The Hellenistic Family Analysis

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Topics: Family, Royal family
In her article “The Hellenistic Family,” Dorothy J. Thompson seeks to demonstrate the ways in which changes in the Hellenistic family structure mirrored and influenced overarching societal trends. Additionally, she endeavors to illuminate the limited usefulness of applying generalized family models to the diverse and multicultural environment of the post-Alexandrian Hellenistic world. Through her implementation of a variety of primary sources (i.e., histories, stone inscriptions, papyri, ect.), Thompson presents a balanced and enlightening depiction of the Hellenistic family, which is both firm in its claims and cognizant of its limitations. By assessing the general arch of Thompson’s argument, this review will seek to illuminate both the successes …show more content…
In addition to defining these important terms, the author also takes the time to inform her readers of the significant difficulties implicit in any historical investigation of the private/domestic sphere. Ultimately, her acknowledgment of the effects of sporadic and incomplete sources on her conclusions contributes to the balanced nature of her argument. After presenting these preliminary points of explication, Thompson first turns to the topic of Hellenistic royal families and their potential influence on the society at large. According to the author, royal family life was different from the experiences of the common people in a number of respects. The importance afforded to dynastic cults and sibling marriages within the ruling structure was not shared by the whole of society. Although brother-sister marriages like that of Ptolemy I and Berenike I were standard practice within the royal family, such acts of inbreeding were not common throughout the Ptolemaic kingdom (until the Roman Period). Conversely, Thompson demonstrates that the royal family promoted the heightened …show more content…
Like many of her previous topics, the author is compelled to limit her claims to the Egypt because it offers the most concrete evidence. By comparing and contrasting Egyptian and Greek domestic patterns, Thompson demonstrates both the unique and the universal elements of the standard Egyptian family structure. For example, papyri evidence demonstrates that “resident mothers,” a staple of the Greek household, were also quite common among native Egyptians. Furthermore, married households were more common than virilocal (i.e. non-conjugal) living situations, which is congruous with the standard Greek household structure as well. However, Thompson also cites key differences that underscore the diversity of domestic life in the Hellenistic world. For example, papyri evidence (i.e., family archives) demonstrates that slave ownership was very uncommon among the majority of Egyptian households. In truth, only a select number of city-dwelling Egyptians adopted the Greek custom of slave ownership. Additionally, Egyptian ritualistic practices pertaining to birth, matrimony, and death were all particularly distinct from their Greek counterparts (in Thompson’s estimation). Specific examples include provisions for women in prenuptial contracts, female property rights, polygamous marriages, mummification, and the development of a distinct familial nomenclature (i.e., parents-in-law). Again, the fact

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