Life in Ancient Greece:
Spartan men and women
Professor Shepardson November 18, 2008
The ancient city of Sparta has had a lasting impression on the world today. Sparta was a model of discipline, conformity, militarism, and virtue. It was a prominent city state, but its society was unique from typical life in Greece. Sparta was a military state, believing in having only the strong and not the weak to maintain the army. At the time of birth, every child considered a property of the state, especially males. If a male child appeared deformed, the infant was left on a mountain at a place called the Apothatae. Spartan values of the state led them to develop uncommon roles of its people than typical Greek life.
The Spartan system astonished and puzzled other Greeks who didn’t understand it and either saw it as barbaric and disapproved or commended them (Michell, H., 41). To begin with, Spartan women were unlike any other Greek woman of her time. They can be similarly compared to modern day women. They were famously known for their beauty, grace despite not wearing jewelry or ornate fashion and also the liberties they shared with their men counterparts. Spartan women were more dominant in their society than Athenian; women and lived lives away from men due to the Spartan social construct.
Reared from childhood, females were taught to read write, arts, the customs and tradition of Spartan culture to insure the continuation of the Sparta’s system. Girls were encouraged to be physically and emotionally strong to serve the state by marriage and be able to produce strong healthy male soldiers. Spartan girls competed in athletics at the same time as the boys and may have done so in the nude before a mixed audience. All aspects of education were important because women needed to oversee domestic responsibilities, control property, agriculture needs, and business investments. They served the men by procreation thus serving the state which in turned served them. Women were truly independent and considered equal to men.
Spartan women married at a much later age than other Greek women, marrying at age 18. “The custom was to capture women for marriage–not when they were slight and immature, but when they were in their prime and ripe for it” (Plutarch, 2nd century A.D., Life of Lycurgus, 15.1-5 translated in Fantham, 1994, 62). She was then taken to her mother-in –law who cut her hair to look like a boy as men were accustomed to intercourse with men and it might be his first time with a female. Her duty to her husband was to provide offspring to become future Sparta citizens. Marriage in Sparta did not mean love, its pure purpose was to procreate and carry on society. In fact, if a husband and wife could not conceive children, he could sleep with another man’s wife with his permission to have a child. It was considered a service to state and promoted Spartan allegiance. And a woman whom had three or more sons was given special privileges.
Women spent their youth and much of their lives maintain physical fitness for the sole purpose of bearing children and surviving the ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth. For a woman in ancient Sparta, motherhood was central to society deemed important and significant. If a woman died in childbirth, a grave marker would be placed on her tombstone equivalent to that a man who died in battle. When pregnant or nursing, they were allotted the same types of foods as men. The care of children was for the most part left in the hands of mothers since as husbands served in the military. Women raised their sons until the age of eight at which they were then sent off to the military school. Women taught their sons to be strong and not to show emotional weakness. They encouraged them to have bravery and did not mourn their loss in battle. A remark said to have been used by a Spartan mother is to have been Come...
Bibliography: Jones, A. H. M. Sparta. Cambridge: Harvad University Press, 1967.
Michell, H. Sparta. Cambridge: Unversity Press, 1952.
Warfford, Anita Angeline. “The Development and Impact of Gender Roles in Sparta.” The Catacombs. 12 Oct. 2008 < http://home.triad.rr.com/warfford/ancient/spartagen.html>.
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