The laws in Athens concerning the epikleros* were the strictest. The woman in question usually had no choice in the matter. The first person with the right to marry her and control her father’s property was her father’s oldest living brother. If there were none, the right and duty (since it was thought of as a duty) passed to sons of brothers. A difference in ages was no impediment, provided the couple could procreate. If for some reason the prospective groom did not wish to marry her (if, for example, she had inherited nothing more than debts), he had to give her a dowry suitable to her rank. Should he refuse, the archon (or the polemarch) could compel him to do so.**
Things were rather different in Sparta and Gortyn since women in both places could own property themselves. In Sparta, the law regarding the patrouchos seems to have only applied to unmarried, unbetrothed women. For those to whom it did apply, the pressure to produce an heir to carry on the property was intense.***
The Gortyn Law Code gave women (and their kin) even more freedom. The succession of who the patroiokos was to marry remained the same, but she had more choice in the matter. If she was too young to marry, she got the house and half the income. If she didn’t want to marry the prospective bridegroom, she could pay him off, which then freed her to marry whoever she wanted from the clan. If he didn’t want to marry her, she went to the next in line. If none of them agreed, she could wed whom she wished.
*The term means “upon the property.”
** In cases like this where the woman in question was considered undesirable, this might be the only thing she had to fall back on to avoid complete poverty.
*** Herodotus tells us that Leonidas specifically selected men with sons for Thermopylae so as to avoid this law coming into effect for anyone’s daughters.
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves. New York: Schocken, 1995.
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Epikleros - Wikipedia