Comparison Between Women In Athens And Sparta History Essay

3154 words (13 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 History Reference this

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Ancient Greece is known as the birthplace of Western civilization. Greeks made many significant contributions its heritage to the world. People praised and of course adopted their Greek culture and scientific work. The first civilization of ancient Greece was on the land of Crete. People who lived on this land were called Minoans. Minoans used to be a strong nation, but now they just struggle their lives by finding only enough food to eat. Minoans then disappeared mysteriously for more than two thousand years ago.

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The Mycenaeans were strangers who landed on the land of Crete. They learned that Minoans were weak, so they conquered the land easily. They wanted to own the Crete for themselves, so they conquered the whole land of the Crete. Mycenaeans learned how to build ships from Minoans who were left from the Crete. Mycenaeans also built a city called colony. All cities were controlled by the Mycenaeans king and his army. The Mycenaeans soon had colonies all around the Aegean Sea.

There were not only Mycenaeans who lived in Greece. There were also other Greeks who lived in the cities of Thebes and Athens. The Mycenaeans were the strongest in Greece because they had stronger weapons. They made their weapons from bronze. They learned how to protect themselves from the battle by using shields. The first Greeks who used horses in battle were also known as Mycenaeans. They learned to use chariots in the battle and they drove the chariots directly to the enemy that were straight to them.

Because of their bronze weapons, armor and chariots, Mycenaeans were able to dominate the Aegean Sea and the islands in it. Mycenaeans became first great Greek civilization.

The Greek Dark Age

The Mycenaean Greeks were great fighters, yet they were facing many disasters since they were proud of themselves. They ignored their enemy, which made them not to know about the major enemy, Barbarian, who had learned how to use bronze weapons and chariots. Barbarian was an insult name used by Ancient Greece to describe the uncivilized foreigners with different culture and background. They did not learn how to read and write and they did not have any career in daily life, but to fight in the battle, which was the reason why they attacked other countries and took over.

As they thought that they were the strongest in terms of weapons and chariots in battle, the Mycenaean thought Barbarians were disgusting and never paid the attention on them, which was completely a wrong thought. In fact, although they did not learnt to read and write, Barbarians learned how to create weapons out of iron, which were much stronger than Mycenaean’s weapons. Also, their soldiers knew how to use bows and arrows and how to throw javelins; thus, they could even kill the chariot drivers from the far distance.

During the war with Barbarian, though Mycenaean had tried to fight back and built stronger and stronger walls to protect their cities, they failed. Eventually, Greek armies were defeated. The Barbarians lived in Greece for hundreds of years. However, they did not leave any written records of them due to their illiterate. The name, the Greek Dark Age, was given to the Greece during that period because the history of that time did remain unknown or dark until today.

During the Dark Age, there was the increase in number of many independent city-states that were gradually prospered by growing from villages to town. Among those city-states, Sparta and Athens were the most powerful leading city-states in Greece. Even though they shared the same language and religions, their types of government and their philosophy were dramatically different. They lived in different lifestyle especially the lifestyle of women. Therefore, this paper is going to give a comparison of similarities and differences of Athenian and Spartan women.

Greek City-States

People in Greece spoke the same language, dressed the same way, and worshipped the same gods. They joined the Olympic Games and feasted together, but they did not obey one king. Each city-state had its own laws and leaders. Throughout this section, you would be able to discover some backgrounds of Athens and Sparta in the Ancient Greece.


The history of Athens is the longest history of any city in Europe. Athens has been continually inhabited for at least 3000 years. Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC. Its cultural achievement during the 5th century made the foundation of Western civilization. Athens was located in Attica, a peninsula with poor, rocky, soil, Athens looked outward to the sea and trade. According to the Greece mythology, after the goddess Athena won over Poseidon who would become protector of the city, the city was named Athens. Athens city was founded as the king Theseus united several settlements of Attica into one.

The most significant achievement of the ancient Greeks was the creation of democracy. Democracy had been developing in Athens over many years and became the strongest system under the leadership of Pericles. Pericles opened up all the political offices to all citizens. He believed that Democracy helped Athenian to have good relationship, share values and loyalty to the city and have a willingness to do public service. Athens citizens were given the right and duty to attend the assembly, cast a vote and participate in the governance of the state. This kind of system is called Direct Democracy. (Arthur, 2011).

