. Property that belonged to a woman in her life even her dowry had to be transferred to a man after her death; a woman’s right to use and enjoy a sense of ownership was in the comfort of her household. This article thus implies that an Athenian woman only had an ephemeral relationship to property; After a woman’s death, transmission of ”her” property to her future generation was determined by the men in her life, mostly her husband. The article provides a basis to investigate further the ephemeral relationship Athenian women had with their property. It would also be important to investigate how ownership of the property has changed across generations. The article can also be used as a good reference to compare ownership of property today, the role of households in ownership of property as well as the legal rights of the modern woman regarding ownership of property and the practices of the classical Athenians.

  • Foxhall, L. (1989). Household, gender and property in classical Athens. The Classical Quarterly, 39(1), 22-44.Retrieved from