The Women of Sparta

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Sparta was cut off from the rest of Greece by high mountains and wild country sides, there for Spartans developed their own ideas of society and government. A domineering society that focused upon its military strength, Sparta did not allow its citizens the lenient lifestyle of Athenians. The ideology of Sparta was oriented around the state. The individual lived (and died) for the state. Their lives were designed to serve the state from their beginning to the age of sixty.

Women's lives were similar in many parts of ancient Greece, but the Greeks themselves singled out the city state of Sparta as being greatly different. The women of Sparta were granted an equal stake in the success or failure of their state. With their fathers and husbands constantly away training or at war, the women of Sparta were responsible for all else in Spartan society.

Individual families headed by a husband were insignificant in Spartan society. Instead, the state laid down rules for everyone. Boys were sent away from home at around the age of seven to be trained as soldiers where they lived in army barracks until they were around 30 years old, even then, the men might have been absent for months, fighting in battles. This resulted in the Spartan women having to be very self dependent, they had to manage households all alone. Unlike other Greek women, Spartan women could own land and property and make all decisions on how it was to be run.

“‘When a woman from Attica asked ‘Why is it that you Spartans are the only women who can rule men?’ Gorgo replied, ‘Because we are the only ones who give birth to men.’” (Plutarch, Sayings of Spartan Women, 240.5 translated in Pomeroy, 2002, 60) “‘The licence of the Lacedaemonian women defeats the intention of the Spartan constitution, and is adverse to good order of the State. For a husband and a wife, being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the woman is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And 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. The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizens fall under the dominion of their wives…the influence of the Lacedaemonian women has been most mischievous…when Lycurgus, as tradition says, wanted to bring the women under his laws, they resisted, and he gave up the attempt. They, and not he, are to blame for what then happened, and this defect in the constitution is clearly to be attributed to them. We are not, however, considering what is or is not to be excused, but what is right or wrong, and the disorder of the women…not only of itself gives an air of indecorum to the state, but tends in a measure to foster avarice.’” (Aristotle, Politics, 1269b12 translated in Lefkowitz and Fant, 1982, 39-40) “‘The mention of avarice naturally suggests a criticism of the inequality of property. While some of the Spartan citizens have quite small properties, others have very large ones; hence the land has passed into the hands of a few. And here is another fault in their laws; for, although the legislator rightly holds up to shame the sale or purchase of an inheritance, he allows anybody who likes to give and bequeath it. Yet both practices lead to the same result. And nearly two-fifths of the whole country are held by women; this is owing to the number of heiresses and to the large dowries which are customary. It would surely have been better to have given no dowries at all, or, if any, but small or moderate ones…Hence, although the country is able to maintain 1,500 cavalry and 30,000 hoplites, the whole number of Spartans citizens fell below1,000…’” (Aristotle, Politics, 1270a15...
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