Joining the Athenian community. The participation of metics in Athenian polis religion in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.

S.M. Wijma

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Although the social aspects of economical, juridical and religious activities in ancient Athens have long been acknowledged, I argue in my dissertation that the consequences of these insights have been insufficiently appreciated. In most studies of Athenian society an institutional or constitutional approach still prevails. Many scholars commonly describe Athenian society in black and white terms as consisting of a small group of politically active, Athenian-born, adult men opposite a large group of non-citizens, including women, metics, and slaves. However, many ancient sources, from court trials to sacred laws, abundantly demonstrate that membership of the polis was not defined as a legal status with political privileges but was rather conceived of in terms of sharing or participating in the community (as metechein tes poleos), especially in the religious obligations (ta hiera) of the polis. This notion has several important consequences that can be further explored. For instance, it is one of the main aims of Professor Josine Blok’s VICI-project on Athenian citizenship at the University of Utrecht, of which my PhD is part, to clarify the important role of participation in polis cults for a better understanding of Athenian citizenship. In the same line of thought, I suggest that the Athenian polis should be understood as a participatory society in which everybody, including people who are traditionally labelled ‘non-citizens’ or 'outsiders', held a particular position or status on account of differentiated group participation in the community. In other words, I argue that participation in polis affairs created, maintained and negotiated a sliding scale of membership of the Athenian community on which each group held a position of its own according to an acknowledged status. To illustrate this I have investigated how metic status was negotiated in the context of polis religion, arguably the most important area of public polis life in which all members of the Athenian community participated in various ways. Looking at the ways in which a widely diverse amalgam of resident foreigners was incorporated as a coherent group of metics into the participatory communities of several polis festivals (i.e. the Panathenaia, the Lenaia, the City Dionysia, the Hephaisteia, the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Bendideia and several religious activities organised in the demes) and how they were differentiated and associated with the other participating groups I offer an alternative view on the status of metics as members of the Athenian community rather than as outsiders because of their exclusion from most political and juridical activities. In the end, I hope to have demonstrated 1) that polis membership largely depended on active and differentiated participation in the polis community, especially in polis religion, and should therefore be perceived as a fluid concept and 2) that metics should not be understood as 'outsiders'; instead they held their own specific polis membership on account of their participation in several important polis festivals.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Blok, Josine, Primary supervisor
  • Lambert, S., Co-supervisor, External person
Award date24 Feb 2010
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2010

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