Women in Ancient Greece

‘Whereas married women seldom crossed the thresholds of their own front door, adolescent girls were lucky if they were allowed as far as the inner courtyard since they had to stay where they could not be seen – well away even from the male members of the family. (Cohen p. 3-4)

The social status of women during ancient Greece were found ranks below men and not treated as equals as they have no social standing nor bearing in the Grecian society. As the society is purely dominated by the male populous, the female citizens of ancient Greece were expected to be prim and proper and even as not being able to fraternize with their own very male member of their family. They are all segregated to avoid any other misconceptions of their honor and their purity as women. In the entirety of the Grecian culture, women’s stature somewhat differs from place to place depending on the region that they are in and as well as following cultural responsibilities that they are expected to abide. The social status of women in different parts of Greece greatly differs from one and the other.

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The majority of Cycladic marble vessels and sculptures were produced during the Grotta-Pelos and Keros-Syros periods. Early Cycladic sculpture comprises predominantly female figures that range from simple modification of the stone to developed representations of the human form, some with natural proportions and some more idealized (Metmuseum, Par. 3).

In the Cycladic era – Cycladic women were expected to rear and take care of their children. Harvesting of crops, tending to fruits and vegetables, tending to docile livestock, creating pottery, weaving, and spinning were most of the women’s duties. This has made a strong divide between the duties of both women and men – leaving the light duties to the women and the larger responsibilities to the men.

“Cycladic Idol I” is a female figure standing. Made of resin and is roughly forty centimeters tall and fourteen centimeters in length. This piece was meticulously carved in parts of two dimensions as well as its curves in three dimensional aspects. Most of the artifacts found in this era is purely depicted by women rather than males. These idols, such as the one mentioned awhile ago, were used religiously as part of ceremonies, rituals, and funerals.

The Minoan period was found in Crete. The Minoan culture predominantly shows the practice of worshipping goddesses which suggests that this culture had a high level of degree of respect towards women. This might be even exceeding the expectations of other cultures during that time. Most of the Minoan women were given religious offices and given positions in authority. This culture shows a great dependence on their female population as they needed a lot of future generations to sustain and ensure a future for their society.

“Minoan Snake Goddess” circa 1600BCE, was thirty-four centimeters high and made of faience. This idol shows a woman elaborately dressed yet exposing both of her breasts. Her arms are wide apart and in both of her hands she is seen holding a snake in each fist. She is seen wearing a hat in the shape of a cat which could either be a lion sitting down or a leopard. She is seen wearing a full length skirt with seven flounces and a girdle. Her breasts are exposed as suggesting that she is a household goddess specializing with fertility. Yet as she is holding two snakes in her fists, these snakes depict male fertility. Normally, Minoan women are simply dressed but with this idol, it suggests that the women in those times were highly regarded.

The Mycenaean period came to through the end of the late bronze-age. This period has women become chiefly concerned with religious rituals, rites, and ceremonies. Mycenaean women were alike with Minoan women in regards to their statutory rights, public duties, and religious offices. Mycenaean women were often seen as highly skilled, public administrators, and often played sports. As Minoan women were highly regarded, so as Mycenaean women were.

As with “The Procession of Women” which is part of the late Helladic period, shows five women carrying offerings to one of their deities. (Thera Par. 13)

More often than not, women recurrently appears as a higher form of being that most average Grecian women are expected to become, as most religious rites and ceremonies which are officiated generally by women as mediators to their faith. Male attendants are not commonly seen as part of those religious activities.”

The fresco painting of “Saffron Gatherers” by Xeste III, found in Akrotiri. This was dated back as 1550-1450 BCE as part of the late Minoan era. In the Minoan era, women who are depicted as goddesses and deities are of equal rank as their male counterpart unlike those of their followers.  In this frieze, the women are depicted to gather saffron as part of a ritual or ceremony or it may be an offering to a beloved deity. This fresco also goes to show that equality between men and women can be achieved but it cannot say that it can transcend into the lives of their subjects.

With these various art pieces, one may be able to tell that since early ancient Greece, women have become symbols of fertility, of the households, and lesser than men. Most of the Grecian beliefs do not entirely put down women, but they also deify idols and deities as per their cultural and superstitious beliefs.

If one can notice that the role of women in ancient Greece has somewhat evolved in most parts than most. Like in Sparta and in Athens, Spartan women are expected to be strong as their husbands are and nearly as equal to men. With Athenian women, they are mere objects of desire that are given via contract to men who can be beneficial to the women’s family.

