Journal of Hellenic Studies 100:96-126 (1980)
AbstractFustel de Coulanges' thesis that ancient society was founded upon the cult of ancestral tombs has had, for a thoroughly self-contradictory argument, a remarkably successful career. Neither Fustel himself nor the many subsequent scholars who have quoted his views with approval faced clearly the difficulty of deriving a social structure dominated by corporate descent groups from the veneration of tombs placed in individually owned landed property. On the whole, historians have tended to play down Fustel's insistence on the relation between ancestor-cult and property and to exaggerate the role of the corporate kin group. This tendency, which assimilates Fustel to Sir Henry Maine and other lawyers interested in the reconstruction of Indo-European institutions has in my view considerably impeded understanding of the role of kinship in early Greek society; it also obscures one of the most individual aspects of Fustel's work which, thanks to the researches of Philippe Ariès on the development of the modern tomb-cult in the nineteenth century, can now be placed in its historical context.
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