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The Making of the Modern Greek Family: Marriage and Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Athens.

The Making of the Modern Greek Family: Marriage and Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Athens. By Paul Sant Cassia with Constantina Bada (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. xv plus 278 pp. $65.00).

"This original and ground-breaking study" promises a great deal. For Hellenists, it represents one of the first studies of family, marriage and kinship during the nine-teenth century to utilize both comparative methodology and statistical analyses of archival materials. For social historians more broadly, it provides yet another test of the dominant models of European family formation. Moreover, since the book combines the talents of a social anthropologist, Sant Cassia, and an historian, Bada, it potentially could show the benefits of closer integration between the two disciplines. In the end, however, The Making of the Modern Greek Family is flawed in numerous, varied and fundamental ways, and while some parts are quite good, the book as a whole will satisfy neither social historians nor social anthropologists.

The authors' primary aims are the following. First, they intend to examine "the nature of property transmissions within the various classes that made up Athenian society" (p. 13) during "a crucial turning point in the evolution of Greek society, namely the end of the Turkokratia and the establishment of the Greek state" (roughly 1775-1835). During this period, in their view, Athens became both an "urban center" with a structurally differentiated population, including a new mercantile-orientated group, and the capital of a new nation-state. For Greeks, Athens became the model of the "civilized" way of life and the focal point of efforts to forge a collective, western national identity. Consequently, the new "urban" family forms which developed there came to exert powerful influences in the diverse regions of Greece. Thus, the various patterns of residence and systems for the transmission of property recorded in contemporary ethnographic accounts are the result of interaction between local traditions and practices developed in Athens.

The book is divided into five substantive chapters, four of which rely heavily on a core data-base of 523 marriage contracts written at Athens between 1788 and 1834. In chapters two through four, Sant Cassia and Bada analyze post-marital residence patterns, house and land ownership, kinship, and the nature and function of dowries and trousseaux. Chapter five employs the marital contracts and other sources to examine the practices of fosterage, adoption and godparenthood. Chapter six explores the emotional universe of the Athenian family, focusing in particular on attitudes toward women, marriage and love, the role of the church in family life, and the impact of urbanization on attitudes toward the family. The sources for this discussion come from popular literature and women's magazines published during the late nineteenth century.

There are numerous deficiencies with this book. The first, and most important, refers to the authors' main thesis that urbanization and the consequent development of greater structural complexity caused far-reaching changes in family structure, marriage, kinship and exchange in Athens during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The difficulty is that Athens was not at this time an urban center but a small town; it simply did not undergo pronounced urbanization during the period covered by their data. At the start of their period, Athens had a population of between 9,000 and 10,000; by 1836 it had risen to only 17,600. Compare this to the period between 1870 and 1900 when the population of Athens rose from approximately 50,000 to over 250,000, with the fastest rates of growth (between 5% and 6% per annum) occurring in the 1870s and 1880s.(1) Consequently, discussions about the "urban elite," the "urban poor" or "urban lifeways" in Athens between 1775 and 1834 seem wholly out of place and inappropriate. In short, the authors' main thesis is unsustainable because they selected the wrong period. As their own discussion demonstrates, the sources for all aspects of Greek social history, including family life, are much richer during the latter part of the nineteenth century and as a result they are constantly compelled to cite sources from this later period to bolster arguments for the earlier one as if nothing had changed during the interval. Finally, if they wanted to examine how the rise of a mercantile elite during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries affected marriage and exchange, then they might have examined Syros or Patras or Thessaloniki, all of which were larger and more structurally complex than Athens.

Other difficulties mar this book. For example, the authors assume that those migrating to Athens during the 1830s came primarily from the hinterland of the new state. But to the contrary, a large proportion of the migrants to Athens at this time originated in diaspora communities located in major cities such as London, Paris, Antwerp, Trieste and Liverpool. These were not poor peasants or power-hungry landed aristocrats but solid, westernized bourgeois merchants who were already acculturized to urban patterns of life. Large scale peasant migration to Athens is a phenomenon of the second half of the nineteenth century.

In regard to sources, Sant Cassia and Bada argue that reliance on Athenian data is necessary because "few consistent, sustainable, and easily accessible matrimonial contracts survive for other parts of Greece" (p. 20). Yet I have personally examined over 1,500 such contracts covering the period 1800 to 1864 from the island of Kephallenia alone. Furthermore, in Athens the authors might also have consulted marriage certificates, birth certificates, court records, magistrates' logs, wills and other documents which would have enabled them to determine more fully the wealth, status and background of the families in their study. As it stands, their account is over-reliant on matrimonial contracts and biased toward Athens. Lastly, the authors are at times very uncritical in their use of foreign travellers' accounts of Greek life.

Appropriately for a venture combining history and anthropology, the authors draw on comparative data. The problem is that they draw most of their comparisons with contemporary rural Greece and Tunisia, and Renaissance Florence. Given the voluminous body of literature on migration, urbanization and society in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, the authors' analogues look most curious indeed. Sant Cassia and Bada, in fact, betray scant familiarity with mainstream works on urban society in Europe and America. If they had, then they may have been spared making such errors as their argument on page 223 that domestic violence was largely not permissible in urban contexts: an observation which will come as a surprise to anyone who has worked on crime and violence in nineteenth-century European cities, including Athens.

The Making of the Modem Greek Family promises far more than it delivers. Historians and anthropologists will find the quantitative studies of the Athenian matrimonial contracts and the consequent discussions useful. Moreover, this book suggests the riches in the archives of Greece awaiting interested students. The book shows once again that studies of peripheral areas like Greece can potentially make contributions to social history as a whole. Nonetheless, the conceptual short-comings of the work are manifest. The authors should have become more deeply conversant with the relevant social historical literature before wading into the archives. This would have enabled them to craft more appropriate and relevant questions to the data at their disposal .

(1.) The author's need to amend their statement that population at Athens grew by 10.2% per annum between 1529 and 1570 (p.22). This should state that the total population rose by that amount (i.e., from 13,000 to 17,000); the actual growth rate per annum was only a fraction of this figure.
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Author:Gallant, Thomas W.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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