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This paper examines the contribution of law and legal narrative in the generation of national identities, using modern Greece as a case study. It explores how claims of family law continuity and unity in nineteenth century Greece became the main mode of arguing for the existence of a Greek people, culturally distinct from their Ottoman oppressors. I argue that far from embodying any truth about Greek family law, these legal historical narratives constituted a reconceptualization of social relations on the national basis giving content to the relatively new concept of the “Greek people”. These narratives also made possible and reflected the complex institutional compromises struck with the Orthodox Church after the creation of the Greek state in 1830. Using the case of a broken engagement between two heroes of the revolution, the paper illustrates the multiple alternatives that existed at the time for the regulation of marital affairs, the clashes that ensued over the jurisdictional questions and the paths not taken. Finally, the paper employs the insights of this historical analysis to question the unity and coherence of national character claims in contemporary European family law debates.


2008 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop selection.