Ancient Greek society was one of the most highly developed communities of its time. Science thrived, and so did the economy, architecture, literature, art, and many other components of any culture. On the other hand, however developed the ancient Greek society may seem, there was indeed place for certain shortcomings. They came in the form of legal slavery and social inequality.
One may argue that there was almost no place for a woman in the Greek society of that time. Moreover, no member of the community would even think of such possibility. Thus, the women of ancient Greece were not represented in any form of law-making process, nor in any public activities or art forms. Nevertheless, the women held a particular position in that society, which will be analyzed in this paper.
Ancient Greece’s Women Rights
As stated by Bergh and Lyttkens (2014), “women could not appear in court and were for many purposes treated as the property of their husbands” (p. 295). It may seem outrageous, especially considering how much of an influence women possess nowadays.
Women of ancient Greece, however, were perceived as mere tools to achieve individual goals. Marriage, bringing children to this world, and taking care of them – this is how much a woman’s position in the society was reduced. Although it may seem rather barbaric for a person that lives in our time, such treatment of women rights was not something unusual for ancient Greeks.
Although the work by Bergh and Lyttkens mostly focuses on estimating the institutional quality that ancient Athens possessed, it explicitly states how misrepresented women were in every form of social activities (save for crowding and public entertainment) on multiple occasions.
Furthermore, women did not indulge in any form of art or sciences. Every discovery or literary work, or sculpture produced in ancient Greece is a work of men’s hands and minds. It is not hard to state, that this is not a way to build a society. At least, that applies to the community that exists now.
Furthermore, one may argue that the downfall of ancient Greece was partly due to this conservative approach to evaluating different society members’ contribution to progress. Needless to say, that opinion diversity is almost certainly a flawless component that shapes any culture. The more opinions and people contributing to art, science, and political debates there is, the more chances there are to find a better and more innovative approach to any topic.
Therefore, it is evident that women of ancient Greece possessed little to no rights. They were seen as instruments, a means to an end. Their sole role in the society was to give birth and raise children. Their influence did not even spread as much as to educate their children or take care of them.
Of course, in their earlier years, children and their mothers were inseparable, but then they were mentored by their slave teachers who also made sure that no harm comes to the children for which they are responsible. Under no circumstances would such a model of society prove to be vital nowadays.
Ancient Greece’s Women Role
An article by Cartwright (2016) dwells on the topic of ancient Greece’s women role in society in a very broad perspective. However, the author notes that “when considering the role of women in ancient Greece one should remember that information regarding particular city-states is often lacking, is almost always from male authors, and only in Athens can their status and role be described in any great detail” (para. 1).
Indeed, there is almost no way to speak about every particular detail of women’s role in ancient Greece in precise details. However, the documented facts are present, and they allow recreating a more or less clear picture of what women’s role was in that society.
Women of ancient Greece were treated in the same manner almost in all of ancient Greece except for Sparta, where women had to undergo physical training, were allowed to possess their land, and could also drink wine as men did. Other than that, women’s role was that of a shopkeepers, prostitutes or courtesans.
However, these roles of ancient Greece’s women are the ones that are much less documented. Nevertheless, there were some exceptions, though rare. Sappho of Lesbos was a well-known poet. Arete of Cyrene was recognized for her philosophical works. Aspasia of Athens and Gorgo of Sparta were trustworthy leaders amongst their fellow countrymen, and Agnodice of Athens was an acclaimed physician.
With the exceptions listed, there is almost no other role that women could fit in ancient Greece. Young women were expected to marry as virgins and then help to raise children and take care of household’s everyday problems. With marriage successfully concluded, woman’s rights fell into the hands of her husband. Therefore, from law’s perspective, married women had no distinctive rights.
It is safe to assume that the modern society has gained a lot of progress society-wise. This may be stated by simply considering how little of importance ancient Greece’s women possessed.
They had little to no rights, were treated as tools, and were mostly restricted from partaking in any form of scientific, political, or artistic activity. However, there were, of course, exceptions and there were social roles that women could play. Such is the picture of a woman in ancient Greek society.
Bergh, A., & Lyttkens, C. H. (2014). Measuring institutional quality in ancient Athens. Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(2), 279-310.
Cartwright, M. (2016). Women in ancient Greece. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/article/927/