Migrants and Membership Regimes in the Ancient Greek World

A World on the Move

Migration was an important feature of the ancient Greek world. Evidence from funerary inscriptions—left behind by practically every Greek city—are pertinent reminders that every Greek city was home to populations who had migrated from elsewhere in the Greek world— and beyond—or were the descendants of immigrants.

For a substantial number of the inhabitants of the ancient Greek world migration in some form or another played a vital part in shaping aspirations, opportunities, behaviour, beliefs and outcomes. 

A Broader View of Ancient Migration

The importance of migration in shaping the ancient Greek world has long been recognised. In particular, migration is often regarded as a key feature of the so-called Hellenistic period.Yet in spite of the importance placed on migration, the subject has not received the attention it deserves and historians still owe it to explain how communities were affected and transformed by migration.

Studies of immigration in the Classical and Hellenistic polis have traditionally been preoccupied with the legal aspects of free-foreigner (or metic) status resulting in a somewhat monochrome picture of the foreigner as a figure of law defined only by his or her legal duties and privileges vis-à-vis the citizens. To these can be added scattered studies of certain groups of professionals who are particularly conspicuous in our evidence, such as mercenaries and artists, with few attempts so far to treat Hellenistic migration as a subject in its own right or within a unified framework.

Project Aims

Migrants and Membership Regimes in the Ancient Greek World (400 BCE – 100 CE), aims to investigate a range of aspects of migration in the Hellenistic world under a shared theoretical framework and working from the common hypotheses 

(1) that polis membership regimes were multifaceted with points of interaction with foreign residents determined by wealth, legal status, skills, age and gender. 

(2) That access to resources such as land, personal safety, employment opportunities, labour, prestige and more were guarded and constrained by laws, regulations, customs and values that constituted a membership regime. 

(3) That the particular features of membership regimes were constantly negotiated between insiders and outsiders. 

The project joins together four case studies which have been designed to cast the net wide and cover migrants of different statuses (free and freed), genders and means, and in different settings:

Four Case Studies

Status Assimilation of Free Foreigners

Wealthy metics constitute a conspicuous group among foreign residents in many Greek cities. In spite of their economic means, which dwarfed those of most citizens of their host communities, they were, as non-citizens, excluded from sharing directly in the political life of their adopted cities. As inhabitants, however, they were free to participate in social…

Bound Labour Unbound

Slavery was endemic to the ancient Greek world and in popular discourse the enslaved were predominantly foreigners. This case study examines the integration and impact of formerly enslaved on the social, political and religious life of the Greek city-states.

Foreign Cult and Female Agency

This study on foreign religious cults in the multi-ethnic society of Hellenistic Cities in Greece will address issues of interaction between different religious groups in shaping the cultic landscapes of Greek cities – an important aspect of their membership regimes – with a focus on women’s agency in establishing and participating in new cults. Our understanding…

Fragile Foreigners

The democratic polis prided itself with the stalwart equality of its citizen members, codified in the laws of the city to guarantee the integrity and dignity of the political bodies of its members. But the inviolability of the citizen body was conceptualized through a hierarchy of status that necessarily viewed foreign residents and travelers as more vulnerable.…