In Athens, women didn’t attend school and didn’t learn how to read and write. According to one scholar view, women could get only domestic training; they lived like in the prison in their houses. In most parts, women were legal nonentities whom the Greece male excluded from any participation in the political or intellectual life of city (William,1993, p117). When they left house, they were always attended by slave. Women could only attend occasional religious festival (Beers, 1993, p.81-84). The traditional picture of Athenian women’s social position in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C was little better than slaves, secluded from the company of men if they were to keep their reputations, having little influence on the thinking of their male superiors and none whatsoever on intellectual and artistic development ( Mackinnon, 1998)


Both Sparta and Athens were the biggest cities in Greece. However, people in these two cities were very greatly. Unlike the democratic Athens, Sparta was a monarchy city-state, ruled by two kings who shared responsibilities and power. One of them was the commander of the army and he could go to war with any country he chose.

Furthermore, all men were required to join the army. Boys were sent to school, however they did not learn about philosophy, music, or art, but when they were seven, boys were sent to the special army camp in order to be trained as an obedient. They were forced to starve so that they could find something for them to eat.

Girls were taught to exercise and be strong too, so that they could be the mothers of all boys who could fight in Sparta. In ancient time, only fighters were important in Sparta. Men thought women were weak, so women were less important. Mothers were supposed to praise their sons for their behavior of warlike. When her son was leaving for the battle, the mother always said, “Come back with your shield, or on it! Either win in the battle, or come back dead.”(Queen Gorgo, 2006) All Spartans would die rather than lose in the battle.

Comparison between Athenian and Spartan Women

Comparing Athenian and Spartan women has been a very interesting topic for many scholars to explore. Although they were the city-states of Ancient Greece, the lives of women in Athenian and Spartan significantly were greatly different; in other words, there were fewer things they had in comments.

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Similarities of Athenian Women and Spartan Women

In Athens and Sparta, women did live in the different lives and possess different rights. In fact, the lives of Athenian women and Spartan women had shared some similarities.

In general, there were no law or custom for Spartan women to be silent as it were in Athens, but Athenian women and Spartan women were required to respect their elderlies. Before their marriage, they were expected to show obedience to their fathers; later, they had to show obedience to their husbands after marriage. Regardless of formal or informal education, both Athenian women and Spartan women did get educated when they were young; they were raised to become the means of good wives and proper mothers in the future. They both learned some skills in their early life even though the skills they learnt were different; additionally, Spartan women learned to read and write, while Athenian women learned to do the domestic skills.

To men, both Athenian and Spartan women were the breeding machines who were supposed to produce the next generation of Athenians and Spartans. The women in Athens as well as those in Sparta would raise their sons and educate them until they were sent to school at the age of six or seven.

In the society, Spartan and Athenian women were significantly similar in some ways. Although Spartan women might enjoy more freedom as the Spartan men and might influence the men, they, as the women in Athens, were not allowed to vote in assembly. They would not be able to hold any position in government structure or work as officials.

The lives of lower class of Spartan women and Athenian women were similar in some aspects. In Sparta, the women who were from the lower class or who did not pass the test of those skills they had learnt were regarded as middle class people and would not become as Spartan citizens. As a result, they were not able to enjoy the same right as the citizen women. They lived in the same lives with no freedom as Athenian women did; without the permission from their husbands, they were not allowed to step out from their house and they had to do the household chores (cooking and weaving) as Athenian women.

Differences between Spartan and Athenian women

At the first glance, most people have difficult time distinguishing women of Sparta from women of Athens as no such of two nationalities within a country can differ this much from one another. Besides the fact that their number one chore of women was childbearing, the women of both city-states had several substantial differences such as education, social life, right and marriage.


To begin with, as Sparta held great military power and their nations’ main objective was to expand their territory, people of Sparta gave equivalent positions to both males and females. Women of Sparta got rights to be “taught to read, write and protect themselves,” said in The Women of Sparta (Hibbison, 2002), while women of Athens were taught only household works, and they had to strictly obey tons of rules. From birth Athenian women, for instance, was not expected to have an education such reading or writing like a boy, say, “Teaching a woman to read and write? What a terrible thing to do! Like feeding a vile snake on more poison” (“The Women of Athens”, 2003). As Spartan women also learned militarized ways, when war took place, Spartan men went off to face enemies outside the city, and left out the city under women protection. Besides this, Athenian women got no right to go outside the house; they had to stay at home, did housework, bearing children, and controlled slaves. Once if they got to go outside, they ought to be surrounded by both slaves and male guardians, which totally opposes to Spartan women who got rights to go out alone. Professor Eric Habbison said, “By the 5th century BC, Athenian women were barely considered to be better than slaves” (2002). By this, it can be inferred that the only right that Athenian women obsessed was the right to control the slaves, and numbers of the slaves in the family shall represented how fantastic Athenian women were in their household work. Women of Sparta had no such thing like this to judge on their ability in organizing their family.

