Their Role in Society
Compared to Athenian Women
Spartan Women were definitely more dominant in society in comparison to their Athenian Sisters. Spartan women had the freedom of equality in their society
but were not allowed to vote and they had a reputation for
boldness and licentiousness that other Greeks found unseemly. The women of Sparta were known for their education, athleticism, producing children, and their natural beauty. Unfortunately, there is no real historical documentation that spells out the ways of the women of Sparta. Historians rely on the accounts of Archaic Greek (7th century) poets and other subsequent Greek historians and literary figures to piece together the history, and sometimes the mythology, of the lives and culture of Spartan women. Education was a huge part of a Spartans woman’s life and one of the most recognised differences, which made the Spartan women quite diverse compared to the rest of the women living in different cities, especially Athenian women. Athenian women participated in domestic arts such as spinning and weaving. Spartan women were taught reading and writing and such tasks were relegated to the Helots or Perioeci. A girl's education was equally as brutal as the men's. "Teaching a woman to read and write? What a terrible thing to do! It’s like feeding a vile snake on more poison." -A Menander’s (an Athenian) reaction to a Spartan women’s education. Spartan girls from the age of 7 were entitled to an education. This education however was physical more so than academic, but nevertheless must have been extremely important to Sparta as they are the only Greeks to of instituted it as state policy. The girls attended their own sisterhood barracks where they were taught gymnastics, wrestling and survival skills. It is said that the girls participated in the same activities as the boys which included many events such as javelin, discus, foot races, and staged battles. In many such events Spartan women usually competed naked in the presence of their male counterparts, and were respected for their athletic feats. Plutarch mentions nude rituals witnessed by young men. Athleticism was also seen as a guarantee that the strong and fit Spartan women would reproduce, and when they bore children, those children would be strong warriors in the making. Marriage for a Spartan woman was an almost non-ceremonial event. During the marriage ceremony, the bride wore a white robe, a veil, and jewellery given to her by her husband’s family. The ceremony usually took place in the groom’s tent and the festivities lasted seven days. If a woman was wealthy enough she could have even had a husband for each house she maintained. The night before the ceremony an abnormal tradition was carried out, the woman was abducted in the night by her suitor, her head was shaved, and she was made to wear men's clothing and lie on a straw pallet in the dark. From there on she would meet with her husband for almost entirely procreative reasons. If she was formerly a girl, she became a woman through marriage and her childhood toys were taken and dedicated to a goddess. Any Spartan man could abduct a wife, which led to a system of polyandry (many husbands, one wife or vice versa) in Sparta. Some arranged marriages were even chosen on the women’s athletic ability. Before marrying, a couple was required to wrestle in public to show their compatibility. If compatible the groom’s father would agree to the marriage, and twelve months after this selection the couple would marry. Spartan women could also take another husband if their first had been away at war for too long, which Plutarch recorded in his writings: When king Leonidas left to fight the Persians he advised his wife and presumably other likely widows: To marry good men and bear good children. (The Ancient World, 1997, p104) While there is no proof one way or another, it seems likely that Spartan marriages were arranged by the parents with...
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