Citizens and Foreigners in Archaic Greece: Access to Land, Justice and Cults

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Escaping from the narrow Aristotelian definition of ‘citizenship’ based on the taking of political office, I investigate how throughout Greek Antiquity, and especially during the Archaic period, the threshold between the status of ‘citizen’ and that of ‘foreigner’ seems to have lain in the degree of recognition of certain rights in the economic, juridical and cultic fields, namely the right to own real estate, the right to access local courts as either plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit, and the right to partake in local cults or access local sanctuaries. My first monograph will thus explore these pragmatic juridical differences between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ as well as the various reasons and ways by which foreigners (xenoi) might be either excluded from such rights or granted partial or even full access to them. While my PhD focused on the first two rights, my stay at the Center for Hellenic Studies has allowed me to focus on foreigners’ access to local cults and sanctuaries.


Participation in the cults of the polis (i.e. cults representing the community of citizens and in which one can detect a more or less active involvement by the polis) was one of the most distinctive aspects of citizenship, as recently highlighted by J. Blok in her comprehensive series of studies on classical Athens (culminated in Blok 2017). Blok’s analysis inscribes itself in a wider trend aimed at reappraising Aristotle’s somewhat narrow definition of ‘citizenship’ based on the taking of political office (see most recently Duplouy & Brock 2018). In her careful examination of Attic evidence, Blok makes a strong argument for the understanding of Classical Athenian citizenship as a “covenant between the citizens and the gods”, expressed through an array of cults exclusive to the community of citizens. This can be easily traced in the fact that the Aristotelian distillate definition of citizenship as the right to μετέχειν κρίσεως καὶ ἀρχῆς is absent from Classical Attic evidence, which displays instead the parallel formula μετέχειν τῶν ἱερῶν καὶ τῶν ὁσίων, attested, among others, in Classical Attic orators.

Blok’s analysis, however, can be extended to other periods and poleis of the ancient Greek world. Indeed, a cursory look at both literary and epigraphic sources allows us to identify access to the sacra of the polis as a recurrent and ubiquitous threshold between the juridical categories of ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ (as quintessence of ‘non-citizen’) throughout the ancient Greek world. This, in turn, allows us to identify regularities, patterns and principles behind the variety of individual examples and provenances. To begin with, the ‘un-Aristotelian’ formulation of Attic sources commented above is echoed in fourth- and third-century Milesian inscriptions Milet I3 142.15-6, 143.24 and 146.31-2 (μετέχειν ἱερῶν καὶ ἀρχείων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων/λοιπῶν ἁπάντων) — the three of them isopoliteia decrees with Phygela, Seleukeia of Tralles and Mylasa respectively — as well as in the Eretrian enfranchisement decree IG XII 9, 198.12-4 (μετεῖναι τῶν ἱερῶν καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων), among others. In all of these examples the cultic aspect of citizenship is mentioned in the first place, placed before the taking of political office.

The relevance of this cultic dimension to the concept of ‘citizenship’ is clearly grasped in IG IX 12 3:718 (before 480 BC), the famous inscription from Galaxidi (ancient Oiantheia) regulating the terms under which the Hypocnemidian Locrians (belonging to the Opuntian or Eastern Locrian confederation) as well as some Oiantheans (Western or Ozolian Locris) are to be sent as supplementary or repopulating colonists (ἔποικοι) to Naupactus (in Western Locris). The text, which has been one of my main focus of interest during my appointment at CHS, regulates the new status of these colonists with regard to their respective mother poleis, from which they cease to be citizens. Interestingly enough, the text opens with, and thus features in the most prominent position, the change in the cultic status of the colonists:


1                ἐν Ναύπακτον ⋮ κὰ το͂νδε ⋮ hἀπιϝοικία. ⋮ Λοϙρὸν τὸν ⋮ hυποκναμίδιον ⋮ ἐπ-

εί κα Ναυπάκτιος ⋮ γένεται ⋮ Ναυπάκτιον ἐόντα ⋮ hόπο ξένον ⋮ ὀσία λανχάν-

ειν ⋮ καὶ θύειν ⋮ ἐξεῖμεν ⋮ ἐπιτυχόντα ⋮ αἴ κα δείλεται· ⋮ αἴ κα δείλεται ⋮ θύειν καὶ λ-

ανχάνειν ⋮ κἐ δάμο κἐ ϙοινάνον ⋮ αὐτὸν καὶ τὸ γένος ⋮ κατ’ αἰϝεί.

