What is family?


blood relationship
affection, love

extended (includes slaves and freedmen)
social, political and financial

Some ancient Greco-Roman definitions

Latin familia

Greek ("oikos"; cp. "economy")

1. all persons under the authority of the head of a household

2. all the descendants from a common ancestor

3. all one' property or merely one's servants

"The stress is on power structure rather than biology or intimacy." (Finley)

Fustel de Coulanges (1830-1889):

Family as a group of persons whom religion permitted to invoke the same sacred fire and to offer the funeral repast to the same ancestors.

Key concepts:

fire (hearth)
and ancestors (tombs)

Four important elements of Coulanges' theory:

1.) development of civic organization from family organization

from family to gens to tribe to city (polis)

2.) parallelism of Greek, Roman and ancient Indian institutions through Indo-European roots

3.) evolution of religion from the worship of ancestors

4.) prehistoric origin of private property safeguarded throughout the whole evolution of the ancient world by religion and, more precisely, by ancestor worship.

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This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at toms@monm.edu.