Thursday, September 3, 2015


Sara M. Wijma, Embracing the Immigrant: The Participation of Metics in Athenian Polis Religion (5th-4th century BC). Historia - Einzelschriften, Bd 233. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. Pp. 197. ISBN 9783515106429. €53.00.

Reviewed by Ellie Mackin, King's College London (

Version at BMCR home site


Sara M. Wijma's study, Embracing the Immigrant, tells a story of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion of individuals and groups being pulled in with one hand and pushed away with the other. This study was designed to complement work on the status of metics in Athenian society, and was a part of a larger project at Utrecht University on 'Citizenship in Classical Athens'. The aim of this particular study was to show that religious participation was an important part of overall integration for metics. An important point to note: this book is about religion and religious practice, but it feeds into a larger conversation about social cohesion, and that focus is evident throughout the work.

I have not included a Table of Contents in this review because I do not think it is a helpful tool for locating information or case studies within the work, primarily because the chapter titles do not actually indicate the content of the chapter. I will instead begin by outlining the topics covered in each of the chapters before moving on to some more general thoughts about the study.

The short preface addresses an essential question regarding community membership, and how belonging should be conceptualised. Wijma briefly talks about how her study relates to issues of inclusion, and why religion might be a useful tool to discuss inclusion. It is not essential reading, but does link this study to the wider project of which it is a part.

In the introduction 'Defining Polis Membership', Wimja begins by discussing the Athenian polis, and the shifting way that the polis is described in scholarship. She advocates inclusivity in defining the community of the polis, while still maintaining membership and (to a lesser extent perhaps) participation as a primary way of delineating 'insiders' and 'outsiders'. She then outlines the relationship between the Athenian polis and religion, primarily drawing on Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood's influential polis religion approach1 (and, to a lesser extent, the idea of religious 'embeddedness'), but without citing any of the more recent critiques of the approach. The final main section of the introduction concerns the metics's identity and why they were, as a group, important to Athens. Wijma sets this book out as a study of social inclusion and cohesion, and not as a work designed to enhance our understanding of the religious landscape of the 5th and 4th centuries. Finally, she establishes three frames of the study: festival participation, differences in metic and Athenian participation, and historical context.

The first chapter, 'The First Steps of Athenian Metoikia', focuses on the inclusion of metics in the Panathenaia procession, which represents an early stage in the development of the metic inclusion. Wijma discusses the procession generally, before going into detail on each of the specific roles which relate to metic participation and, in a sub-section aptly titled 'Honour or Humiliation?', what the outcome of metic's being 'singled out' in the procession might. She then looks at the demographic of Athenians who have a special place in the procession, and argues that the fact that metic groups mirror them (metic girls march side-by-side with Athenian girls, for example) demonstrates that this inclusion is meant to elevate the status of metics as a whole.

Chapter 2, 'Metoikia in the Second Half of the Fifth Century', examines the way that metics were included (and excluded) in some other polis festivals. These are primarily the Lenaia, the City Dionysia, and the Hephaisteia. These three 'mini-studies' create three slightly different pictures, demonstrating that there was not one uniform way that cults integrated metics. Indeed, in the case of the City Dionysia, metics were included with all other non-Athenian participants rather than being mixed with Athenians, as in the Panathenaia, or at the Lenaia, where metics could even participate in performances.

This chapter primarily deals with a time period in which metics were increasingly separated from Athenian political and judicial life, and argues that religious integration in some areas helped to maintain general metic inclusion and overall social cohesion. In this time, metics continued to be embraced by the Athenian (religious) community, but they were also required to undertake a certain amount of 'othering' to differentiate themselves from the Athenians. What Wijma presents, then, is a case of partial inclusion. This chapter also relates increasing religious participation of metics to an increase in metic participation in other aspects of life. Wijma cites, for example, the prevalence of metics in construction (43 of 110 names on the Erechthion are metic), and participation in the military (3,000 hoplites to 10,000 Athenians, for instance). At the same time, metics are losing some of their political rights ( in part because of Perikles's citizenship laws of 451/0), and we see the metic-specific demotikon in the 'oikon en-' formula for the first time. The chapter does not have its own conclusion.

In chapter 3, 'Metoikia in the Demes of Attica?', Wijma extends the concept of polis religion to the collective of the deme as an individual group and as a part of the polis system. This chapter does not detail a general overview of what Wijma calls "The Integration of Metics in the Attic Demes", but instead looks at some specific cases of the treatment of resident foreigners in deme-related contexts to create the beginning of a picture of what metic participation in deme religion could have been. She briefly details what these cases will be. Much as she does in the introduction, Wijma first sets out some basic parameters for looking at the demes, including what active deme participation looked like for foreign residents (including Athenians from other demes). The first case study for this chapter looks at the deme Skambonidai, near the classical agora, which had a significant group of foreigners. This includes evidence that metics (including the earliest extant epigraphic attestation of the plural 'metoikoi') received a share of sacrifice to local hero Leos. The second examines residents in Ikarion, where metics were included with other non-Ikarion Athenians as 'other residents'. Finally, Wijma presents the case of the Theban Damasias, an individual metic who was given exceptional honours from Eleusis, including being permitted to undertake the duties of a choregos, but without being given the official title. Overall, this chapter demonstrates that deme-level integration could be significantly more pronounced than at the polis level, and that religious honours could be bestowed as a way to honour 'outsiders' with a kind of 'deme-membership'.