The colony goes to Naupactus on these terms: A Locrian of the Hypocnemidians, when he has become a Naupactian, being a Naupactian, is permitted to receive his due sacrificial portion by lot and to sacrifice where (hόπο)/as (hόπο‹ς›) it is hosie for a foreigner when he happens to be there, if he so wishes. If he so wishes, he may sacrifice and receive his due sacrificial portion by lot from the demos and from the koinanoi, he himself and his descendants, for ever.

This incipit, which is probably the most vexed passage of the inscription, conceals a triple ambiguity as regards:

  1. the interpretation of the sequence in l.2 hόπο ξένον ὀσια (1.1. hόπο‹ς› ξένον ὄσια or 1.2. hόπο/hόπο‹ς› ξένο̄ν ὀσία),
  2. the logic relation between the two clauses of ll.1-3 and ll.3-4 respectively, and
  3. the city or cities to which the provision applies, i.e. the new polis of the colonists, Naupactus, or their respective Locrian communities of origin.

Question 1 has been recently settled for good by Peels 2016 who in view of the semantics of ὅσιος in ritual norms proposes to read the feminine ὁσίη, which, accompanied by either a dative or a genitive (as would be here the case: ξένων), takes the meaning of “it is hosie, i.e. allowed with the consent of the gods, for someone to do something (in the cultic sphere)”. As for the second point, I tentatively propose that clause 1 alludes generally to any kind of sacrifice, i.e. either collective sacrifices or private ones under the initiative of the colonist, while clause 2 focuses on those rites and sacrifices organized/performed/financed by either the polis (ἐ δάμο) or its civic subgroups and/or cultic associations (ἐ ϙοινάνον), in which the foreigner is entitled to participate in both the sacrifice and the assignment of sacrificial portions. In effect, many ritual norms draw a clear division between sacrifices performed by an ἰδιώτης on any random occasion (cf. l.3 ἐπιτυχόντες) on the one hand, and participation in public or collective feasts on the other. As for the third question, it seems clear that this is not a provision for the colonists with regard to the cults of what is going to be their new city, Naupactus, of which the text gives clear indications that they are to become full citizens, but it rather applies to the cults of their former mother poleis, from which they cease to be full-fledged citizens. In fact, as has been said above, the rest of the provisions of the text regulate the special status, halfway between citizen and foreigner, which the colonists and their descendants will enjoy in their native poleis. This attests, once more, to the political dimension of local cults as true citizenship indicators in which full partaking depends ultimately on the present political status of the individual, regardless of their blood or kinship ties.

The permission, and at the same time restriction, to participate in the sacrifices of their mother communities in the cults or sanctuaries where/as it is fit for foreigners to do so, implies a set of crucial rules and customs limiting in some aspects or degrees the access of foreigners to the sacra of the polis, or even to the cult venues themselves, i.e. sanctuaries (an example of the latter are the so-called “prohibitionary inscriptions”, for which the reference study is Butz 1996). Literary as well as epigraphic sources drawing a distinction between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ in the ritual sphere are relatively abundant, as a glance at Krauter 2004, the most complete compilation of relevant sources to this date, attests. It is my goal, however, to conduct an exhaustive study of all the available evidence, both direct and indirect, with a special focus on the earliest testimonia.

