How do submissive women behave in public

The position of women in classical Athens

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Demographic aspects

3. The image of women in classical Athens

4. Legal Aspects

5. Childhood and upbringing

6. Wedding, marriage and sexuality

7. Activities of women
7.1. A life above all in the home
7.2. Working women
7.2.1. prostitution

8. Women in Public

9. Conclusion

10. List of sources and references
10.1. swell
10.2. literature

1 Introduction

Athens reached its greatest power during the classical period and was the spiritual and cultural center of Greece. The Attic democracy developed its full expression and ensured all full citizens, regardless of income, an equal participation in the process of public decision-making. However, slaves, metics and women were excluded from this. Compared to the political options open to male citizens in classical Athens, the situation of women is particularly restrictive and disadvantageous.

When it comes to the question of the life of a woman in classical Athens, the thesis of “oriental seclusion” has long been held.[1] Nepos already reports: "[S] he hardly ever leaves the inner part of the house, called the women's room, which apart from the immediate family members no one is allowed to enter".[2] Even if this thesis appeared mainly in the older research literature, it has been repeatedly adopted by historians up to our time.[3]

The present work aims to investigate the question of what position women had in classical Athens. What kind of life did she lead and what were the expectations? How did the lives of women from different backgrounds differ? The main focus here should be on free women with Athenian citizenship, as the sources for strangers and slaves are not very productive.

Overall, the sources on the life of women in classical Athens are mediocre.[4] There are hardly any sources that provide insights into the individual situations of individuals. This is especially true for women, as no literary works aimed at women or written by women have survived. It must therefore be taken into account that these sources reflect the point of view of the male perspective. Even if it is no longer possible to clearly determine how women thought and lived, the sources at least offer an insight into the demands that were made on women. Important sources are art historical monuments and the literary traditions, whereby the latter in particular are subject to the control and imagination of the author. The comedies provide insights into the lives of women, and especially simple women, but as thoroughly exaggerated and exaggerated representations. Patzek emphasizes that other sources, for example archaeological, epigraphic, papyrological and numismatic, which play an important role in the reconstruction of everyday life, do not "authentically" reproduce real life conditions. They too are “stylized according to their type” and “tell of norms”.[5]

2. Demographic aspects

The life expectancy of women in classical Athens, which was examined by J. Lawrence Angel among others through bone remains, was much lower than that of men.[6] Various studies come to different values, but they all agree that women died on average five to ten years earlier than men.[7] Pomeroy sees an explanation in the numerical preponderance of men among the Athenian population. In addition to the factor of war, which reduced the number of men at certain times, she assumes that to a certain extent children were killed in order to limit the population in peacetime. According to Pomeroy, they “got rid of more female than male toddlers”.[8] According to Pomeroy, the number of boys to girls would have to be set at a ratio of five to one,[9] However, she points out that the fact that girls are not mentioned in the list of children does not necessarily mean that they are not there, but could also be a sign of not being mentioned. Nevertheless, the statistical data have a certain informative value.[10]

Another important aspect of this aspect is that the mortality rate among women of childbearing age has increased. The births were difficult and risky. Several classic relief sculptures have been preserved that depict women who died in childbed.[11] Euripides ’Medea even says," I would rather stand in line three times than give birth to just one child! "[12]

According to Pomeroy, in addition to the early births and the unsanitary conditions in the houses, there was also the fact that women and girls were more poorly fed than men and sons. These worse conditions were also described and criticized by some Greek authors, including Plutarch, Aristotle and Plato, who pleaded for later marriages and pregnancies, since the women would then be in better physical condition. Xenophon praises the Spartan customs, since daughters were fed just as well as sons. Both Xenophon and Aristotle spoke out in favor of physical training for women. All authors stated that the Spartan customs were more beneficial to women.[13]

A Solon law that allowed women over 60 to attend funerals even if they were not relatives suggests that at least some women lived to old age.[14]

