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Lives of Athenian and Spartan Women

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Published: Tue, 27 Jun 2017

Athens and Sparta were known as the famous Greek city states. The two governed their city state differently in political system, social life, economy, education, religious view, and so on. Another main difference was the women’s rights and power. Athenian women were horribly treated. They were highly kept and protected at home because the belief to Athenian men was that “women were highly sexual beings who could not control their sexual urges and therefore had to be restricted for their own benefit.” On the other hand, Spartan women enjoyably live with their status, rights, power, and respect which the women of another Greece city states weren’t lucky to be delight with those freedom. Spartans realized that “regardless of gender all Spartan people had an obligation to serve the militaristic end of Sparta.”(Gaughan) This essay mostly focuses on how Athens and Sparta differently and similarly treated their women to the following questions:

  • How were Athenian and Spartan women educated?
  • How did they get married?
  • Could they women divorce their husband?
  • What did they do when they become a mother?
  • How did Athenians and Spartans judge their women?
  • How sociable were Athenian and Spartan women?
  • Did they have right to own property?
  • How did they receive citizenship?
  • What are the similarities between both of them?

Athens was a powerful capital and the largest Greece city state. It was a heart of economic, political, financial and culture life in Greece. Athens represented freedom, art, and democracy. Athens was given its name from Athena goddess who is the goddess of wisdom and knowledge and won the competition with the sea god Poseidon. Furthermore, the government of Athens was limited democracy. And Athens economy mostly depended on trade.

Sparta was a well known city state in Greece, and located on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. When Sparta invaded Dorians, and brought both the local and non-Dorian population under control, it appeared as a political entity around the 10th century BC. Later on, it became a strong and dominant military land-power in ancient Greece. It considered itself as the Greece protector, providing expert armies to Greece whenever needed. The political system of Spartan government was a monarchy ruled by two kings. Moreover, economic in Sparta mainly focused on agriculture rather than trade.

  • How were Athenian and Spartan women educated?

Athenian women weren’t expected to get education from school such as how to write and read. However, they were taught reading at home. They were also taught necessary household skills such as spinning, weaving, and sewing, cooking, cleaning and managing other domestic duties by their mothers, and even the slaves whom their families had. Furthermore, they got education about facts on mythology, religion and occasionally musical instruments.

On the other hand, since the Spartans believed that if their women are educated and are able to protect themselves; Spartan women could also manage property of their husband while he was gone. As the result, most of Spartan women are literate. At the age of seven, Spartan women were both academically and physically educated. But they didn’t receive any knowledge related to domestic work as Athenian women such as weaving, cooking, sewing, and others because these kinds of work were responsibilities of helots and slaves in Sparta. For academic education, they were taught to read, write, and protect themselves. They got cultural education including poetry, social and religious customs, choral recitation, dance and music. In addition, music was a main section in religious festival. Spartan women, therefore, learned to sing and perform dance.

For physical education, Spartan women were trained in athlete competitions such as running, wrestling, and javelin throwing. Moreover, they were well known with their great knowledge in not only breeding and training but also riding horseback and driving small horse-driven carts.

  • How did they get married?

Since birth, Athenian girls were highly protected and kept at home. Athenian fathers arranged and married of their young teenage daughter at early age, normally at the age of thirteen or fourteen; to men who were 30 years old and sometimes from prominent families in Athens society. The bride’s father celebrated a marriage ceremony call “gamos”, which the aim is to show that the bride was passed to the groom. Athenian bride couldn’t meet her groom until the contracts had already been approved. The process of marriage was quite very long and complicated. After the marriage Athenian women were supposed to join or move to live in their husband’s family though they weren’t considered as full member of the new family until they birthed the first child.

Unlike Athenian women, Spartan women had non-ceremonial for their marriages. Commonly, they got married at the age of eighteen years old. A Spartan woman was assigned to married a man who came and abducted her at mid night from her family. After that, she shaved her head and wear man’s clothes. Then she was able to meet her husband, mostly for children purpose. After marriages, husband and wife lived separately. If husband joined war for too long time, Spartan woman could find a new husband.

  • Could they women divorce their husband?

Women in Athens couldn’t divorce their husband without providing any reasonable evidences to public official and agreement from their husband. Though they successfully divorced, they would lose all rights to their children.

Oppositely, Spartan women could divorce their husband without losing any wealth, properties, and even rights to children.

  • What did they do when they become a mother?

