Matrilineal succession in Greek myth

Greta Hawes, Rosemary Selth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article presents a systematic examination of matrilineal succession in Greek myth. It uses MANTO, a digital database of Greek myth, to identify kings who succeed their fathers-in-law, maternal grandfathers, step-fathers, or wives’ previous husbands. Analysis of the fifty-four instances identified shows that the prominence of the ‘succession via widow’ motif in archaic epic is not typical of the broader tradition. Rather, civic mythmaking more commonly relies on succession by sons-in-law and maternal grandsons to craft connections between cities and lineages, and to claim panhellenic prestige. We show that matrilineal successors are not treated as necessarily illegitimate or inferior within the overwhelmingly patrilineal conventions of Greek myth. In fact, matrilineal calculations afford certain advantages, like the ability to integrate heroes from elsewhere, or to champion local kings with divine fathers. Matrilineal succession reveals the gendered dynamics inherent to Greek myth; we argue that, although in these instances regnal power is transferred through female relatives, the heroines involved are typically treated simply as nodes for this power and their roles in these stories do not necessarily correlate to a greater visibility or autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClassical Quarterly
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 May 2024


  • civic myth-making
  • gender
  • genealogy
  • Greek myth
  • matriliny
  • rulership
  • succession
  • women


Dive into the research topics of 'Matrilineal succession in Greek myth'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this