Women in Ancient Greece

Women in Ancient


Womenís role in Greece can be seen when
one first begins to do research on the subject. The subject of women
in Greece is coupled with the subject of slaves. This is the earliest
classification of women in Greek society. Although women were treated
differently from city to city the basic premise of that treatment never
changed. Women were only useful for establishing a bloodline that
could carry on the family name and give the proper last rites to the husband.

However, women did form life long bonds with their husbands and found love
in arranged marriages.


Women are "defined as near slaves, or
as perpetual minors" in Athenian society (The Greek World, pg. 200).

For women life didnít extend far from the home, which was thought to be
their sole realm of existence. Though they ranked higher than slaves
did, they were treated in many of the same ways. Just like slaves,
their mothers trained women as adolescents what their domestic duties were.

They were secluded from all males, including those in their family.

They lived in gynaikeion, which were womenís apartments in Athens (Daily

Life in Greece, pg. 55). They were kept at home where they were taught
the proper manners and duties of a desirable wife. "Marriage was
the inevitable goal to which her whole life tended. To remain a spinster
was the worst disgrace which could befall a woman" (Everyday Life in Ancient

Greece, pg. 82). However, it was seen as more of a disgrace on her
father who Ďownedí her until she was married.

Although Athenian women were completely
in charge of their household and slaves, they didnít have much freedom.

They rarely left the house, unless they were part of some sort of religious
procession. They could only walk abroad in the streets if accompanied
by a slave or other attendant. It was improper for respectable women
to share the same social entertainments as men. Even if caught in
the courtyard of the house by a male visitor, they would return to the
seclusion of their own apartments. Pericles once said, "it was their
business to be spoken of as little as possible whether for good or ill"
(Everyday Life in Ancient Greece, pg. 82). This sentiment describes
the extent of the importance of women in society. Marriage was their
only major role in the lives of men.


The betrothal was arranged by the parents
as a strictly business contract. The parentís choice of a suitable
groom for their bride was a matter of pride and status for the family.

The groomís choice in bride was largely determined by the amount of dowry
the bride would bring with her. Although the wedding was a happy
ceremony, it was only the beginning of a womanís loss of independence.

Not only did women possess no independent status in the eyes of the law;
she always remained under the supervision of a male. If her husband
died, she was returned to her fatherís or brotherís home where they would
take charge of her.

After the wedding, the wifeís duties were
centered on the management of the home. She would overlook the slaves,
mend and make clothing for her family, usually done by spinning or knitting,
weave rugs and baskets for the home, or just fold and refold the clothing
kept in the family chest. The wife was also responsible for maintaining
her attractiveness for her husband. A proper Athenian wife would
adorn herself with jewelry and use rouge upon her husbandís arrival home.

Sometimes she might spend an entire evening sitting next to the couch where
her husband lay reclining.

Most importantly the Athenian women were
seen as "fine upstanding matrons" fit to bear a race of excellent athletes"
(Everyday Life in Ancient Greece, pg. 86). An Athenian man married
primarily to have children. These children were expected to care
for him in his old age, but more importantly to bury him with the "full
appropriate rites" (Daily Life in Greece, pg. 57). Moreover, Athenian
men married to have male children in order to perpetuate the family line
and guarantee him honors when he died. It was also a large disgrace
for a man to be unmarried. Basically, Athenians married not out of
love for each other, but for religious and social convenience.


All this aside, love was abundant in Greek
society. Although love was never a determining factor in marriages,
a lifelong bond and devotion developed between a couple as the years passed.

"We know that the Greeks of the fifth and fourth century used the