Thursday March 6th, 2014
Short Assignment #2 (10%)
Women in Athens & Sparta
Considered two of the most notorious cities in Greek history, it is actually one of the few things Athens and Sparta share in common. The two cities took two separate paths towards power. Athens focusing on its politics while Sparta focused on military. These individual ways of life impacted both cities, creating large differences between the two societies, including how women were treated.
Written in the article “Women in Ancient Greece.” by James C. Thompson on the topic of Athenian marriages, he states that it was the fathers task to set up the marriage for his daughter.1 This reveals how Athenian woman do not have as many rights since the father chooses her husband instead of choosing for herself. What makes it even worse is that the father chooses a man based on his needs rather than his daughters. Thompson explains this saying, “marriages in Ancient Athens were arranged at a meeting of the senior men, with little concern for the thoughts of the groom and absolutely none for the wishes of the girl.”2 This seems more like business instead of an actual marriage. It sounds no different than trading a slave, searching for the best deal. Once they are married, the husband is legally obliged to become her guardian or “Kyrios”, passing her from under the protection of her father to her husband.3 It looks as if this benefits a woman by offering her protection, but being a guardian means they “acted on her behalf anytime she needed legal contact with the outside or public world [...] effective control of any money or property that she might posses.”4 This included the dowry given from the father and the husband would take “effective control” over it. There were just as many differences in rights between the men and women of Athens as there were between the two cities of Athens and Sparta. Men could vote and had complete control over the household even though it was the wife who spent entire days working inside it. Women of Athens were taken advantage of through their lack of rights and could do nothing about it because of their lack of rights.
Spartan women had more freedom compared to Athenian women. Thompson, now speaking about Spartan women states, “if Spartan women had no say in the choice of husband they certainly had more power and status in every other aspect.”5 Spartan women were practically equal to men at the time. First off, “Women did not have a vote in the assembly but seem to have a lot of influence behind the scene [...] Women could own property [...] Daughters inherited along with sons.”6 Already the Spartan women easily had more rights than an average Athenian women. They were able to speak their mind as described, “Plutarch wrote that 'the men of Sparta always obeyed their wives.”7 Normally women would not have any say in most matters from that age. Women of Sparta had much more freedom compared to the other women of Greece. They were able to play sports, wear tunics in any size of their preference, and get an education just like men could.8 These women were praised on the strong warriors they bore and they knew it. From the excerpts of Plutarch, he quotes a few Spartan ladies and one of them, “Being asked by a woman from Attica 'Why is it that you Spartan women are the only women that have strong and obedient men,' she said, 'Because we are the only women that give birth to real men'.”9 Women of Sparta were smart and strong people and about just as sturdy as their city. In a city like Sparta where the slaves outnumber the citizens, everyone needed to have a strong mind and body.
If I were a woman of Ancient Greece, I would definitely want to be a spartan woman. They were strong people, even compared to women of today's generation. Spartan women also have multiple slaves they were able to give commands to, which would mean less house work compared to a woman of Athens who may of had one, maybe two slaves. Overall, the life of a Spartan lady would be my choice due to the fact that they just had more rights and respect than any other woman in the past and present, all across the world and a Spartan woman earned that title just by living in the city of Sparta where the most important ideals were military and equality.