A phratry (Greek: φ(ρ)ατρία, English translation: "brotherhood", "kinfolk", derived from "φρατήρ" meaning "brother") was an anthropological term for a kinship division consisting of two or more distinct clans which are considered a single unit, but which retain separate identities within the phratry.

In pre-Classical Greece, each tribe ("phyle") was divided into phratries. The nature of these phratries is, in the words of one historian, "the darkest problem among the [Greek] social institutions." [Nilsson, M. P. "Cults, Myths, and Oracles in Ancient Greece", quoted in J. V. Fine, "The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History".] Little is known about the role they played in Greek social life, but they existed from the Dark Ages until the second century BC; Homer refers to them several times, in passages that appear to describe the social environment of his times. [Fine, "The Ancient Greeks".] In Athens, enrollment in a phratry seems to have been the basic requirement for citizenship in the state before the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508 BC. From their peak of prominence in the Dark Ages, when they appear to have been a substantial force in Greek social life, phratries gradually declined in significance throughout the classical period as other groups (such as political parties) gained influence at their cost.

Phratries also exist among Native Americans, among whom a phratry was often identified by a nature sign. In some cultures, such as the Tlingit, and the Lenape, intermarriage between phratries was mandated. Phratries contained smaller kin groups called gene; these appear to have arisen later than phratries, and it appears that not all members of phratries belonged to a genos; membership in these smaller groups may have been limited to elites. On an even smaller level, the basic kinship group of ancient Greek societies was the "oikos" (household).



*Fine, John V. A. "The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History". Harvard University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-674-03314-0

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  • Phratry — Phra try, n.; pl. {Phratries}. [Gr. ?, ?.] (Gr. Antiq.) A subdivision of a phyle, or tribe, in Athens. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • phratry — [frā′trē] n. pl. phratries [Gr phratria < phratēr, akin to L frater,BROTHER] 1. a subdivision of an ancient Greek phyle 2. any of the similar units, as a group of clans, of a primitive tribe phratric adj. phratral …   English World dictionary

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  • phratry — noun A former kinship division consisting of two or more distinct clans with separate identities but considered to be a single unit …   Wiktionary

  • phratry — [ freɪtri] noun (plural phratries) Anthropology a descent group or kinship group in some tribal societies. Origin C19: from Gk phratria, from phratēr clansman …   English new terms dictionary

  • phratry — phra·try …   English syllables

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