I found chapter 4, 'Embracing Bendis', problematic. Here the focus shifts from the recurring theme of the rest of the book, namely that metics were simultaneously welcomed and excluded as groups and individuals, toward the Athenian inclusion of a foreign cult into its roster of polis cults in the case of the Thracian goddess, Bendis. Ultimately, this chapter does present an extension of collective integration, and demonstrates the importance of Thracian immigrants to the Athenian polis. However, Wijma assumes but does not convincingly argue that the overwhelming force behind the inclusion of Bendis's cult was Thracian metics, rather than the population of slaves, mercenaries, and others whom she mentions. Such an assumption is easily made, but in a book primarily devoted to the religious inclusion of metics in the Athenian landscape, I felt that this chapter – although interesting – was disjointed.

Primarily, this chapter looks at how the integration of the cult of Bendis was used to facilitate integration of Thracians, including the unusual decree granting the Thracians (as a group) the right to own land for the single purpose of building a shrine. Wijma again draws out the double nature of this act. The Athenians were including a Thracian divinity within their religious landscape, but were also defining and confining the limits of that specific community. It is clear, as Wijma demonstrates, that the Athenians were very thoughtful about the creation and maintenance of both the sanctuary and the festival, the Bendideia, and the struggle over whether the cult should have Athenian or Thracian priests and priestesses particularly illustrates this point. Wijma, however, might have linked this back to the problematic question of whether honour being bestowed on a foreigner through a share in Athenian hiera constituted a kind of 'semi-citizenship', rather than leaving the reader to make the connections.

The conclusion presents a synthesis of the case-studies presented in the book, and reiterates the political and social focus, rather than its religious significance. Wijma emphasises that religious participation and integration were key components of wider integration, while still acknowledging that this was only one aspect of a bigger process.

Three brief appendices list (1) vases that show scenes of metics performing typical duties, (2) the names of Choregoi, and (3) attested groups of orgeones in Attica.

A few small things to note: there are some minor issues with presentation of the text, particularly inconsistency with footnote numbers. Sometimes information placed in the footnotes is integral to the argument (for example, note 145 on p. 155 regarding Thracian orgeones not being accepted by the demes). A few passages, particularly of epigraphical material in Greek, do not have translations. For example, decrees on p. 105 and 109 are not translated. The untranslated texts are admittedly very fragmentary, and Wijma provides a description of the content (also provided for translated decrees). This, along with the numerous Greek terms that are not translated or described, limits the accessibility of this study.

There are some lengthy explanatory passages that relate interesting information, yet seem unrelated to the participation of metics in Athenian religious life. For example, on pages 86-89 Wijma discusses the age of the Hephaisteia and whether the decree of 421/0 (IG I3 82) referred to an existing festival (with possible reorganisation) or an entirely new festival. Some diversions are pertinent to her analysis (like the discussion on pages 90-91 about raw meat distribution and the effect on festival participation). This section also demonstrates that Wijma does not always take the reader with her. She shows that elements of the festival were in place before 421, but does not specifically discuss whether the decree represents wholesale 'reorganisation'. However, she then continues on from the assumption that wholesale reorganisation has been established.

This study is as much, perhaps more, about 'insiders' than it is about 'outsiders', and the emphasis is often on the way that Athenian-ness (at either the polis or deme level) is articulated, guarded, changed, or facilitated though incorporation of specific metics. These can be groups (as in the Panathenaic procession), or individuals (as the Theban Damasias in Eleusis). Wijma is quite open about this path being the 'way in' to metic participation in Athenian 5th and 4th century religious practice, but it says very little about the metics themselves. The entire final chapter seems to indiscriminately treat Theban participants in the cult of Bendis as metics, but it does not lay out how she arrives at this conclusion. Overall, though, this study is an interesting and timely contribution to both the study of Athenian religion and the place of metics within it, but also to the understanding of religion as a tool for the promotion of political, cultural, and social cohesion. Wijma's arguments are sometimes strained and links between the case-studies could be made more explicit. Nonetheless, this book is a valuable contribution.


1.   C. Sourvinou-Inwood, 'What Is Polis Religion?' and 'Further Aspects of Polis Religion' in R. Buxton (ed.), Oxford Readings in Greek Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 13-37, 38-55.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.