Women Of Ancient Greece

The Women of Greece:
A Transition from Ancient Power to Classical Subservience

For the most part, women in today’s society hold a position equal to that of a man;
however, this has not always been the case. Women’s conquest for political and social
freedom is a battle that has gone on for centuries. Perhaps the breaking point in women’s
liberation was the Women’s Movement of the 1900’s, which encouraged women all over
America to join in the fight for their right to vote. Because of this struggle for equality,
women are now able to vote, receive a standard of fairness in the workplace, hold
political positions, and play professional sports, as well as a wide array of other privileges
enjoyed by men. Unfortunately, these civil rights have not been made available to
women worldwide. In some cultures, especially those of the Middle East, women have
gained little if any rights at all since the societies of the past. In Greece, an almost
opposite effect can be seen in its history in which women in their country went from
being recognized as equals and above, to becoming a much weaker sex. This odd
transition of status of Greek women is evident through the art, mythology, and philosophy
of a much older Greece. Thus dominant role of women portrayed in Ancient Greek
mythology and artwork is in direct contrast to the more subservient role of women during
the classical era in Greece.
Ancient Greece, otherwise known as the Archaic period (650-450 B.C.), was a
time of great development for Greece. The first major developments in Greece were
cities or towns and their surrounding villages called city-states(Greece 366). Much
rivalry consisted between city-state residents which resulted in a great deal of patriotism
for one’s city-state. Some of the best known city-states are Athens and Sparta (Greece
366).
During this time of growth, numerous tyrants came into control of the city-states.

These tyrants caused the people to become bitterly rebellious, which later ended in revolt
and the birth of the first known democratic government (Greece 372).
City-states were once again threatened by takeover in the 500’s B.C., when
Persian kings tried to overrun the city-states; however, the city-states revolted against the
Persian kings. These uprisings did nothing more than cause a war with Persia. The
Greeks, who were outnumbered, fought Persia and surprisingly won (Greece 372).
Another problem that Greece faced was the rivalry between the city-states of
Athens and Sparta. The cooperation between the two city-states in the Persian War was
short-lived. Athens and Sparta were constantly feuding for control of Greece (Greece
373).
The Archaic period, though constantly growing, was one of a somewhat primitive
nature. Due to this, not much written philosophy has surfaced; however, creative thought
was very encouraged during this time (Greece 367). Because of the lack of written
documents, many of the holes in the philosophy of the time must be filled with
speculation. The philosophy of ancient Greece, that could be found, was very favorable
towards women. During the Archaic period, a woman held a position almost equal to that
of a man. Women were able to hold political positions, possess land, and overall enjoy a
majority of the same rights that a man had. This philosophy of women’s equality is best
expressed by J.P. Mahaffy when he states: “This equality upon the position of women is
obvious... The wives and daughters of the chiefs were respected and influential because
they were attached to the centre of power, because they influenced the king more than
free men did” (146). The whole idea of women being not only respected but influential
during this period in Greece is phenomenal when one considers the more abject role that
women in many other cultures of that time were faced with. This immense influence also
proves the power women were given in Greece during the Archaic period. Socrates, as
well as others, “Sees women, as, if not truly equal, at least not inferior to men, and

believes it possible for women even to achieve personal and intellectual fulfillment not
tied exclusively to motherhood,” Eve Cantarella remarks in her book Pandora’s
Daughters (61). This theory is another confirmation of women’s strong position in
Archaic Greece.
Mythological women of the Archaic period in Greece strongly suggest a
dominant, mighty role for the women of ancient Greece. Athena, patron goddess of
Athens, was worshipped throughout Greece for her warlike aspects, but she was also
protectress of women’s work and crafts (Spivey 423). Athena was also known as the
goddess of justice, wisdom and warfare, and masculinity.