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date: 10 December 2023



  • Marilyn B. Skinner


  • Gender Studies

Matrilocality denotes a pattern of marriage in which the groom resides with the bride's parents, as opposed to the more common patrilocal marriage, where the bride goes to live with the groom's kin. Both patterns occur in Greek myth and saga and may have coexisted in bronze age society. An essential concomitant of Homeric patrilocal marriage is the suitor's presentation of hedna, ‘gifts’, to the prospective bride-giver. In exceptional cases the girl is bestowed anaednon, ‘without gifts’, in restitution or as recompense for service (e.g. Agamemnon's promise to Achilles at Il. 9. 146). Although hedna were once reckoned as ‘bride-price’ to compensate for the loss of a daughter, they are more plausibly explained as a pledge for the daughter's security. Instances of marriage by capture and marriage by contest are variants of the patrilocal pattern. Conversely, for families without surviving sons, matrilocal marriage permits a daughter's husband to perform a resident son's duties and claim the estate. This custom must be distinguished from matriliny, or regular succession through the female line, as the son-in-law only inherits by default. In Homer such unions with heiresses involve close male kin: Diomedes(2) (Il. 5. 410–15) and Iphidamas (Il. 11. 221–6) marry their mother's sisters, and Alcinous(1) (Od. 7. 63–6) weds his brother's daughter. That Iphidamas is reported to have given gifts in exchange for his bride (Il. 11. 243) indicates conflation of patterns. By the offer of daughters as wives, rulers with living sons attract foreign warriors into their service: so the king of Lycia acknowledges the prowess of Bellerophon (Il. 6. 191–3) and Alcinous attempts to obtain Odysseus as a husband for Nausicaa (Od. 7. 311–14). Priam's extended family, consisting of fifty sons and twelve sons-in-law, is the most striking Homeric example of matrilocal residence. The kinship terminology used in descriptions of Priam's household (e.g. the distinction of galoōs, ‘husband's sister’, and einatēr, ‘husband's brother's wife’, at Il. 6. 378) implies that families in which married sons and daughters and their spouses lived with parents were a historical reality. After Homer, these terms disappear and patrilocal marriage becomes the rule. Nevertheless, it is possible that in Classical Athens the kinsman who married an epiklēros, ‘fatherless heiress’, was still expected to reside with the bride's legal guardian. See inheritance, Greek.


  • M. I. Finley, Revue Internationale des Droits de l'Antiquité 1955, 167 ff..
  • W. K. Lacey, The Family in Classical Greece (1968), 39 ff..
  • G. Wickert-Micknat, Die Frau, Archaeologia Homerica 3, pt. R (1982), 89 ff.