Atimia and Outlawry in Archaic and Classical Greece

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
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  • 1 Teacher of Classics, The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Butterfly Lane, Elstree, Hertfordshire, WD6 3AF, U.K.

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This article challenges the commonly held belief that atimia in its earliest Greek usage meant exile, arguing instead that atimia and outlawry were always two entirely distinct, though not mutually exclusive, concepts. It is often claimed that atimia originated as a penalty of death or exile, but that over time its harshness became modified so that those who suffered under its restrictions could not be killed or assaulted with impunity. A careful study of the evidence will show that atimia never meant outlawry, and moreover, its archaic cognates do not imply that in early times to lose timê was the same as losing membership in a political community. Rather, atimazesthai entailed the loss of social honour and status which was an all-encompassing value in the aristocratic societies of archaic Greece. Atimia in the Classical period is similarly a loss of rights (timai), and because penalties and conditions such as exile and outlawry can be easily described, in Greek, as involving the loss of prerogatives (timai), they are conceptually forms of atimia. However, in the legal language of democratic Athens atimia is and always was something distinct from exile, and this legal distinction went back to the very earliest times.

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