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Economic Rights of Women in Ancient Greece. By David M. The phratries were traditional institutions with religious connotations. However, women were excluded from the demes, as they did not participate in war and politics, and certainly non-citizens and slaves were also excluded.

The democratic constitution was intended to broaden the basis of participation in public life as much as possible, but of course it would be unthinkable for women or slaves to be included in the ancient world, while the exclusion of resident aliens from politics still remains universal practice. Plot on a Map Athens. Black Sea.

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The first major change in the definition of the family under the democratic constitution came in , when a law introduced by Pericles stated that only the offspring of two Athenian citizens could be citizens Aristot. The actual content and intention of the law have been intensely disputed in recent years; however, Aristotle is probably right when he says that Pericles wanted to reduce the number of Athenian citizens.

This law was introduced in the height of the Athenian empire, when the city was the center of the Hellenic world. It seems only natural that the ruling minority of this empire, namely the citizens of Athens , did not want to share their privileges with many others. Being an Athenian citizen meant to participate in decision-making that affected areas as far away as the Black Sea or the shores of Italy. It also came with privileged treatment before the institutions of the state, benefits and handouts.

It is no wonder that the Athenians wanted to keep their numbers limited, manageable and functional. Whatever the intentions of this particular law its implications upon family life were far-reaching. First it practically limited the marriage options of Athenian men to Athenian women, and less than a century later, in the first quarter of the 4th century , the state went one step further: it prohibited Athenian citizens to marry foreigners and imposed severe penalties for the pretence of lawful marriage between an Athenian and an alien Dem.

Second, the Periclean law formally recognized Athenian-born women as citizens in their own right, and sanctioned their role in the continuation of the citizen body. Women until then were participants of the polis only in the sphere of religion, where they could hold priestly offices, and perform ceremonial duties in public gatherings.

After the Periclean citizenship law Athenian women are recognized as participants in the state, even if not fully, and this comes with certain obligations. Until then only the male party was considered legally responsible for the seduction of a free woman. However, probably not long after the Periclean citizenship law another law was introduced requiring the husband of an adulteress to divorce her under penalty of disfranchisement if he disobeyed, and imposing a ban from all public temples upon the adulteress herself.

For the first time the woman would be held personally accountable by the law, and deprived from her privileges in public life if she misbehaved. Thus by turning the spotlight on Athenian mothers the state was determined to protect the legitimacy of children born in Athenian families and make sure that those who receive citizenship truly are of citizen stock. After the Periclean citizenship law a child would be of citizen status only if both parents were citizens.

However, since the Athenians did not keep birth records citizen identity was conferred upon the child gradually, and it would mean different things for boys and girls. Traditionally a boy would be presented to the members of the phratry and possibly the genos or other such associations to which his father belonged not long after his birth.

After the reforms of Kleisthenes membership of these bodies was not an obligatory requirement for citizenship , but most Athenians belonged to them, and failure to present a legitimately born citizen boy to these bodies might give rise to questions, and later prejudice his registration with the deme.

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Then the father or legal guardian had the obligation to educate the boy and teach him how to become a good citizen of Athens. In adolescence the boy would become a full member of the phratry or genos. When he reached his 18th year he would appear before the deme and seek registration sponsored by his father or legal guardian. Once he was registered with the deme he became a full citizen. If he was rejected by the deme, he could appeal the decision before the court, but this was risky: if he lost, he was sold as a slave cf. Thus the state firmly discouraged frivolous claims of citizenship.

Read about the evidence Isaeus Isaeus 3.


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For women the process was considerably different. There is some evidence that girls could be presented to the phratry, but this was not obligatory, and some Athenian men might not even bother presenting their daughters, as this had no real legal significance. This is why the evidence for presentation of girls to the phratry is rather sporadic.

Girls were educated at home, and were taught how to become good mothers and prudent housewives, how to count, and in some households how to read and write. When time came, ideally while still in adolescence, they were given in marriage to an Athenian man. Girls were not registered with the deme. Their citizen status should be known to family members and other women in the community, but respectability demanded that a woman ought not be discussed in public.

A law imposed severe penalties upon a man who had tricked another man into marrying an alien woman by assuring him that she was Athenian Dem. They could not vote or be voted into office, but their property rights were protected and they could represent themselves in court, although in certain procedures they needed to use an Athenian agent prostates.

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Marriages between metics were legally valid unions while their person and sanctity of family life were protected by Athenian law. As it happens in several countries today, non-citizens could not own real estate, unless given this right through a special resolution egtesis for good service to the state. The most coveted of privileges, Athenian citizenship , was only granted to aliens as an exceptional reward for great services to the Athenian people andragathia. However, in practice this reward rarely went to metics living in Athens ; in the 4th century in particular it had degenerated into some sort of diplomatic gesture for important foreign leaders and dignitaries, who often had not consistently served the best interests of Athens.

