Divorce in Classical Athenian Society: Law, Practice and Power

Carlos F Norena


The practice of divorce in classical Athens sheds light on relationships which are fundamental to our understanding of Athenian society: between husband and wife, between separate households, and between household and state. The power which informs these relationships, as illuminated by divorce, can be measured not only in juridical terms, but in social and economic terms as well. The main primary sources for the study of divorce in classical Athens are the forensic speeches of the Attic orators. These speeches show that whereas it was easy, legally, to obtain a divorce, it was often complicated in actual practice. Divorce, in fact, was often avoided—even when the state intervened to mandate the dissolution of a marriage—and I argue that the practice of divorce, as opposed to the laws governing it, reveals an unexpected balance of power between the constituents to an Athenian marriage.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21971/P7KK5B