As many of you know, women had little or no rights in ancient civilization. Just take a look at all the emperors, kings or leaders we’ve learned about in our previous classes. Alexander the Great. Qin Shi Huang. Gilgamesh. What do they have in common? That’s right, they’re all males! Throughout the evolution of ancient civilization, one thing that seems to have stuck is that women seemed to be considered the “inferior” gender or even looked upon as second-class human beings. The equality of women has been a hotly debated topic, even in today’s society, and we hope to contribute by showing awareness of how poorly women were treated, especially in the past. It is during the classical period in Greece that we begin our journey and for entertainment purposes, we have devised a survival guide for women living in those times.
Try imagining this in today's society...
It'll probably never happen!
Just to be clear, the ill-treatment of women did NOT happen in ALL of Greece. True, women were not seen as the equal of men but their treatment varies among certain Greek city-states or poleis. Although there are many other city-states such as Corinth and Thebes , many use the 2 more popular states as comparisons and we will be doing the same: the treatment of women in Athens vs Sparta.
If you were given birth and lived in a certain country for most parts of your life, you would definitely be considered a citizen in said country right? Well, that wasn’t the case for women in Athens. The foundation of being considered an Athenian is purely based on two things: firstly, one has to be given birth by parents who were born in Athens themselves and secondly, you had to be a male (page 9). Thus, women living in Athens throughout their entire lives aren’t even considered to be citizens of the state. Women were only valued for their use of being able to reproduce and to give birth to offspring that could contribute to the state’s military or political purposes (page 9). In contrast, Spartan women were given more responsibilities and were treated more of a citizen than their Athenian counterparts.
Imagine you could not have a property under your name. The whole idea of having a roof over your head is basically dependent on either your spouse, father or brother IF you were a women. However, in this instance, Spartan women were lucky enough not to share the same fate as female Athenians. Not only could they own properties, but there are also reports that an estimated “40% of agricultural land” belonged to women (page 222). That’s a stark contrast to women in Athens who were neither allowed to own any sort of land, nor buy or sell any kind of property (page 9).
LEGAL RIGHTS AND INHERITANCE
Athenian women had very, very few legal rights. Firstly, there was even a law dictating the number of women allowed to attend a funeral (page 9). Astonishing isn’t it? To even limit the amount of women who wished to pay their respects to those who have passed away. Secondly, in the event that a women wanted a divorce, she has to seek out a male representative (has to be a relative) in order to initiate divorce (page 9-10). To make matters worse, not only do they have to return the dowries received upon marriage (page 10) but in the event that she has a child/children, custody would immediately be granted to the male parent (page 10). On the contrary, women in Sparta had significantly more legal rights. They do not have to suffer what we would deem as injustice in today’s society but they were also allowed more privileges. Spartan women could inherit an equal portion of their father’s properties (page 11) and this is something that is sorely denied to women in Athens. How could anyone be denied something that belonged to their family? This was the harsh reality that women in Athens faced.
Clearly, this wasn't the case in ancient Greece
As you may have already guessed, women in Sparta were allowed much more freedom as opposed to their Athenian counterparts. Apart from visiting relatives or other wives, women in Athens basically lived in seclusion (page 8). On the other hand, Sparta women were allowed as much freedom as they pleased (page 224). However, not all Athenians were confined to their own homes. There were a few exceptions, who come in the form of “prostitutes, concubines and mistresses” (page 9), otherwise known as hetaera.
Similar to freedom, women in Sparta were afforded the same amount of education as men (page 224) whereas Athenian women received little or no education (page 222). However, the hetaera received a much higher education than the rest of the women in Athens as they were “taught poetry and music” and could eventually join in on conversations such as politics (page 9), something that was male dominated in ancient Athens.
Finally! Something that both Spartan and Athenian women have in common. Both sets of women had no public influence on political decisions. In Sparta, men did not allow women to speak publicly and they were isolated from men in this regard (page 11). This was harsher in Athens, where Athenian men felt that women “brought disorder, evil and were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy” and thus, basically incapable of making correct political decisions (page 8).
This post may have portrayed Spartan women to have such carefree and easygoing lives and while that is true (as compared to Athenian women at least), we cannot forget that they were still treated as the lesser gender. Therefore, we came up with a guide essential for women survival in ancient Greece dubbed “Survival 101”.
All jokes aside, women really were treated very harshly in the ancient times and although the issue of women equality has taken a massive leap forward in today’s society, it is important for us to keep it going and strive for total equality. Spreading awareness of the miserable lives women had to endure in the past is our way of contributing and we hoped that this post was an eye-opener for you readers!