Ancient Greece is one of the most well-known civilizations in human history. It is famous for its social and political development as well as scientific research and progressive approach to life. Even though generally, women in Ancient Greece had fewer rights than men, in some cases, seeds of equality and social justice can be de found. Considering the patriarchal aspects of human history and systematic oppression of women throughout time, Ancient Greece may be considered to be more respectful to women than any other civilizations of that time. There are numerous examples in almost every area of life, which confirm that women had significant social and legislative rights. One of these examples is Spartan women sharing the same rights with men, including the ability to own land or to do physical training (Cartwright). There are also known examples of women taking part in such activities as philosophy, physics, and poetry.
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Ancient Greek mythology also supports Greek women having more rights than expected in ancient times. Greek religion includes a number of powerful Goddesses, who play a crucial role in mythology and faith. War and military might are traditionally associated with men as women were not allowed to participate in military campaigns throughout history. However, the main symbol and deity related to warfare is Athena, the Goddess of war. She represents such qualities as bravery, strength, intelligence, courage, and honor, which are not traditionally linked to women in patriarchic societies. Even though other Goddesses represented more traditional values such as motherhood or protection of the home, their presence in mythology indicates the importance of women and a relatively respectful attitude.
As already mentioned, ancient Greece was an advanced civilization with developed science and even an education system. Education was established for both men and women. Nevertheless, knowledge received by girls was more focused on dancing, gymnastics, and music, whereas boys studied hard science. Some researchers claim that there were schools where boys and girls learned to read and write jointly. Girl’s education was designed to give specific knowledge needed to play the social role of a housewife and not to provide intellectual development (Catwright). Therefore, education-related rights may not be as significant as oppression related to marriage and women’s societal positions. Girls were forced to marriage at the age of fourteen or fifteen without consent as such decisions were made by their fathers (Hemingway). Women had no rights of citizenship, and the social statuses of a woman were closely linked with marriage and motherhood (Hemingway).
Veils played a considerable role in the lives of ancient Greek women. Even though the obligation to wear veils in public caused inconvenience and may not be considered positive, it enabled women to do public activities autonomously (Llewellyn-Jones). Veils had considerable cultural, symbolic, religious, and practical value. They served as a mobile extension of the private home area. Veils were first introduced at the same period when women began to gain certain civic rights. According to some studies, even though women were granted more opportunities and possibilities in public life, they still remained to be controlled by a strict framework designed by men (Llewellyn-Jones). In this context, veils may be viewed as a limitation of women’s rights and an attempt at public control of female sexuality.
Another important part in a life of an ancient Greek woman included religious festivals. As mentioned before, during the educations, girls obtained specific skills in dancing and music. Such knowledge was necessary to conduct festivals in honor of various Gods and Goddesses properly. Religious rituals had a great impact on the process of upbringing girls as festivals influenced their life values and were designed to promote marriage as a primary life goal. For example, girls were chosen to participate in festivals honoring the Goddess Artemis. During the festival, girls acted like wild animals tamed through marriage (Hemingway).
Motherhood was the prime purpose of marriage. As the marriage of convenience was a common practice, both women and men frequently were not interested in their partners. Therefore, men used the services of prostitutes, and women were almost imprisoned in their own houses. Women were allowed to go outside only escorted by slaves, and they were supposed to be as imperceptible as possible. Women were not observed by medical doctors before, during, or after childbirth. The ancient Greeks believed the presence of an Artemis’ servant was sufficient. Hence, maternal mortality and morbidity reached horrifyingly high rates. According to statistics, women lived no longer than forty years on average.
The modern vision of ancient Greek history is contested by various researchers, and overall appears to be controversial. Points of contention are particularly related to the role and status of a woman in ancient Greece. Most valuable scriptures, historical documents, and texts, which survived through the ages, were written by male philosophers and chroniclers. Therefore it is hard to obtain objective knowledge about ancient Greek women. Moreover, modern historical studies may also be considered to be non-objective towards women. The history of women may appear to be undeveloped, and women are unrepresented in historical studies (Katz). In most cases, women are represented as a part of society, and no sufficient historical knowledge is obtained (Katz).
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The divisiveness of research related to women in ancient Greece is maintained by opposing perceptions of the same facts. There are some people who may evaluate the general attitude to women in ancient Greece as respectful. However, there are many others who strongly disagree with such a point of view. Historical facts are incredibly relative and may be interpreted variously. Consequently, opposing views form frequently. Women in ancient Greece were undoubtedly oppressed by patriarchy. They were not allowed to go out in public freely, they received the worst places in the theatre, they were not considered independent, and marriage was viewed as the primary goal. They were obliged to follow specific strict rules and deprived of many common rights. Nevertheless, there were significant positive tendencies in society. Women were allowed to get an education and, in some cases, even own land. Powerful goddesses could serve as inspiration and protectors in terms of faith.
Conclusively, there obviously was no equality as ancient Greek women had insignificant rights, and historical studies may not provide objective knowledge about women’s position in ancient society. Nonetheless, it is crucial to compare the status of women in ancient Greece not only to modern standards but to other ancient civilizations. Ancient Greek civilization granted more rights and freedoms than some more recent patriarchal societies. Even though it may be necessary to apply modern principles and values in the process of historical analysis, it is also needed to take the specificity of the studied time into account.
Cartwright, Mark. “Women in Ancient Greece.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 2016, Web.
Hemingway, Colette. “Women in Classical Greece.” Metmuseum, 2004, Web.
Katz, Marilyn. “Ideology and ‘The Status of Women’ in Ancient Greece.” History and Theory, vol. 31, no. 4, 1992, pp. 70–97. JSTOR, Web.
Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd. “House and Veil in Ancient Greece.” British School at Athens Studies, vol. 15, 2007, pp. 251–258. JSTOR, Web.