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Women of Ancient Greece and Sparta

written by: Bruno Kos • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 8/2/2012

Discover how a women living in ancient Greece or Sparta lived. Women had crucial roles in society, though they were not allowed the same privileges as men.

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    The treatment of women in ancient Greece is a rather complex subject, all the mysteries of which will probably never be completely revealed. This is mostly because the ancient Greek civilization lasted over 1,200 years and covered a huge geographical area. Historians find this topic rather interesting and numerous works on the subject have been published.

    Regardless of the fact that numerous ancient polis (cities) existed, they were similar in that most imitated the rules and relationships that existed in Sparta and Athens. Therefore, this article will outline the main aspects of the lives of both Spartan and Athenian women.

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    The Women of Sparta

    In comparison with their Athenian fellows, Spartan women had greater freedom as their husbands were well-known soldiers, a characteristic that kept male family members outside the home most of the time. Further, they learned how to read and write, as well as athletic and war-like disciplines. Their education was strict, especially in comparison with Athenian women. Therefore, they were skilled in various athletic disciplines such as discus, races and others that were practiced at the time.

    Spartan women had many legal rights. They could not only control but actually own property and also inherit and control the land. If a woman had one brother, according to Spartan law, she would inherit half of the heritage. If their husband was away for too long, they could take another husband for themselves. It is also interesting to notice that, as the Spartan women were well trained, they overtook and guarded the property from intruders until their males (especially the husband) returned.

    Marriage was not based on emotions but rather on a family deal. Girls got married when they were 18 years old and were not asked for opinion when future husbands were about to be chosen.

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    The Women of Athens

    Athenian women were not respected by the ancient Greek philosophers. They thought that women had poor minds and, as such, were not fit for any kind of education. In fact, women were not expected to learn how to read or write, or to gain any other type of education. It is interesting to note that this was not the case in the beginning of ancient Greece. Their rights declined during the classical age (500-400 BC), mostly due to more rigorous rules concerning legitimacy of marriage, introduced by Pericles.

    The classification of Athenian women can be considered in the following way:

    • Slave women viewed as the lowest class, doing domestic jobs and raising their landlady's children, typically.
    • Athenian women can be considered as a second class, often like those in the section above.
    • Hetaerae: these were independent women, often educated, skilled in dance and music and other talents. They were allowed entrance into many places slaves and second-class women could not go.

    As was the case with Spartan women, Athenian women were not asked for an opinion when their future husband was about to be chosen. More specifically, the marriage was arranged by the father, and the arrangement was usually made among families that had a good relationship.

    Finally, Athenian women could not own property. Their domestic duties depended on the number of slaves that lived inside the house. Basically, their main “duty" was procreation--giving birth to healthy and strong children.

References

  • Sue Blundell: Women in ancient Greece: Volume 1995, Part 2
  • Sue Blundell: Women in ancient Greece: Volume 1995, Part 2