If we know little about men in ancient Greece, we know even less about women, and that little bit mostly comes from Greek and Roman literature.
But let me try to make some sort of list for your better understanding, and here are ten facts about both genders and their lives in ancient Greece that might surprise you.
01. In the Greek city of Lokroi, particularly among the aristocracy, there was a strong matriarchal tradition. Among the aristocracy, you descended from your mother’s line, not your father’s as we see in much of the rest of the world at that time. In addition, there was also a strong tradition of worship of Aphrodite and Persephone.
02. Generally speaking, people didn’t consider Greek women citizens and their place in society was not much above the slaves. They had little to no say over how they spent their time or used their bodies, which made for a difficult life for many.
03. Lower class women may have had a slightly better lot than middle or upper class women because they could hold jobs, though those jobs weren’t glamorous and ran the gamut of break-making, wool working and nursing to name a few acceptable careers, if you could call them that.
04. The women of Sparta, a neighboring city-state and rival of Athens, had more rights and in fact in marriage, women ruled as the society was matriarchal.
05. Spartan women were athletes. They worked out by running, and wrestling, and even had their own sports events. They were also schooled in music and dancing.
06. In contrast to Sparta, Athenian women were sequestered and kept in their homes. In fact, they could rarely leave the home. They could not even testify in Athenian courts.
07. Just as women have to wear veils in the Middle East today, it was customary also for women in ancient Greece. And it is a common belief that this is where the practice originated.
08. In ancient Athens women could not vote, or own property.
09. Women had no say in who they married. This was for the father to decide, and he would give his daughters to men he deemed suitable. Or to men he thought would help to advance his own status in some way.
10. In ancient Athens, women could only buy and or sell objects that weren’t very valuable. This was to keep them from negotiating large business deals.
The differences between Athens and Sparta are very interesting and I think had I lived then, I would have much preferred being a citizen of Sparta rather than Athens, if I were a woman!
01. Only men could be citizens in ancient Greece.
02. It was common for men to have drinking parties. And during such events, women and children could not participate, not even to enter the room where these parties took place.
03. Many dances were only for Greek men. Women could not participate. Both men and women did not usually dance together.
04. A Greek man’s word was law. If your father or husband told you to do something, you had to do it, even if you didn’t want to.
05. Theater was something that was open for participation only to men, who played both the male and female roles.
06. If a man divorced his wife, which was more common than we would think today, he had to return the dowry given by her family for her so she could support herself.
07. Middle class free Greek men were usually farmers who owned plots of land that they cultivated and used to sell produce.
08. Lower class free Greek men were usually craftsman who made furniture, leather crafts, or worked with clay to create items they could sell.
09. People considered Metics the lowest type of free men. They couldn’t vote nor own property. Point of fact, they weren’t considered Greek citizens. They held jobs that supported the upper classes such as managing estates for example.
10. Except for Sparta, all men who were free, including Metics, were required to join the military. Sparta had its own professional army and so did not require free men to join.
While Greek men had more freedoms than Greek women did, it is also apparent that they too had their own set of societal rules and laws that they had to follow, so it was not all easy and pleasant for men in ancient Greece.
And speaking of men and ancient Greece, have you checked out my book Spying The Alcove? It’s all about ancient as two Italians archeologists plow their way through the ruins of Selimunte, an excavation site in Sicily. And just to stick to the theme of the blog, here’s a short excerpt from Spying The Alcove.
THEY WERE GREEKS
Valerio shook his head. “I didn’t think they could get so jealous to check on my movements.”
Andrea squeezed his knees, causing a fresh wave of longing. “Men are less possessive,” he assured. “Perhaps you ought to consider our sex, rather than being the usual victim of women’s jealousy,” he teased, a large smile brightening his face.
Feeling every second closer to danger, Valerio shifted nervously, hoping Andrea would take his arm off his legs. “I don’t like men, never had.”
“What is it you don’t like? The Greeks used to think the highest art form was the male body.”
“They were Greeks.”
“So we’re Italians, their proudest heritage.”