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Athenian rules of inheritance.

The following are the chief rules which, at Athens, governed succession and bequest:—

I. When a citizen died leaving sons, they shared the inheritance equally, the eldest having priority of choice.

II. Failing sons and sons' issue, daughters and daughters' issue succeeded1.

III. But a daughter was never, in our sense, an heiress. She was, strictly, a person who went with the estate (ἐπίκληρος). The heir, properly speaking, was either (1) her nearest kinsman, who was bound to marry her; or (2) that person to whom her father had devised the property on condition of marrying her.

IV. Failing lineal descendants, the succession passed to collateral kinsfolk on the paternal side, as far down as to children of first-cousins2, with a preference to males. Failing these, it passed to the maternal side, with the like limit and preference. It then returned to the paternal side.

V. A man could not disinherit his son. Nor could he separate his estate from his daughter, though he could select the person whom she was to marry.

VI. A childless man might, either during his life or by testament, adopt any Athenian citizen as his son and heir.

VII. Mothers3 certainly, fathers4 probably, could not inherit from their children. But an inheritance could ascend collaterally; e.g. an uncle could inherit, or could marry the daughter with whom the estate went.

1 Cf. Ar. Av. 1651—1666.

2 It has sometimes been held (as by Sir W. Jones in his Commentary, p. 191) that second cousins were in the succession. Now the law, as quoted with perhaps intentional ambiguity in Or. XI. § 2, said μέχρι ἀνεψιῶν παίδων: meaning that A, B's son, is in the succession to C, if B and C were ἀνεψιοί, first-cousins. But the quibbling speaker there makes it mean that A is in the succession, not only to C, but to C's son. Hence the fallacy.

3 Of the relationship between mother and son it is said expressly (Or. XI. § 17)— συγγενέστατον μὲν ἦν τῇ φύσει πάντων, ὲν δὲ ταῖς ἀγχιστεἰαις (degrees recognised by the law) ὁμολογουμένως οὐκ ἔστιν.

4 Cf. C. R. Kennedy in the Dict. Ant. s. v. Heres, p. 595 a.

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