3. The image of women in classical Athens

"We have the courtesans for the pleasure of having the concubines for daily services to our bodies and the wives to have legitimate children and to have a trustworthy guardian of things inside."[15]

With such striking categorization, Demosthenes divides women into three different groups. The idea of ​​the ideal woman is quite clear in the majority of poets and writers. She should be beautiful, talented, attractive, tall, hardworking, fertile, provided with a lovely voice and intelligent,[16] especially to run the household well.[17] Likewise, the woman should be virtuous, modest, passive, submissive, quiet and invisible.[18] The qualities expected of the man were in contrast to this.[19]

An essential aspect of the ideal of women was that women should appear little in public and should hardly be spoken of, either for better or for worse.[20] It is paradoxical that this saying comes straight from Pericles, who lived with Aspasia, of whom there was quite a lot of talk, both for good and bad. She was a hetaera, however, and this shows that these were excluded from this expected virtue.[21] It was more likely an ideal expected from noble women.

The qualities expected in a woman contrasted with the idea of ​​her true nature. Women were unable to curb their insatiable sexual appetite. Her sensuality has been attributed the subversive power to destroy men, families and society. Every woman therefore had to strive to overcome her innate nature.[22] According to Reeder, the biological and physiological structure of the woman was judged to be such that she was denied the ability to control herself.[23]

Aristotle was of the opinion that a woman possessed "the ability for practical reason, but not fully effective", in contrast to the child, in whom the same ability was only "not yet fully developed".[24] Because of this moral weakness, he recommended not to marry too early.[25] According to Reeder, the idea prevailed "that a woman would cause serious damage to society if her true nature were left untamed or out of control."[26]

On the other hand, there would have been the idea that women were the flawless embodiment of the ideal of home and family. A balance of this contradiction was found in the conviction that women with the help of men and male-specific institutions - such as marriage - can outgrow their nature.[27] Reeder does not see the fear that women will overthrow society as absurd. She is referring to Marilyn Arthur, who pointed out that women didn't have much to lose in the political and social system because of their specific roles. She sees it as a known fact that those who have not invested in a system are most likely to undermine it.[28]

For Pomeroy one explanation lies in the fact that the men were overwhelmed by the constitutionally prescribed ideal of the equality of all male citizens and their striving for power was so pronounced that these men now separated themselves as a special group from the rest of society and claimed to all others Strangers, slaves and women - to be superior.[29] Humphreys speaks of a gender ideology in which emotions were assigned to women as opposed to men.[30] Iwersen also speaks in this context of the “nature of the feminine”, which in the Athenian polis was viewed as a threat to the state order.[31]

Wagner-Hasel, on the other hand, sees only limited basis in ancient sources for assigning women a greater closeness to emotionality.[32] Prudence and control is a virtue that should characterize both the Athenian statesman and the Athenian lady of the house.[33] The crying hero type is widespread in Greek literature, but it met with increasing criticism from fourth-century philosophers. The greater emotionality of women, of which the philosophical literature or tragedy in the fifth and fourth centuries speaks, relates to women of lower status. Emotional control is more a question of differentiating between status groups and less between the sexes.[34]

4. Legal Aspects

In the Athenian legal system, women had a very weak position. At no time in her life did she have the slightest power over herself. She had hardly any property of her own, her consent was not required for the marriage and with the wedding she passed from the guardianship of her father - in the event of his death, her eldest brother in each case - into that of her husband.[35] If her father died without a male heir, a heir daughter, the Epikleroi, could be asked to divorce her husband in order to marry the father's brother so that the paternal line could have a male heir.[36]

Without her kyrios, her guardian, a woman could not legally do business. Although she could appear as a witness in court, she could not litigate herself and could not even make a will. Probably a woman couldn't even own property beyond the things of everyday life. For example, there is a complete lack of slave releases by women, which are otherwise attested for all of Greece, for Athens.[37]