In the Classical Greece period, Grecian women were regarded lesser than slaves and prostitutes. The latter were given certain liberties and freedom but not as much as Grecian Women. As for Athenian women, from child birth to coming of age, women are treated differently than their male counter parts. The girls are not taught to read and write but taught domestic skills such as spinning, cooking, and child rearing. Most of the girls are not excluded from participating in festivals, fairs, and religious rites in which they are a major part of the events.

Arranged marriages are religiously fixed by the patriarch of the family, where in a marital contract is usually drawn and accompanied by dowry to be given to the bridegroom. The dowry is handled by the bride’s brother to ensure that if the husband dies, he is the one elected to find another husband for his sister. Women during those times were considered as objects and not as equals to men. (Women, Par. 4)

“Lekythos” is a terracotta, black figure standing almost eighteen centimeters high and dated around 550CE – 530CE. Normally a Lekythos is used for funerary purposes, but with this vessel shows a marriage scene that may have been a gift to a young bride to her wedding. Weaving as seen in the vessel depicts the domesticity and devoutly religious. This also shows the start and end of weaving done by women in classical Greece. This also goes for the following art piece:

“Penelope at the Loom” dated 440BCE, shows Penelope distraught with Telemachus looking over as she tries to find ways to hinder her would be suitors in marrying her as Oddyseus has been long gone for quite awhile. This red figure depicts that a woman cannot continue on living without a husband at her side. In order to continue with tradition and the culture of the region, an abandoned wife must have a husband to carry over the affairs of the property as the woman does not have any rights or control over her husband’s properties – unlike their Spartan counterparts.

“Warrior’s Departure”by Kleophon Stamnos has a young wife and an old mother at the departure of a warrior who is a son and a husband. The duty of the young wife to her husband must be fulfilled and she must wait until his return. If for some reason that he does not return, the young wife is bound to subservience to the husband’s family.

In the art pieces, starting in the Cycladic period, the female pieces are predominant rather than male pieces yet male dominancy prevails. This goes through out to the classical period, Mycenaean, and Minoan period which the latter periods do show that women are equal in rights and in stature as men are as depicted by their deities. The art pieces mentioned above has shed some light as evidences and proofs that the role of women in ancient Greece has been elevated up to a certain extent. Norms depends on the societies that they found in. Over the period of years the stature of women has evolved into some form of equality between genders.

Most historians and people might see that women were not equally treated right in ancient Greece. One must take note that the period that they were in was purely male-dominated and it was common belief (depending on the region that you are in) that women are supposed to be found inside houses and not on the streets. As liberties may be taken advantage of and a woman who is unaccompanied might be mistaken for a wanton.

Ideally the perception of women in a male dominated world has been to safeguard the purity and sanctity of their female citizens. Women’s rights, roles, and statures, has been dictated by the period and norms that they currently live in.  During the early periods women were treated as objects as of no worth. Women are not allowed to be more learned than the men who should dominate in every arena that they can set foot onto. This generally happens except for certain parts in ancient Greece. It is highly unlikely that the stature of women should change, elevated to a much higher calling such as being part of highly religious ceremonies, rituals, and rites. That bestows upon then the exclusivity of such worship to be done by females.

Overall, as the times have changed perceptions, norms, and way of thinking can change as seen over the periods in ancient Greece. Most of the people have accepted the way of life of different women in different parts of Greece but then again it really depends on the culture and traditions practiced in those regions. The status of women in that particular period was in a way beneficial for women as they are accepted into a male dominated society not as slaves but as prime objects of whose value is to cater to the needs and wants of man.

In one point of view the art pieces show that the women’s status has gradually improved over many eras and to some elevated into god like statuses when it comes to religious rites and practices. It is a mixed review on how scholars and other historians see the status of women as to some, they were badly treated. To others, women were very well off in their positions as men. What one must do is o assess the person’s situation as per their status at those times. Even if Ancient Greece was purely male dominated, women were given measures of protection as to not to endanger themselves, the honor of her family, and to the entire community.

If one uses contemporary beliefs and point of views to gauge the status of women back then – it would certainly fail and end up confusion, as liberties seen today were not practiced or even thought of at those periods. The correct analysis of these situations should have a sound and moral background. Norms, beliefs, and morals change over time, and some do. With the welfare of women in Grecian times, it certainly has come a long way from their meager subservience to being deified in religious halls of ceremonies.