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Wandering wives or foreign fillies? The women of archaic Greek colonisation

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posted on 2021-11-13, 22:57 authored by Kerr, Harriet

Greek colonisation in the archaic period encompassed an enormous geographical area. But for all its prevalence, the textual evidence is limited in both quantity and quality and the archaeological evidence goes only some way towards helping decipher social change and ethnicity. These issues become even more apparent when considering the position of women in the new city foundations. Did Greek colonists take their own wives with them to their new homes? Were Greek women sent out at a later date once the colony had become established? Did Greek colonists intermarry with indigenous women on arrival? Or did something else happen, including a mix of these options? The weight of scholarly opinion currently falls in favour of intermarriage, though frequently little evidence is proffered to support this view. This thesis focuses on this hypothesis and examines the evidence (or lack thereof) to support this conclusion.  Chapter One examines the problems associated with archaic Greek colonisation generally, particularly those issues connected with the ‘language of colonisation’. The study of Greek colonisation has been complicated by imprecise and ambiguous terminology, which frequently draws comparison with more modern (although altogether different) instances of the phenomenon. A major repercussion of this is the tendency to overlook both women and any indigenous peoples. The opening chapter also examines the various reasons behind the foundation of colonies, as well as the different types of settlements, so that an assessment can be made as to whether Greek women might have been more likely to accompany colonising expeditions in some instances over others. Chapter Two looks at the concept of intermarriage more closely and assesses Greek attitudes towards foreign women. It also evaluates the evidence typically called upon by scholars to argue for and against intermarriage in Greek colonisation. Chapter Three assesses the evidence for the presence of women in ten different colonies. Presented roughly in chronological order, these colonies were selected for their geographical scope, covering different regions from the Western Mediterranean, Magna Graecia, North Africa, and the Black Sea. This discussion explores both the literary and archaeological evidence (where possible) for each of these colonies and assesses the potential for intermarriage. This thesis demonstrates that broad conclusions about intermarriage as a widespread practice are unsustainable and concludes that colonisation in the archaic period cannot be considered a uniform phenomenon.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950599 Understanding the Past of Societies not elsewhere classified

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Trundle, Matthew