Spartan Women vs Athenian Women

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Spartan Women vs Athenian Women

By | November 2006
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Most people think of ancient Athens as the city of freedom and democracy, while they think of Sparta as a highly restricted society. The schools teach us that modern democracies are modeled on Athens, while military dictatorships are modeled on Sparta. However, history shows us that women had much more liberty in Sparta than in Athens. In fact, the democracy of Athens was available only to free men who were citizens of Athens. Moreover, to claim citizenship, an Athenian had to prove that both his parents were "astoi." For the father, being "astos" meant that he was an Athenian citizen, but the mother could not be a citizen. Women were never citizens, but only able to transmit the rights of citizenship to their sons (Perry, et al, 1992, pp.60-61). The political structure of Sparta, on the other hand, provided more liberty for more people, especially when those people were women. This goes against our generally held beliefs, yet there is much evidence for it. Both Athenian and Spartan women lived much of their lives separately from the men of their societies. Athenian men spent time away discussing politics and philosophy, but when they went home they expected obedience from their wives. Moreover, no Athenian citizen would ever admit that he took advice from a woman. Spartan men were gone even more, since they were soldiers. Only the men held official office, but everyone recognized the influence of women in decision making. Spartan women gained freedom from male domination, but they were not likely to get any emotional support from their marriages. The men of Athens had to be the boss in public, but not necessarily in the home behind closed doors. In Athens, the men held public power, but in Sparta the state held public power (Perry, et al, 1992, pp.54-55, pp. 60-61). Even the style of dress reveals the relative liberty of the Spartan women, compared with the Athenian women. Athenian wives wore plain, modest clothing. Only prostitutes were allowed to wear...