As of yet, I have focused on the evidence on foreigners’ involvement in sacrificial contexts, probably one of the aspects where the role and rights of the ‘foreigner’ needed to be more precisely defined. This should not come as a surprise, since the paramount importance of sacrifice, meat apportionment and common feasting as the quintessence of the relationship between humans and gods and its implications in social and political cohesiveness and, more concretely, in the integration of the foreigner into the community of citizens, is already well attested in the Homeric poems.

One of the main points of distinction between citizens and foreigners lay in the differences in quantity and/or quality of the priestly perquisites obtained from the sacrificed animal, and, in the case of public sacrifices, of the portions to be assigned to the foreigners. However, my primary focus of attention during my appointment at CHS has been the analysis of the evidence prescribing the mediation (or at least the presence or surveillance) of a local citizen whenever a foreigner wanted to perform a sacrifice. Clear examples of this, are the epigraphic occurrences in Chios (SEG 56.996 = CGRN 41) and Miletus (Milet VI, 3 1221 = CGRN 100) of the verb προϊεράομαι/προϊερατέυω “to offer sacrifice on behalf of someone else.” To these examples one should probably add the phrase ὁ ποιῶν τὰ ἱερὰ from another inscription from Chios (LSS 77 = CGRN), in a clause setting the priestly perquisites from a sacrificial meal held by a foreigner, or the Labyadai inscription from Delphi (CID I 9 = CGRN), which includes a list of private sacrificial feasts where any member of this Delphic gentilicial group is entitled to participate, among which the occasions when “foreigners are with him (sc. a member of the Labyadai) and they sacrifice victims together” (αἴ κα ξένοι ϝοι παρέωντ|ι hιαρῆια θύοντες, face D, l.14-5). Last but not least, there are solid grounds for believing that, at least in Delphi and Olympia, foreigners had to have resort to the proxenos in order to perform any preliminary sacrifice. This sacrificial assistance provided by the proxenos is attested, more or less explicitly, in both literary and epigraphic sources (see a preliminary study in Taita 2004 and more recently Rutherford 2013), and constitutes, in my view, a vital yet often neglected aspect of proxenia on which I hope to elaborate further in the next months. Indeed, in my PhD I conducted extensive analysis of the proxenos’ role as a mediating figure between the alien and the justice magistrates and courts of the polis. This, along with the evidence pointing to their cultic role, underscores the importance of the proxenos as a mediating figure between the foreigner and the two kind of polis institutions more susceptible to attract, and at the same time open themselves to, xenoi: 1) local sanctuaries and cults, especially those with a clear Panhellenic dimension like Delphi and Olympia, and 2) justice magistrates and courts, acting as safe havens for the protection and security of international and commercial traffic. Both of these aspects are manifest in some of the earliest evidence on proxenia, an institution whose origins and pre-Classical modalities still deserve a thorough reappraisal.


Carbon, J.-M., S. Peels, and V. Pirenne-Delforge. 2016-.  A Collection of Greek Ritual Norms (CGRN). Liège. (

Blok, J. 2017. Citizenship in Classical Athens. Cambridge.

Butz, P. 1996. “Prohibitionary inscriptions, ξένοι, and the influence of the early Greek polis.” In The Role of Religion in the Early Greek Polis, ed. R. Hägg, 75-95. Stockholm.

Duplouy, A., and R. W. Brock. 2018. Defining Citizenship in Archaic Greece. Oxford.

Krauter, S. 2004. Bürgerrecht und Kultteilnahme. Politische und kultische Rechte und Pflichten in griechischen Poleis, Rom und antikem Judentum. Berlin-New York.

Peels, S. 2015. “Hosios. A Semantic Study of Greek Piety.” Mnemosyne Supplements vol.387. Leiden-Boston.

Rutherford, I. 2013. State Pilgrims and Sacred Observers in Ancient Greece. A Study of Theōriā and Theōroi. Cambridge.

Taita, J. 2004. “Proxenoi «santuariali» all’oracolo di Zeus ad Olimpia: profilo giuridico e funzioni.” Minima Epigraphica et Papyrologica VII-VIII, 86-114.