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Comparing the Lives of Athenian & Spartan Women

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 3028 words Published: 16th Aug 2021

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Athen and Sparta were two great city-states of Greece Empire. The two city-states were located far from each other. Athen located in Attica, a peninsula with a number of islands and rocky soil; this location enabled Athenain people to choose trading as their economic life. Sparta, which was a capital of Lacinia and also city-state in ancient Greece, located on the right bank of the Evrétas River that stretch 32.5 km from the sea. Athen from the name of goodness Athena, who won the competition with the sea god named Poseidon. Around 800 BC, the aristocracy in Athens replaced the king as the head of government; and ruled the city-state toward democracy. The Athenian men became the citizens after two years of military training. The young men learned between the age of 8 and 18 of several subjects such as grammar, music, and art of public speaking. Spartan was one of the divisions of inhabitants of Laconia, and the Spartan was well-known as the highest class in the society, they were the governors, rulers and soldiers. The system of Sparta government was a monarchy. The life in Sparta was similar to that of other city-state of the Greek cities, and art and poetry. From the 6th century BC, the Spartan regarded themselves as the military garrison, and the discipline is the war. The men of Spartan were expected to train in the military drill at the age of 7 and enter the army at 20. They were forced to live in the barrack, and subsequently permitted to get married at the age 30 and maintained their duty as hoplites and to eat at the phidita. Under their serious discipline, the Spartan became the greatest warriors in the ancient Greece, as shown as the greatest devote and sacrifice of 300 heroes.

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As above briefing of the two city-state of Greece Empire on the location, system of government, and, especially, the duties of men around their age, we have found some differences. How about the women in their city-state? Were they also different through the system of government or not? The most important thing is that we will focus on the way that Athenian and Spartan treated and viewed their women through the differences and similarities. The differences based on women’s education, to which social Athens and Sparta provided; women’s marriage life, which family and society in Athens and Sparta expected and prepared; beauty judgment, which was valued based on artificial and natural beauty; freedom in society, which was related to public participation; and property owning, which was the right for buying and selling on property. Similarities based on requirement of getting married, requirement of giving birth to healthy sons, and assembly forbidden. Furthermore, we will subsequently regard the good and the bad points of both Athenian and Spartan women at that period; and compare their life to the majority of women in the present.



At an early age, Spartan women were taught to defend themselves, and, in addition, how to read and write so as to manage the family’s property in case their husband was gone. However, they did not get much knowledge of house-duties as Athenian women had because education in Spartan society was thought of highly and women were given the same teachings as men. Moreover, the women could even take roles in any kind of test that used strength as the men could. That’s why, Spartan women were generally recognized as athletes who had enough ability to fight against others, spending a lot of time joining in such sporting events as wrestling, running, javelin throwing, riding horseback, and others while household works were regarded as the responsibilities of the vanquished people, called Helots, and slaves in Sparta. Besides, they received some education related to their own culture which included social and traditional, religious songs, dancing and music. As a result, Spartan women were provided with both academic and physical education. Athenian women, on the other hand, were taught only how to write and read and essential household jobs, which mostly was conducted at home such as weaving, spinning, sewing, cooking, and others which their families had. They were not only allowed to participate, but also to be spectators in most athletic events. They were expected only to be good at domestic duty management.

Beauty judgments

As Spartan women endured strict discipline and learned to defend Sparta in the same way as men did, women in Sparta did not care much of their artificial beauty. They gave much value to their native beauty; that’s why; they were famous for their natural beauty. They were not allowed to use creams, or powders, even jewelry. Athenian, in the contrary, could use any type of cosmetics or make-up, nice clothes, particularly valuable and elaborate jewelry, for being attractive and charming. Consequently, they gave high score to non-native beauty.

