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The Citizen Non-Citizen: Hellenistic Metics and Their Home Poleis (c. 400-31 BCE)

Christian Ammitzbøll Thomsen

University of Copenhagen

The study of the ancient Greek metic has seen a revival in recent years. The traditional focus on the legal aspects of metoikia (Whitehead 1977; Niku 2007; Kamen 2013) has been augmented by a series of studies that explore the wider social, economic and political contribution of free foreigners (Wijma 2014; Kennedy 2014; Akrigg 2015; Kasimis 2018) greatly expanding our knowledge.  In addition, though Classical Athens remains at the centre of attention, the subject is now also being pursued into the Hellenistic period and outside Attica (e.g. Niku 2007; Wijma 2014; Boyxen 2018). But if the interests of historians have multiplied and diversified, one central aspect of metic-studies has remained impervious to change, namely that of approaching the subject from the point of view of the host city and its citizens. From this perspective, the metic is, above all, a metic; that is, a figure of (Athenian) law defined by his or her legal status.

This view contrasts sharply with that of the metics themselves as demonstrated by the thousands of funerary inscriptions from all corners of the Greek world. In these, free foreigners invariably identified themselves as citizens of their ‘native’ poleis even if, for some at least, residence—to say nothing of active participation in civic life—must have laid generations in the past. Nevertheless, the issue of the relationship between citizens settled abroad as metics and their ‘native’ poleis is a question seldom asked and therefore poorly understood.

This paper aims to broaden the field of enquiry both geographically and chronologically to include all of the ancient Greek world between c. 400 BCE and 100 CE and to explore the meaning of membership for those who had settled beyond the borders of the political communities to which they ostensibly belonged. The paper analyses expressions of belonging in relation to both host and, in particular, native polis as well as the metic community through active participation in civic and social life, acculturation and nostalgia for their home polis through a variety of sources, including funerary epigraphy, from across the Greek world. Identification with, and nostalgia for, the native community is found to occupy a central place in metic self-expression, though often carefully balanced against expressions of loyalty and gratitude towards the host community. The paper then proceeds to collect the relevant evidence (mainly epigraphic) to answer questions about the practical relationship and interaction between metics and their native communities and, by extensions, the meaning and value of citizenship for those who had settled beyond those cities in which they, at least nominally, had a share.

Session/Panel Title

Migrants and Membership in the Greek City-States

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