The Concept of Family in the Ancient World

November 24, 2011

Painting by Giovanni Paolo Pannini

One can then glimpse a long period during which men had no form of society other than the family…. Each family has its religion, its gods, its priesthood…. Each family also has its property, that is to say, its parcel of land inseparably attached to it through religion…. In short, each family has its leader, just as a nation would have a king. It has its laws, which undoubtedly are not written, but which religious belief etches in the heart of each man. It has its internal justice over which no other can prevail. The family contains in itself all that man rigorously needs for his material or moral life. He needs nothing from outside; it is an organized state, a self-sufficient society.

Painting by Stepan Bakalovich

But this family of ancient times was not reduced to the proportions of the modern family. In the great societies the family scatters and becomes smaller, but in the absence of all other society it grows, it develops and branches out without breaking up. Many younger branches remain grouped around an older branch, near the only home and the common tomb. (Foustel de Coulanges, La Cité Antique, book 2, pp. 126-127 passim). Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History(York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Documents VII, p. 497.


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