Who Had a Better Life, Women in Sparta or Athens?

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Athens and Sparta were two of the largest City-States of Ancient Greece. Their lifestyles and culture could not have been anymore different from one another. Sparta was a military state and was heavy with pride for their strength in battle. While Athens? culture was one of art, philosophy, and democracy. The men not only lived completely separate lives from one another, but their women did too. Athens and Sparta treated their women differently. Which of these two City-States gave the women living in them a better life? Was it better to be a woman in Athens or Sparta? This article with show how the women in Sparta were given a better life than their opposites in Athens.

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Athenian women were no better than slaves to the men that surrounded them. They were not allowed to speak or even be seen in public. They lived most of their lives inside of their homes preparing meals and tending to the house. The only way they could leave to go out into the streets was if they were supervised by a man. Education was rare to them. Only a select few had any form of education and even that was taught to them from inside their homes. They were banded from any political. Their only purpose was to reproduce and take care of the house and properties. They were not allowed to own any property. The lands of their husbands and fathers went to closest living male relative. The women were also in trusted to him and the wife would have to marry the male relative that took over the property. The only events that women were allowed to attend were the ones of religious nature. Women were punished severely for adultery and did not have any sexual freedom outside of marriage. Even without any freedoms, they were allowed to be citizens of Athens [1].

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Women in Sparta had freedoms that most women did not have in these ancient times. They were too be just as strong as the men. They were put through physical training like running, gymnastics, and wrestling, but it was not as intense as the training the men went through[2]. Reading, writing, and oral traditions were also key parts of their education process. The men were too busy training for war to learn how to do these skills. So it was up to the women to hold on to the histories and pass them down from generation to generation. They also, like their male counterparts, were in constant competition with one another. This helped them to get to best of their abilities and also to gain higher standing among the other Spartan women. By participating in competition, they protected the honor and pride of the Spartan people[3]. They were not held to a life of silence like the women in Athens. They were encouraged to speak public even among the men. They would be expected to belittle the men that were deemed cowards or had not married by the age of 35 in a kind of public humiliation[4]. They also had a sense of sexual freedom. Spartan women were allowed to have multiple sexual even during marriage[5]. This was a way the Spartan civilization could increase their population of warriors and for the women to fulfill their honor of bearing many children for the City-State. Women of Sparta held the chore of child birth with high esteem and with as a great honor. The wife of Leonidas, Gorgo was recorded by Herodotus saying ?Only Spartan women give birth to real men[6].? Her saying this would show the pride they took in child birth. They were even able to own land and other forms of property. If a father did not have any other children to pass their properties down to it would go to their daughter allowing them to be heiresses, unlike in Athens. With all this freedom Spartan women were still not allowed to have citizenship in Sparta. Even with out the ability to have citizenship, they freedoms that Athens would not give their women[7].

Sparta gave their women a freedom that was rare in Ancient Greece. Men of Athens would look down on this freedom and even some of the great Athenian poets like Aristotle would degrade Sparta for this freedom. Both Athens and Sparta used their women as tools for bearing children above all other things. Some people would argue that this freedom was only due to the need for extensive child birth, but freedom is freedom. Sparta?s view toward their women was more liberal than that of Athens. Sparta was by far the better of the two City-States in Ancient Greece to be woman. They had the freedom to mingle among the men, to own property, and the education that was not awarded to the women of Athens.

[1] Elaine Fantham, Women in the Classical World, Online Access with JISC Subscription Agreement: ACLS Humanities E-Books (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 72?74.

[2] Nic Fields, The Spartan Way (Havertown: Pen and Sword, 2013).

[3] Sarah B. Pomeroy, Spartan Women (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). 7?9

[4] Thomas J. Figueira et al., ?Gynecocracy: How Women Policed Masculine Behavior in Archaic and Classical Sparta,? The Body Politic (Classical Press of Wales, 2010), 271, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvvn9tj.10.

[5] Pomeroy, 75.

[6] Plutarch, ?Sayings of Spartan Women,? Accessed October 28, 2018, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Sayings_of_Spartan_Women*.html.

[7]Fields, The Spartan Way.


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