Athenian women were supposed to give healthy son who would be strong soldier. Thus they weren’t allowed to take parts in sport, competition, and military.

On the other hand, being a healthy mother producing strong and brave son to serve in Spartan armies was a primary purpose for Spartan women since Spartan was known as strong militaristic city state of Greek. Thus, Spartan women involved in military training, did exercises, and join athletic competition to make their bodies fit, strong and healthy.

  • How did Athenians and Spartans judge their women?

Athenian women were strongly determined on their artificial beauty rather than natural beauty. They liked wearing valuable and elaborate jewelry and nice clothes for being attractive and other purposes.

On the contrary, Spartan women were well known for their natural beauty. Consequently, they were forbidden to wear or use any kinds of cosmetics or makeup, especially jewelry, which was a serious avoidance for them.

  • How sociable were Athenian and Spartan women?

Athenian women had very less freedom. They had a secluded life since they were forced to stay at home most of the time. They would lose their status if they failed to do so. Since Athenian women were educated, they couldn’t have carriers or hold office in society such as prostitute, market seller, flute players, dancers, nurses, and mid wives. Only freewomen of poorer classes could do trade in market places, and went outdoor much more than wealthy women. More than this, women from rich family were physically protected by their slaves or male relatives, and they had to maintain and protect their reputation by not talk closely with men. Though Athens was a democracy, Athenian women still couldn’t join public activities such as voting or taking part in state operation. They could neither watch nor participate in the Olympic Games, military training, and even athletic competitions. But, they could leave the houses to join religious festival.

Spartan women, on the other hand, lived freely and left the house whenever wanted. They were strongly given confidence to speak in public. They could join group discussion in public. They could involve in military and also politics.

  • Did they have right to own property?

Spartan women were allowed to own wealth and property. After married, women in Sparta could own both her husband’s land and hers, but her land couldn’t become her husband land. Aristotle stated that, by the fifth century B.C., Spartan women owned two-fifths of the land. Spartan women had authority to control, manage and, abandon the land they owned whenever they wished. They could legally pass their land to sons and daughters. In addition, they could also get income earned form their land.

Even thought Athenian women could own jewelry, clothes, inexpensive things, they couldn’t get the kind of ownership as Sparta such as owning land, luxuries, or any things that put into contract. In short, they didn’t have financial independence.

  • How did they receive citizenship?

In idea of Athenian men, women were less necessary. Thus, Athenian women weren’t offered Athenian citizenship.

Unlike women in Athens, women in Sparta were considered as Spartiates and also citizens of Sparta thought they couldn’t join public assembly. Receiving citizenship in Sparta, one had to withdraw profit from owning land to pay for government. As what mentioned above, Spartan women could own land, so they could be awarded the Spartan citizenship.

  • What are the similarities between both of them?

According to what shown above, the life of Athenian and Spartan women are different from each other. However, they still had several commons. Both of them were required to get married. And the marriages were arranged by fathers. More than this, the two were expected to give strong and healthy sons. The two had to bear their children. They couldn’t join assembly. They could own property.

In short, women status in Sparta and Athens are quite different from each other. As we see, while Spartan women were educated to write, read, and know about cultural knowledge, Athenian women were taught managing household duties. For marriage, Athenian women were expected to get married in early age, and the process of getting married seemed be complicated. But in Sparta, women got married unless they were eighteen years old. Moreover, Athenian women were judged on artificial beauty, but Spartan woman were judged on natural beauty. And Spartan women were very active in the public. Contrast of Spartan women, Athenian women stayed at home most of the time. Last but not least, Athenian women didn’t have valuable property ownership as Spartan women.

Comparing ancient Athenian women to women nowadays, there are both similarities and differences. For similarities, both of them were pressed to produce children and take care them, looked after home, and increased their beauty and attractiveness by wearing additional jewelry and beautiful clothes. One more similarity is that marriage is an important thing for their lives.

Though they are similar, they are still different from each other. In contrast to ancient Athenian women, present women can go to work and do their own careers. They are sociable; they can go wherever they want, do whatever they prefer, and talk with whomever they like. Moreover, the marriages of modern women are mostly not arranged or chosen by their parents. Another difference is that women nowadays can involve or have status in politics and government. They also have right to education, and to own property as men have.

However, most of what modern women can do is the same as what ancient Spartan could do. Consequently, we can assume that modern women and ancient Spartan women share many similarities.

In my own view, if I had been born in ancient Greek, I would have preferred to be a woman of Sparta.


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