Based on previously known information it is impossible to describe all the aspects of Greek women’s lives in a precise way. It is certain what ancient Greeks thought of women and what were the relationships between them but the way women lived far from their husbands’ world and what they did in other women’s companionship seems to remain a mystery to us?
Athens and Sparta provide us most information about Greek women. Archaeologists suppose that less important ancient polis “copied” relations that dominated there.
Women in Athens
Athenian philosophers, except Plato, held that women had a very poor mind but a strong emotional realm. They could harm themselves and other people, therefore they should be protected from themselves and, if it’s possible, incapacitated. That’s why each woman had her own guardian – usually he was a father, brother, husband or other relative of her.
A woman could own a property, such as clothes, jewellery, slaves, however, she wasn’t able to buy anything, to own a land or to contract. A guardian controlled all aspects of her life. Athenian citizenship enabled her to marry another citizen, to partake in religious ceremonies, but she still had no voting right or financial independence.
Girls in Athens got married soon after puberty to much older men. Young Greek’s guardian was obliged to provide bride a suitable dowry. Betrothal symbolised groom’ s full approval of fiancée and her dowry. Usually, there were two reasons for marriages: the management of property and production of future heirs, emotions played no role there.
Each wife’s duty was to born legitimate children and to manage the chores in an economical way. She was expected to remain inside her home; women seen in the street were prostitutes, slaves or they were just so poor, that they had to work on their own. The most important activities of a good wife were childcare, spinning and weaving. Athenians thought that the best woman was the one of whom the least was heard, whether if it was good or bad, and that it behoves woman to go out not before she was old.
However, it turns out that Athenian’s reality differed from their ideals. There’s some evidence that there were women, who could read, write and vase paintings suggest that they frequently gathered together.
Women in Sparta
On account of Sparta’s military organisation, the lives that Spartan women led differed from those of their sisters in Athens. For the reason that their husbands, fathers and brothers stayed all the day out, Spartan women had greater freedom than Athenian women had.
It seems likely that the marriages were organised by parents of groom and bride and that a girl had nothing to say when her future husband was being chosen. A girl got married when she was eighteen. This age had to guarantee strong and healthy children, not a great amount of them. In fact girls were mature and far more prepared for marriages, being a wife and a mother.
In contrary to the Athens, Spartan women could inherit on equal terms as their brothers. There was no law that forbade them owning a property. In fact, they owned more than a third of land in Sparta. Formally, daughter inherited half of what a son inherited, but if we take an obtained dowry into consideration, we will see that they finally ended up with a full share of estate.
Spartan females had a reputation of bold, daring women, which Greek from other polis found unseemly. They wore short, loose tunics that gave them so much freedom of movement they wanted. Girls exercised at the same time as boys and, just like boys, did so in the nude. They were also encouraged to improve their intellectual skills.
Athenian husband spent little time in his own home – most of the day he was on agora, listening to famous philosophers and discussing about politics, and when he came back, he expected a full obedience from wife. Spartan man was absent even more, so it was the women who incurred for the whole family. Men had to make decisions about the state and its army. By that means woman gained freedom from men’s domination, but led all state matters in their hands.
If we want to consider a position of a woman in ancient Greece, we have to remember about the special way a marriage was perceived. According to Greek societies it was only a formality, a duty of each citizen not an evidence of an emotional bond. Men used to find emotions and female companionship outside of marriage – with heteras and concubines.