The woman received a dowry from the father, which was placed at the disposal of the husband, but served as her own security. It was due to the woman's father again if she returned to the father's household through divorce or the death of the husband. After her death, the dowry fell to her children.[38]

The loss of virginity was serious. This is evident, for. B. the fact that Solon in the sixth. An exception existed in the 19th century when he abolished the conditions for the enslavement of citizens: fathers were still allowed to sell their "fallen" daughters into slavery.[39] However, there is no evidence that this measure was ever taken.[40] An unmarried, raped woman could claim damages in order to secure her livelihood as a woman now deprived of her marriage prospects or to increase her dowry to such an extent that she became an irresistible party.[41]

A married woman was also the result of rape or seduction[42] drastic. Seduction was punished more severely than rape. It was considered more reprehensible because both adulterers could have had a relationship for a long time and the seducer could gain access to the husband's property through the affection of the woman. The offended husband had the right to kill the seducer. The rapist himself posed no such threat to the husband and his sentence was therefore only a fine.[43] The husband had to go through the divorce. He was allowed to chastise his unfaithful wife, but not kill or maim.[44] From then on she was forbidden to wear jewelry and to participate in public sacrifices. This makes it clear that the misconduct was felt to be directed against the husband as well as against the community.[45]

Divorce was easy to implement. The husband could simply send his wife out of the house. If she wanted to initiate a divorce, her father or another male citizen had to turn to the highest magistrate, the Archon Eponymos. However, only a few cases are known from the classical period in which a woman divorced.[46] Only one woman, Hipparete, the wife of the politician Alcibiades, is known to have taken the initiative herself and went to the Archon when her husband brought hetaera home with her. But she was picked up by her husband in front of the court and forcibly taken home.[47]

Accordingly, a woman's influence on men could only be effective in ways that were not of a legal nature. However, according to the shipowner, one must bear in mind that Athens was a small urban community in which the families of the wives had the opportunity to observe the behavior of the men up close. Bad treatment of women was seen as an insult to the family.[48] Isaios suggests that it was quite common in intact families to respond to the wishes of the woman, even if the negotiations were conducted by the men involved.[49]

A special regulation concerned the so-called Epikleroi.[50] They were women who no longer had a father or brothers and were therefore the last representatives of their families. Your next male relative had the privilege or even the duty to marry the heiress.[51] If an already married Epikleroi did not have a son, she had to separate from her husband. In the event of a marriage, the relative had to separate from his wife and marry the heiress.[52] If she already had a son, there was a male descendant to whom the property went. Because not the wife got the inheritance, but it passed with her into the hands of her husband. While wealthy heirlooms were in great demand, the state forced the relatives of poorer heirlooms to marry them or to provide them with a dowry.[53]


[1] For the first time, the term “oriental conditions” is used in relation to the life of Greek women in 1689 by Johann Philipp Pfeiffer. See Schnurr-Redford (1996), 16-17, 162.

[2] Nep., Praf 7.

[3] A research overview is offered by Pomeroy (1985) and above all Schnurr-Redford, among others. See Pomeroy (1985); Schnurr-Redford (1996).

[4] Schuller (1995), 44 notes, however, that the sources for Athens are good compared to the rest of Greece, since the decisive cultural-historical phenomena such as dramatic poetry, great philosophy and rhetoric emerged in Athens.

[5] Patzek (2000), 10-11.

[6] Angel, for example, assumes an average life expectancy of 36.2 years for women versus 45 years for men. Reeder cites several scientists and assumes an average life rating for women of 40 years. See Angel (1975); See Reeder (1996), 23.

[7] See Pomeroy (1985), 102.

[8] Pomeroy (1985) 103.

[9] It refers to the work Prosopographica Attica by Johannes Kirchner. Of the 346 wealthy and influential families listed there, 271 have more sons than daughters. See Pomeroy (1985), 105-106.