Read about the evidence Xenophon Xen. The large slave population of Attica was mostly under private ownership, except for a small number of public slaves demosioi. They had no rights, and only very limited protection against abuse or injury. A mistreated slave could always ask to be sold to someone else, but besides that he or she would be completely at the mercy of the master.

This financial dimension probably afforded more protection against extreme abuse than the law itself. Attractive female slaves bought for the purposes of practicing prostitution would be groomed and pampered, and could be very expensive. Slaves kept as concubines might be treated with generosity and enjoy certain privileges at the discretion of the master. Unions between slaves and procreation were possible if the master permitted it.

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The children of such unions would be slaves owned by the master of the parents oikogenes. Slaves were treated as human beings at their death. Religious scruple demanded the punishment of the killer of a slave unless of course it was the master , and some burial rites were in order even for the most lowly slave.

Because of them, men had to work for even less than they used to have and farm the land for their food. Hesiod was very likely a misogynist, and "his views of gods and humankind not only shaped, but probably corresponded to the ideas held by the population as a whole. Ancient Greeks placed a lot of emphasis on the mythological poetry of men like Hesiod and Homer. They were held in reverence and their works carried the same importance as the Holy Bible did centuries later.

In the Poetics , Aristotle said "that poetry is both more philosophical and more serious than history because poetry speaks of the universals and history only of the particulars. It also answered questions about morality. As a result, how Hesiod and Homer portrayed women was very significant and had repercussions on subsequent generations.

In Homer's Odyssey , he includes many women, but most of them only have a place in the story through their relationships to the male characters. The most important woman in the Odyssey is the goddess Athena, however, even her importance is predicated on how she can help Odysseus.

The poem is a moral exemplum , which is illustrated in part by the Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, and Aegisthus triangle that ends with the murder of Agamemnon at the hands of his wife. Women were to be feared and held under suspicion, even seemingly faithful wives like Penelope. Odysseus is reminded to be careful of her since she could be another Clytemnestra.

The Roles of Women in Ancient Greece and the Reasons for their Subordination

Greek girls and women were expected to learn from the myth and to strive not to be like Agamemnon's treacherous wife. Instead, they were expected to be loyal and patient and to learn the crafts of spinning and weaving just as Penelope did. Or to be sweet and innocent as Princess Nausicaa was and love to wash the household's clothing.

These were the women who were held in high esteem within Greek culture. As Aristotle clearly pointed out, poetry and myths are not histories. So how did the early Greek historians handle the subject of women? When Herodotus and Thucydides wrote their histories, they fundamentally focused on politics, the military, and wars. Certainly Herodotus mentions legendary women like Medea, Io, and Helen, but only in connection to the role they may have played in the series of hostilities that occurred between the Greeks and the Asiatics.

To be fair, he also mentions historical women, such as the queens of Egypt and Babylon, for example. He also wrote social commentaries on a number of things including, Babylonian marriage customs and the role of the sexes in Egypt. Thucydides was writing the history of the Peloponnesian Wars, not a social history.

His interest was war and the military, so it is not surprising that women do not play a central role in his analysis. He does mention women in The Funeral Oration of Pericles BC , in which he has Pericles say on the subject of women: "Great will be your glory in not falling short of your natural character; and greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men whether for good, or for bad.

If Thucydides thought that women should strive to be "least talked about among men," 8 did he mean that women should somehow be kept separate from men? Or just make themselves invisible in some way? In either case, these ancient histories do not shed very much light on women or their importance, which is to be expected considering that much of the history of ancient Greece and especially of Athens, involved so much warfare and the building of an imperialistic empire.

Of course, this was the domain of men.

Women were expected to give birth to future soldiers and citizens. Were women's lives really that one-dimensional? What was life like for an Athenian woman during the Classical Period? Girls of the Classical Period BC in Athens were not given the same opportunities for education as boys. In fact, in H. Marrou's wonderful book, A History of Education in Antiquity , there is no mention of education for Athenian girls at all during the Classical Period.

It is not until the Macedonians conquered the Hellenistic world that the status of women was elevated and some were given formal education. In excerpts 7. He tells Socrates that his wife came to him at fifteen years of age, with knowledge of wool, spinning, the making of clothes, and food preparation.

This is the sort of education that women were given and the better student she was in these areas, the better chance she had of getting herself a husband. Girls seem to have married as soon as they reached puberty, while their husbands would be at least thirty years of age. It was very important to be a citizen of Athens, especially after the democratic reforms of the sixth century BC.

Being a citizen entitled a person to own land, and at the age of thirty, to hold political office. Citizens could also speak in the ekklesia and they voted on all affairs of the state.