AskDefine | Define phratry

Dictionary Definition

phratry n : people descended from a common ancestor; "his family has lived in Massachusetts since the Mayflower" [syn: family, family line, folk, kinfolk, kinsfolk, sept]

Extensive Definition

A phratry (Greek: φατρία, English translation: "brotherhood", "kinfolk", derived from φρατήρ meaning "brother") was an anthropological term for a kinship division consisting of two or more distinct clans which are considered a single unit, but which retain separate identities within the phratry.
In pre-Classical Greece, each tribe (phyle) was divided into phratries. The nature of these phratries is, in the words of one historian, "the darkest problem among the [Greek] social institutions." Little is known about the role they played in Greek social life, but they existed from the Dark Ages until the second century BC; Homer refers to them several times, in passages that appear to describe the social environment of his times. In Athens, enrollment in a phratry seems to have been the basic requirement for citizenship in the state before the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508 BC. From their peak of prominence in the Dark Ages, when they appear to have been a substantial force in Greek social life, phratries gradually declined in significance throughout the classical period as other groups (such as political parties) gained influence at their cost.
Phratries also exist among Native Americans, among whom a phratry was often identified by a nature sign. In some cultures, such as the Tlingit, and the Lenape, intermarriage between phratries was mandated. Phratries contained smaller kin groups called gene; these appear to have arisen later than phratries, and it appears that not all members of phratries belonged to a genos; membership in these smaller groups may have been limited to elites. On an even smaller level, the basic kinship group of ancient Greek societies was the oikos (household).



  • Fine, John V. A. The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History. Harvard University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-674-03314-0
phratry in German: Phratrie
phratry in Spanish: Fratría
phratry in French: Phratrie
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phratry in Polish: Fratria
phratry in Portuguese: Fratria
phratry in Russian: Фратрия
phratry in Ukrainian: Фратрія
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