Marriage Life

Athenian Women

Regarding their marriage lives, Athenian and Spartan women were also destined to be different from each other according to their societies. Athenian women were regarded as a lot weaker than men; they had to be protected at home and were not allowed to go out of the house without the companion of their male relatives. At their very young age, mostly during their 13 or 14, they were arranged to get married by their fathers. Mostly Athenian women get married to a man whom she had never met or known before as they usually had to be kept and protected at home. Their groom usually came from prominent families at the age of around 30 years old. The bride’s father had to pay a dowry to the groom and also arrange a marriage ceremony which was called “gamos”. The marriage ceremony started after the dark. The bride wore a veil and traveled from her home to her groom’s home by standing in a chariot. Her family, friends, and relatives traveled on foot and carrying torches to light the way. They also played music to scare the evil spirits away. The marriage ceremony was complicated and took very long time to finish. The ceremony also included music, dancing, singing, and feasting. Moreover, Athenian brides were not supposed to meet their grooms before the contract had already been approved. And after marriage, they had to move from their houses to live with their husbands’ families. Yet they were not considered to be a member of their husbands’ families until they gave birth to their first child. Furthermore, Athenian women were not allowed to control of money worth more than a bushel of grain. They were not the one who controlled the budget of the family. Athenian wives were supposed to give birth to strong and healthy sons. Therefore, Athenian thought that women had to be protected at home, not allowed to take parts in sport, military training, or any athletic competitions, or even do exercise. Women in Athens had the rights to initiate a divorce but the percentage of their success was very low which means they had to provide a lot of evidences and reasons to public official and they also needed the agreement from their husbands. And after the divorced, they did not have rights to have their children with them. Their children were supposed to stay with their husbands.

Spartan Women

On the other hand, if we look at the marriage life of Spartan women, we can see the differences between the two. Spartan women usually get married at the age of 18 and their marriages were never to a stranger. They knew the bachelors all by names and reputations. And if their fathers chose a suitable husband for them, they have always had the rights to discuss it. Nothing in Spartan law or custom prevented them from rejecting their father’s offer. Unlike Athenian society, the bride’s father did not have to pay a dowry to the groom. And there was no ceremony of Spartan marriage. The bride just had to shave her hair like a boy, wear man’s clothes and waited for the groom alone in the dark. Then the groom also came alone to abduct her in the night. Then the groom had to return back to barrack (where Spartan men between the age of 21 and 30 had to stay there collectively for military training). We can see that, unlike Athenian society that couples stayed with each other after marriage, Spartans couples first had to live separately until the husband reach 30 that he could leave barrack and live with their own families. Moreover, Spartan wives could take control of an estate, household, and the family finances. And in order to give birth to a strong and healthy son, Spartan women were allowed to do exercise, join athletic competitions, and also in military training to make their bodies strong and healthy which were completely different from Athenian practice. Moreover, women in Sparta could divorce their husband without losing their properties and their rights to their children.

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Freedom in Society

Regarding women’s status in society, Athenian women had very less freedom and rights. In Athens, women had a secluded life since their place was in the home. They were required to be at home most of the time in order to bear and educate their children, order the slaves to do the household, and prepare the food, etc. Their status would be lost if they did not do so. Usually, the amount of slaves a family had determined the work of a woman. In other words, the household duties of women depended on whether or not the family was rich or poor. In rich family, women would distribute jobs to the slaves. In contrast, women from poor family had more duties than those from rich family. As poor, they had no slaves to help their work. Then, there were additional tasks for them such as shopping for food and making the families clothing. However, women from poorer classes could go outdoor much more than rich women and acquire a job to help their finances such as being wet-nurse, mid wives, market seller. In the opposite, wealthy women could not do so. Furthermore, they were always protected by their slaves or male relatives when they went out,but they should not stay or talk closely with men in order to maintain their own reputation. Generally, Athenian women were not allowed to answer the door of the home or stay in the same room with other male guests. Their house even made a separation between men and women as well. The wives, daughters, and female slaves lived upstairs, in rooms that were away from the windows and streets. Though Athens was a democracy city-state, Athenians women still could not participate in public activities such as voting or joining politics. They could neither watch nor participate in the Olympic Games, athletic competition, and military training. They were allowed to join religious festival only. On the other hand, Spartan women were famous for their independence compared to other Greek women. They could live freely and leave the house whenever they wanted. Of course, Spartan women’s primary role was also bearing and raising their children. However, the Spartan believed that if a woman remained healthy and strong, she would better perform her job. Although Spartan girls did not go through military training, they were educated. Spartan women were being taught to be very capable athletes through the physical training. There were regular competitions such as running and wresting, and Spartan women were allowed to take part in these sporting events. Moreover, Spartan women were strongly encouraged to speak in public, and they could join group discussion in public. Although women were not allowed to participate and express their voice at the public assembly, Spartan women still had the influence in the community and often express their opinions about political issues. They believed that their husbands would bring their voices to the assembly for them. Thus, compared to other women in ancient Greek city-states, Sparta women were luckier, they were free to move outside and they could involve in education, military and also politics. In short, women in Sparta enjoyed more rights and better status while women in Athens were forced to be at home most of the time.

