Was Divorce Common in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, divorce was not as common as it is today. Marriage was considered a sacred and lifelong bond, and divorce was seen as a last resort. However, there were certain circumstances in which divorce was allowed and accepted.

Marriage in Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, marriage was primarily seen as a means of procreation and the continuation of the family line. It was an arrangement made between families rather than an act of love between two individuals.

Marriage as a Social Institution

Marriage held great significance in Greek society. It strengthened political alliances, enhanced social status, and ensured the legitimacy of children. Divorce, therefore, was not taken lightly.

Grounds for Divorce

In ancient Greece, divorce could be sought on various grounds. These grounds varied depending on the city-state and the specific laws in place.


  • Sparta: In Sparta, if a woman failed to produce offspring within a certain period of time after marriage, her husband had the right to divorce her.
  • Athens: In Athens, both parties had to be physically capable of having children at the time of marriage. If either party was found to be infertile later on, divorce could be granted.


  • Athens: Adultery was considered a valid reason for divorce in Athens. A man could legally divorce his wife if she committed adultery or engaged in scandalous behavior.
  • Sparta: In Sparta, adultery by either spouse was a ground for divorce. However, it is worth noting that adultery was not always a sufficient cause for divorce, as the reputation of the family and social implications were also taken into consideration.

The Divorce Process

Divorce by Mutual Consent

In some cases, both parties agreed to end the marriage and sought a divorce by mutual consent. This was relatively rare but not unheard of in ancient Greece.

Legal Proceedings

If one party wished to divorce against the other’s will, legal proceedings could be initiated. The individual seeking divorce had to present their case before a magistrate or other judicial authority, providing evidence to support their claims.

Consequences of Divorce

Financial Implications

In ancient Greece, divorce had financial implications for both parties involved. The division of property and assets was determined during the divorce proceedings. Additionally, the husband was usually required to provide financial support to his ex-wife if she had no means of supporting herself.

Social Stigma

Despite certain grounds for divorce being accepted in ancient Greece, there was still social stigma attached to those who divorced. Divorced individuals might face criticism and disapproval from their community.


In conclusion, while divorce was not common in ancient Greece due to the cultural and societal importance placed on marriage, there were circumstances in which it could be sought. Factors such as infertility or adultery could potentially justify seeking a divorce.

However, divorcing parties had to undergo legal proceedings and face social consequences. Understanding the historical context helps provide insights into the complex nature of marriage and divorce in ancient Greece.