Women Roles During Wartime in Ancient Greece and Rome

According to the world literature, various communities have continued to restrict the ability and rights of women to manage as well as own property. Highly regarded women who dared to spend their time in public were frowned upon. Nevertheless, at times women applied the power of public protest to make their achievements. A good example was the demonstration of women against the Oppian Law. This Law was passed as a result of the devastating trounce of the Romans by Hannibal at the clash of Cannae (216 B.C.). Many men perished as a result of wars with Carthage. Their daughters and wives inherited their property and monies, making women to be very rich. In order to gather some funding for the war, the state passed the Oppian law so as to tap the wealth of women. It limited the quantity of gold to be possessed by women requiring that all the funds of widows and single women be deposited with the state.

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However, women of ancient Sparta make a significant exception. Not only did they own land but they also controlled over 40 percent of Sparta’s entire agricultural terrain in the early 4th century B.C. besides, women from Sparta were able to move freely, they were publicly educated, politically influential to a point whereby scholars from Asia blamed them for the decline of Sparta as a key power and were outspoken to the level of being famous. To a large extent Sparta can be said to be the least enlightened among the various Greek city estates. (Cartledge, 2003) Athens was the most democratic city-state, a hive for philosophy and source of the greatest art, where earlier on women were not permitted to own property, got little education, and faced harsh restrictions on their ability to move about in public.

The very unusual rights that women from Sparta possesses occurred following the reason that women were expected to complete tasks that were especially valuable to men as well as very costly to be monitored by men. By distinction, in most cultures prior to the industrial revolution (incorporating the rest of ancient Greece), a man’s perspective was that a woman made good value of her time through performing tasks that were either with few incentive problems in terms of compatibility or could be easily monitored. For instance, raising children along with other duties carried out by women traditionally. This saw the society assigning most of the domestic roles to women. Their duties and responsibilities included preparing meals for their husbands and children ensuring that everything runs smoothly in the house. Consequently, most men had very little to gain as a result of women’s right expansion making women rights to remain restricted correspondingly. (Freeman, 1999) they were with the view that expanding the rights of women would not benefit the in any way and therefore wanted

Sparta was a different case, the essential moment in the history of Sparta as well as the impulsion for Sparta’s decision to grant women’s rights became Sparta’s take-over of Messenia, a neighboring territory, in the late 8 century B.C. Through the capture, Sparta obtained two valuable assets, that is, a captive labor force and the very fertile agricultural land in the area. This altered the marginal product of Spartan labor in three significant ways. First, the regular threat of rebellion by the enslaved Messenians raised the return to Spartan men’s time that was spent in the military, therefore escalating the opportunity cost of their time that could be spent in other activities. Second, the enslaved Messenians provided labor, to the Spartan agricultural activities, which included supervising land use, riding out to estates, as well as selecting breeding stock, instead of engaging in planting trees, terracing the land and handling animals for breeding. Sparta emerged to be the only Greek city-state that based its agricultural production on captured labor and territory. However, this does not imply that labor was free in the rest of Greece but slavery was common.

Third, the invasion offered abundant supply of service labor to carry out household duties, such that Marginal product of time devoted to housework by Spartan women declined. Sparta made a response through the re-writing its constitution. (Freeman, 1999) This in itself led to the shift of women roles from domestic to other roles played by men. At this war period women proved that they were equally able to serve in the military a thing that saw massive inclusion of women in the army and their work was quite satisfying.

Women contributed largely in the civil war. Most of them would camouflage themselves as spies or men so as to fight in the war. These women offered intelligence services to the men concerning their enemy. They would use tricks to gather information on how their enemy had planned to attack them thus making good their combat. Other women acted as aides, doctors and nurses in the war torn zones. The aides assisted men in carrying and transporting the firearms to the battle fields as well as providing them with food and water. Those who acted as doctors played a role of treating the injured men (in the battlefield) through the provision of medicines and related health services, for example, first aid services to the injured. For the nurses, they took care of the sick, that is, those militants who were injured while participating in the war ensuring that they achieved a quick recovery. For those who were not participating in the war they made considerable contributions through manufacturing things for the war, these include the protective clothing’s and the fighting tools and equipments. (Freeman, 1999)