Property holding/owning

Women in Sparta had more rights than women in Athens as well. Spartan women could inherit property while Athenian women had no such rights. Spartan women had the rights to own wealth and property. In Sparta, normally, when a person died, the land would be inherited by the owner’s children. Because of the flexibility of Spartan law, the daughters had equal rights to inherit as the sons did. Spartan daughters were expected to inherit half of what a son would inherit. Furthermore, after married, Spartan women could own both her husband’s land and hers, but her land couldn’t become her husband land. According to Aristotle report, Spartan women totally owned forty percent of the land in Sparta. Of course, Sparta women also had authority on their land. They could control, manage, and abandon their land whenever they wanted. In addition, Spartan women could gain income from their land as well. In contrary to Spartan, Athenian women could not own property in their own right. In Athens, the law stated that all inheritances were passed through the male line, only limited property could be owned by women. Even though women in Athens could not own property such as Spartan women, they still had right to own jewelry, clothes, and other inexpensive things. In addition, they could own slaves as well, but they were not able to buy anything. In short, Athenian women didn’t have financial independence compared to Spartan women.


All Greeks worshiped the same gods. However, they emphasize on different gods. Warrior gods were highly respected by Spartans. Usually, god of beauty, fitness, health and childbirth were adored by Spartan women. Moreover, they were freely allowed to join in cults centered on local heroes or myths. For example, the cultof Helen of Sparta and the cult of Cynisca were generally practiced all among Spartans. Cynisca, a well-known Spartan chariot racer, the princess, is the first woman who won the Ancient Olympic Games. Thus, Spartan women enjoy chariot racing and horse races. Similarly, in Athens, religion was considered as the aspect of their daily life which women could worship freely. In Athens, the priestess of Athena are regarded as the city goddess, and held much honor. Whenever Athens needs to make decisions, they always go to consult with the priestess because people respect her. Every year, the anniversary of Athena is celebrated in Panathenaea festival. In that ceremony, Athens chose virgins girls, which were nobles’ daughters, to carry holy baskets in the procession. There are some doubts that, since only daughters of nobles were chosen, Athens girls who were not chosen were insult because of the concerning of her reputation. However, every four year, Athens women enjoyed making new peplos or robe for the Athena effigy. In that ceremony, two women, who was between seventh and eleventh, begun the program and other chosen women ended the program. Furthermore, Athens women could participate in every cult. For example, only women were freely joint Thesmophoria, the most mysterious and celebrated festival, a fertility ritual for Demeter. In that rite, women spent three days on Demeter’s hilltop sanctuary in order to perform rites and celebrating. While staying on that hilltop, they collected rotten remains from the pits on that hill and they spread it around their crops for a good harvest. Later, many foreigners immigrated to Athens and they brought along their cults.


Although there are massive differences between Athenian and Sparta women, still there are some similarities among these two women group since they are both Greek. One of the other similarities is that all Athenian and Sparta women have to get married. Even though Athenian women mostly get married by the age of fourteen to sixteen while Sparta women marry at the age of eighteen, both Athenian and Sparta’s marriage were arranged by their fathers. Another point is that they were expected to give birth to strong and healthy sons. In Athens and Sparta, the main duties of women were to bear children, manage their home and slaves. Lastly, Athenian and Sparta women are not allowed to join assembly. In fact, women in Sparta had more right than women in Athens. Spartan women endured strict discipline and learn to defend Sparta. They can participate in public group exercise, military drill and gymnastics. However, like Athenian women, they have no right to attend in assembly.


According to the clarifications of each part, Athenian and Spartan women in ancient Greece were much different from each other. As we can see, education of Spartan women was almost the same as men’s. Athenian women, in contrary, were required to study the household chores. Furthermore, Athenian women got married at the early age and the process of the ceremony was complicated while women in Sparta got more rights before and after married,. Athenian women were evaluated on the appearance decoration; anyway, the natural beauty of Spartan women was more attractive than artificial materials. Moreover, Spartan women were provided more rights than Athenian women on the public participation, family and the right for owning property. Compared to women in the present time, we can regard that Sparta city-state evaluated their women by giving many rights that were equal to men. It exhibited what call gender at the present time although the women were not allowed to hold the official work in the assembly and government like the women in the 21st century. To sum up, the valuable provision to women’s right is the brilliant opinion not only for the past and present, but also every time in the future for every place and everywhere around the world.


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