[10] See Pomeroy (1985), 106. This is how Hdt. 5, 48 the Spartan Cleomenes as childless (apais in the sense of without a son), although he immediately mentions his daughter.

[11] See Kurtz, Boardmann (1971), 139.

[12] Eur. Med. 251.

[13] See Pomeroy (1985), 127-128. See Plat. Polit. 5.4452; Aristot. Pole. 1335; Plut. Lyk. 14.; Xen. Lak. Pole. 1.3.

[14] See Demosth. 43.62 (1071); Pomeroy (1985) 128.

[15] Demosth. 59, 122.

[16] Compare Aristot. rhet. 1361a .; Eur. Ask 525.

[17] Isomachus explains in Xen, Oik. 7: 22-30 that women are responsible for the work in the house, men for those outside the house, in the field and in battle; “God” would have given the sexes the right physique for this activity.

[18] Aristot., Pol.1260a, 30: “A woman is silence as an ornament.” Plat says about the virtues of a woman. Men. 71e, she must manage the household well, "by preserving what is inside and being obedient to the man". Eur. Tro. 655: "Be silent on the tongue, I offered my husband a quiet look, knew when to lead him and when to let him lead."; Eur. Heracl. 375-378: "Forgive strangers, my bold courage, and see to it that I left the house, where noble women hide in modesty and in silence in the room."

[19] Compare Aristot. Rhet. 1361a, 1361b, Pol. 1260, 30.

[20] Pericles calls out to Thuk in his speech about the fallen. 2,45,2 to the fact that a woman “makes a name for herself as little as possible among men with virtue or censure”.

[21] See Schuller (1995), 57.

[22] See Reeder (1996), 20.

[23] See Reeder (1996), 26. In Eur., Hipp. 966-970 it is said that a woman is less able than a man to renounce Aphrodite.

[24] Aristot. Pole. 1259a.

[25] According to Aristot., Pol. 1335a 15-25 women would be more likely to die in early births and also "contribute to their measured behavior, because if they start sexual intercourse early, they have the reputation of being too sexually excessive."

[26] Shipowner (1996), 26.

[27] Shipowner (1996), 27.

[28] Reeder (1996), 27. On this Arthur (1984), 24-25.

[29] Pomeroy (1985) 118.

[30] Humphreys (1996), 106-108. Eur. Herc. 536: "The woman is more likely than the man to complain."

[31] See Iwersen (2002), 148.

[32] See Wagner-Hasel (2000), 83.

[33] Plat. Men. 73 b; similar also with Aristot. Pole. 1259b, 1260a.

[34] Wagner-Hasel (2000), 83-84.

[35] See Schuller (1995), 55; Pomeroy (1985), 93.

[36] See Reeder (1996), 23.

[37] See Schuller (1995), 55.

[38] See Schuller (1995), 55-56.

[39] Plut. Solon 23.

[40] See Reeder (1996), 24.

[41] See Reeder (1996), 24.

[42] Foucault (1989), 187 emphasizes that the legal system had the consequence that only marital status forced only women to monogamy. The husband was not sexually bound by marriage.

[43] See Foucault (1989), 187; Pomeroy (1985), 129-130.

[44] Aeschin. Tim. 1.183.

[45] See Reeder (1996), 24.

[46] See Schuller (1995), 56; Pomeroy (1985): 96-97; Hartmann (2000a), 22-23.

[47] Plut. Alki. 8th.

[48] Shipowner (1996), 25.

[49] Jesse 2.8.

[50] It was "tied to the family property", hence its name "epikleros". See Pomeroy (1985), 91.

[51] The order of precedence for candidate for her hand was the same as that for male relatives' right to inheritance if the deceased had no children. The deceased's brothers came first, followed by their sons. It is unclear whether the claim then went to the sons 'sons or the brothers' grandchildren. See Pomeroy (1985), 91.

[52] See Schuller (1995), 56.

[53] See Pomeroy (1985), 92.