Women performed exemplary in their role as spies. They ensured that they protected their side from the enemy but ensured that they gathered useful and more information from their rivals so as to enable their side to carry victory in the war. This they did so well such that considerable steps were made in achieving victory. They really assisted many individuals thus helping them come out of danger of attack by their enemy in war. The people they assisted were very thankful for the role played by women. Some of the most famous spies include Belle Boyd who joined the military in her teen age. Even after serving in the military at such a tender age, Belle Boyd made huge contributions and her work was equal to that of an adult. She played her role as a spy very professionally such that she was admired by many. However, Belle was arrested severally while playing her role but determination kept her in the role. Surprisingly Belle Boyd went on with her job even after being arrested six times. She was not the kind of women who would shy

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away as a result of challenges entrenched into their roles; she had the determination of carrying on no matter what came her way. Her duty was to ran across the battlefield delivering useful military information to the military personnel. Mostly this information was obtained from the enemies in a professional manner or the information was passed to her by the military advisers who were staying in secluded places where they drafted the war tactics to be applied against the enemy. (Acemoglu, 2004)

Although Sparta and Athens were both city-states located in Southern Greece, the two city-estates had both similar and different characteristics. Though they had the same kind of government Athenians had a different way of living when compared to the Spartans. Located in the Southern part of Greece, Sparta largely focused on its military ability. This idea came about after they were conquered by a town they had ruled earlier. Boys joined the military at an early age of seven years whereas the girls ran, wrestled and played various competitive sports. Women never had a very crucial role. They roles were mostly restricted to the domestic chores and it is surprising that they were not allowed to vote or even join the assembly or council. The assembly comprised of free adult males who were elected. The Spartans had a diverse community, and social groups.

Located on the southeastern tip of Greece, Athens focused its life on culture, art and education. The Athenians circumvented Civil war. Theirs was a democratic government comprising of purely free adult males. Women from Athens were housekeepers. They raised children, weaved clothes, and carried out other household chores. However, women found themselves taking those roles believed to be of men since most men were in the battle field serving in the military and therefore women had a duty of taking those roles to ensure that everything in their homes was in order. The Athenians had a written law. This law was headed by Solon a leader trusted by everyone. (Freeman, 1999)They also had their own social groupings. They were eager and open to learn new things and unlike the Spartans, Athenians were not very occupied with wars. Its strange how two city-states existing in the same country and at the same period of time could be similar, yet so different.

On the other hand, Romans are believed to have borrowed the Greeks polytheistic religion. They only changed the gods’ names. The Greeks tried a range of governments together with a limited democracy. The Romans also tried various types centering more on dictatorships and republics. In those ancient times, the Greeks lacked unity amongst themselves. It spread and expanded the Hellenistic views under the leadership of Alexander the Great. The Romans formed one of the most powerful empires. Although both the Greeks and the Romans accepted slavery as a way of life, the Romans welcomed some foreigners and offered citizenship to them.

Women in Rome were not allowed to wear those dresses that had a purple trim (a color that represented mourning for the losses in Rome). Also they could not ride in carriages either within Rome or those towns near Rome. Women on Rome obeyed this restraint but with protests. Nevertheless, towards the end of the victorious Second Punic War in 201 B.C., women in towns outside Rome and male Romans again dressed themselves in their rich clothing and also rode in carriages. However, the denial off these luxuries remained to the women in Rome most arguably due to the Oppian Law.

In both societies, women were regarded as 2nd class citizens. The wealthier women in Rome controlled all the slaves as well as their houses. Most wives had a lot of independence since a good number of men were away serving in the military.


Acemoglu, D. et al. “Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Mid-century.” Journal of Political Economy 112: 497-551, 2004.

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Cartledge, P. The Spartans. New York: Overlook Press, 2003.

Freeman, Charles. The Greek Achievement. New York: Allen Lane Penguin Press, 1999.

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