Social life

One upon a case, Athenian women were not allowed to participate in any kind of Olympic Games; more importantly, they were not allowed to even be spectators, for all games were done in nude. This is another big difference between them as Spartan women had higher opportunity than to be spectators. Women of Sparta could participate in some of the games such as the “javelin, discus, foot, races and arranged battles,” mentioned in Women of Sparta (Hibbison, 2002). Not only participated in Olympic Games, but women of Sparta also did some strength test as men did to show that women and men of Sparta held the same strength (Breu, 2005); people of Sparta believed that strong women would have healthy children. All in all, women of Sparta had some rights to participate in public events while women of Athens were locked their life in the house and swiped all the right to participate in public events. While Spartan women cared much about their physical bodies, Athenian women only cared about their outlook, clothes for instance (Marcus, 2005, para. 2-3).


Women of Athens were not only forbidden to go outside and join in Olympic Games, and were judged under tons of etiquettes, but they also were not allowed to own property. In whichever condition, Athenian women had no right to own land or other kinds of property; they could not even safekeeping the property while their husbands or males in the family went out for war or skill practicing. In contrast, women of Sparta could hold all the right to own property by themselves regardless when their husbands were either nearby or went out for regular missions. Moreover, for the family’s sake, women of Athens tried at all cost to avoid causing problems to their family while Spartan women even were the stem cause of major conflict. For instance, Menelaus, Helen’s wife was the main cause of Trojan War; war between citizen of Troy and Spartan people to get Menelaus back by forces. Moreover, women of Athens could not participate in politics. They did not even hold right to vote for some public issues as well. In the contrary, women of Sparta, although, could not participate in politics or vote in the assembly, their voice could be heard and influenced the men indirectly. Briefly, again women of Sparta had more right than just safekeeping the property; they even could own the property, may influence the politics and vote indirectly, and in some cases, they even were the cause of either wars or conflicts while none of these rights were held by Athenian women.


Women of Athens even had no right to choose their own husband; all were chosen by their fathers, yet at the same time, Spartan women held right to choose their own husband. Athenian women had to get married at early age normally at the age of thirteen or fourteen under their fathers’ orders. Normally, their marriage was used as a bargaining chip for their family to move on to a higher class as their chosen husbands came from the family that was really important in the society. Their marriages, therefore, had long processes and required a lot of ceremonies to pass through. Marriage of Spartan women, in contrast, had no ceremonies at all. According to Breu (2005), at the age of eighteen, women of Sparta would be abducted at night by men who would become their husbands. He continued that after abduction, women of Sparta got to shave their heads and wore men’s attire (Breu, 2005). For this reason, women and men of Sparta could have more than one husband and one wife. There is no such a rule to forbid them from having more than one partner as people of Sparta considered their meeting was just for procreation purpose only. In contrary to Spartan women, Athenian women could have only a husband for their entire life. Yet, as women in Athens were divided into three classes, slave women, Athenian citizen women, and Hetaerae who known as prostitutes (Hibbison, 2002), Hetaerae were the only women in Athens society that could have more than a husband and had all rights to participate in public events.

One another huge difference between Spartan and Athenian women was that Athenian women supposed to hold the fidelity while Spartan women were not as it was rumored that there was a high rate of homosexuality in Sparta society. For some cases, women of Sparta even could have another husband if their husbands went off to the war for long time. Another difference worth to be mentioned is that women of Athens could not ask for divorce unless they had appropriate reasons while women of Sparta could leave their husbands and found a new one without any official divorced processes taken place. In short, except Hetaerae, women of Athens had no right at all in choosing their own husbands, and even though they had right to divorce their husbands, it was still impossible for them to divorce without appropriate reason; women of Sparta could have as many husbands and same-sex lovers as possible, and divorce or not, was not a matter for them.


In conclusion, though both Athens and Sparta were parts of ancient Greece, their societies were totally different from one another. Despites of being breeding machine to men, women of Sparta seemed to enjoy more freedom and hold higher level of right than women of Athens in most life factors. Women of Athens were considered only upper to slaves while women of Sparta were treated similarly to men. Spartan women got the right to develop their own intellectual and to learn skills to protect themselves and participate in Olympics game. They also could decide to marry to whomever they loved, to divorce at any time of the calendar year, and to have more than one husbands. In the contrary, none of these Athenian women could enjoy the life as the Spartan women. This reflects a very different in rights between Athenian and Spartan women.

Unlike Athenian Women, the lives of Spartan women shared many similarities to the lives of women today, which are believed to be the main influences of the western civilization. Their ways of lives were much more favorable to the contemporary view on gender equality. A state cannot be developed faster if only men dominate all the important works of the society. Since women have shared more than half of world population, women should be given more roles and equal treatment as men do in order to boost up the development of the states.

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