Ancient Greek Women

What were the roles of women in Ancient Greece?

Ancient Spartan Women

“This is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury.” Aristotle eloquently states that the Spartan constitution gives laws to men, but not to the women with his belief that the women of Sparta can do whatever they want. Of course, Aristotle may be exaggerating in the above statement. Still, some Spartan women may have lived luxurious and were allowed a lot of freedom, but whether or not these freedoms actually weakened Sparta is disputable. Regardless, Spartan women did have many more freedoms than other women in ancient Greece. Lacedaemonian women (women of Sparta) could receive an education in the arts and athletics. Women minimally-clad were allowed to exercise freely with men. This was thought to be scandalous by other Greek city-states. They were allowed to own property and even controlled more than a third of Spartan assets. According to Aristotle, it seems as though Spartan women may have also influenced Spartan politics. “The influence of Lacedaemonian women has been most mischievous. The evil showed itself in the Theban invasion, when, unlike women of other cities, they were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy.” Aristotle implies that Spartan women did play a role in political decisions. However, he quickly puts down their activity as grossly ineffective.

Ancient Women of Athens

    Unlike Lacedaemonian women, the women of Athens had far less freedom with their roles in society defined clearly. Primarily, they were assigned to their homes to take care of the household affairs and bear legitimate children. They could not exercise in public nor even leave their homes without an escort. Unlike Spartan women, they were not expected to read or write nor earn any education. Fortunately, they could own property if they received it through inheritance or dowry. They were free to own property, but they were definitely not allowed to influence politics which was the job of the property-owning male citizen. Ancient Greek plays even emphasized a woman’s role as a priestess, a manager of the household, and a the bearer of legitimate children to be future citizens of the Polis. Obviously, Athenian women were allowed very little freedom within Athenian society.

A Male-Dominated Society

    Ancient Greek women, whether Spartan or Athenian, lived in a male-dominated world, much the same in many societies even to this day. Although some enjoyed more freedoms than others, at the very least it is clear that Sparta and Athens contributed a very early beginning to legal rights for women. Both city-states gave women the right to property and inheritance. Both states gave women protection and the ability to govern their households. Although some women may have not had very much more, they certainly had more protection and wealth than the thousands of slaves that built up the bulk of ancient Greek society and economy.