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Plataean Citizenship: Dual Identities

Mary Jean McNamara

Brooklyn College

In Citizenship in Classical Athens, Josine Blok (2017) suggests the process by which non-Athenians were naturalized as Athenian citizens was one in which prospective citizens were “adopted” into the citizenry. Referring to Kymlicka (2002) and Walzer (1988), Blok defines citizenship as both membership in a community, and the ability to participate in the political activities of that community. I will explore the "adoption" of the Plataeans in 427 in terms of their membership, their ability to participate in the politeia, and the subsequent return of a contingent of Plataeans to Plataea.

In 427, a block grant of citizenship was awarded to a group of 212 Plataeans who endured a two-year siege of their city by the Thebans. The decision to enfranchise the Plataeans was motivated by their long-standing loyalty to the Athenians. The block grant of citizenship awarded to the Plataeans was unprecedented and may have been influenced by Simonides’s elegy frequently recited at Athenian symposia during the fifth century. The heroes of the Battle of Plataea commemorated in Simonides’s elegy were quite possibly the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and cousins of the symposiasts. A little more than fifty years after the victory at Plataea, the Plataeans who received the block grant of citizenship may have had Simonides to thank for their award.

While the link between a drinking song and a citizenship decree may be tenuous, the fact that the Plataeans’ bravery was rewarded with a citizenship decree confirms that citizenship could be achieved through noble action as well as by inheritance, following the institution of Pericles’ citizenship law in 451/0 BCE. The adoption of the Plataeans prompted the Athenians to revise their concept of Athenian identity. By the end of the fourth century, the formulation of Athenian identity, which had originally been pinned on the myth of Athenian autochthony, became a public debate as Athenians regularly contested who had the right to Athenian citizenship. This evolution may have been sponsored in part by the aristocratic leanings of fifth-century symposiasts who saw the Plataeans as ideal Athenians, conspicuous in their bravery and their foreignness.

The Plataeans, foreigners who became Athenian citizens, challenged the myth of autochthony as they earned their citizenship through noble actions rather than through Athenian blood. Despite the citizenship grant, however, the identity of these new citizens as Plataeans persisted. This dual identity as Plataeans and Athenians meant that they were effectively a minority group among citizens within the politeia. The degree to which the Plataeans were assimilated into the politeia may be understood as a function of habitus, the analytical concept Bourdieu (1977) defined as "the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition." Instead of a "class condition," however, the Plataeans maintained their attachment to the city of Plataea, an attachment that undermined their "adoption.”

In 386, a little over 40 years after the block grant of citizenship was awarded, a group of Plataeans left Athens, returned to Plataea, and refounded their city. This process of reverse immigration illustrates a conceptual alternative to autochthony, what I am calling, 'heterochthony,' being from two places, in this case, Plataea and Athens. The decision to return to Plataea refutes Siapkas's theory of heterological ethnicity, namely that "ethnic groups are no more than conceptual objectifications of ephemeral practices" (2004). The descendants of the Plataeans who received Athenian citizenship would have no reason to return to Plataea if ethnicity was an ephemeral practice. Instead, the identity of the Plataeans who received citizenship was similar to the experience of metics who represented what Kasimis (2017) calls "naturalized difference." The citizenship grant awarded to the Plataeans endowed them with the right to participate in the politeia, but their "naturalized difference" made integration as full citizens unfeasible.

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Citizenship Migration and Identity

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