Spartan Women in the Hellenistic and Roman Period

Education

For Spartan youth education was essential for the continuation of the Spartan way of life. In Sparta unlike many places during this time in Greece had an education system for both boys and girls which included physical education , Mousike which was general fine arts like dancing and singing with the small elite being able to write and read.( Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

Physical education was one of the most important parts of developing Spartans but to what many may think women had a fairly intense fitness schedule like their male counterparts. In spartan society having fit and strong women was essential due to their belief that if both the mother and the father are athletic their offspring will also.

Spartan_woman
Bronze Statue of girl runner, probably from Sparta By Judith Swaddling

The fine arts were also taken very seriously as it is said the Spartans put a greater emphasis than other Greek societies this includes song, dance and the use of musical instruments. They focus on the psychical side of the arts since children would not be taught skills like painting or literacy unless your family was in the select elite.

Another skill in which girls would learn is that of weaving even though they would be taught how to weave it was not like other societies were women’s number one job would be household activities they could weave leisurely since most households would have slaves also generally in Spartan culture women would be outside the majority of the day.( Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

Motherhood

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Spartan Mother sending her son off to War with the classic “saying come back with your shield or on it” By Jean-Jacques-Frances Le Barbier 

In Sparta the job of the mother was much different to what it is today. The mother in Spartan culture was not just simply a woman who would raise a child and let them go down whatever path they felt like a mother’s job was to create warriors for the state. This role of the creator of warriors at any cost made her role a hard one with the birth of children who had obvious physical disabilities she would abandon it since it would make the spartan people weaker as a whole having someone who must be taken care of simply shows how extreme Spartans were with their ideals. (Pomeroy, S. B. (2002)

There have been stories of mothers killing their own sons if they had dishonored her by abandoning the army with the excuse that a man like that was never her son.(Pomeroy, S. B. (2002) In Spartan society creating the next generation of strong spartan men was their main goal no matter what the cost by having this mindset it had created a very strong but harsh society and legacy of Spartan mothers.

Athletics

 

In Sparta physical education and athletics were very important for not only men but women also. At a young age both boys and girls had an intense training regime even if it wasn’t as extreme as the boys Spartan girls would be in much better shape than any other Greek society. Spartan girls and women would exercise in the nude like the males and for competition would oil themselves like the males did also.( Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

Being athletic was very important for women since Spartans believed if both parents were physically strong that it would transfer to a strong healthy child. By being taught skills that come from competition it would have made Spartan women better equipped in defending themselves than the average Greek woman with this confidence themselves had created very powerful women. An example is queen Archidamia when Sparta was anticipating an attack from Pyrrhus rallied the other women and wouldn’t go to Crete where it was safe instead said she would have no wish to continue living if Sparta was destroyed.( Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

With the idea of athletic nudity it put women and men in the same light by having nude athletics it displayed just how fit the spartan people were since even the elderly women would exercise in the nude. Sparta culture made it so athletic activity wasn’t over sexualized as spectacle since only married people were able to attend no bachelor’s(Salus, C. 1985).

Marriage

Marriage in Hellenistic Sparta was not one simply made for love it was very thought out. Whether if it was to improve one’s Oiko which is mainly economically stability or to simply choose a partner to have a child with. Either way marriage was not like how it is today in that it  was the norm to have one partner in which we were faithful to. Sparta regularly practiced plural marriage this means that it would be normal for more than one man reproducing with the same woman mainly in times of crisis where they were trying to grow in population fast.(Scott, A. 2011)

With practices such as plural marriage it made it clear that the goal of every spartan was to help the state whether this means having a few different fathers for your children or by casting out your child because he was not fit to be spartan.

The Spartan elite just like in every society had the majority of the wealth this lead to endogamous relationships in order to keep the wealth and control of the Spartan people there are countless examples of this including the famous king Leonidas who married his step-niece Gorgo who was the daughter of Cleomenes I.(Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

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Meme From the film 300 spoken by the Legendary Gorgo By: 

http://likesuccess.com/img3731737

Lower Class Women

In Sparta much like other parts in the ancient world there was a large amount of lower class citizens and in the Spartans case they out numbered them. A large and well known group of lower class citizens were the Helots even that I am focusing on women the whole family would be put to work as slaves for Sparta. Their main goal was agriculture since Spartan men were concerned with going to war their whole lives and Spartan women were concerned with pumping out more Spartan men this left a need for slave labor in the fields.(Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

For none Spartan women there was not much room for working in Sparta until difference forms of economy found its way into Sparta with the introduction to money also brought the introduction to prostitution.(Pomeroy, S. B. 2002)

Higher Class Women

Wealth in Sparta was not determined simply by a number in a bank account but by the physical things such as who you marry, house, or simply if you can afford to have a horse in order to have someone compete in your name much like what we have today with our horse racing gambling.

chariot
Cynisca of Sparta By Richard Guimond 

For a Spartan women her fastest way to obtain wealth is to marry rich even though it may not the most romantic reason to get married most of the Spartan world wasn’t very romantic. One of the big ways of displaying one’s wealth and a way that women would be able to show wealth also is to have horses in competition and more importantly winning these competitions.(Pomeroy, S. B. (2002)

Women would have statutes created for them if they were successful enough in the horse racing world even if she was wasn’t present or competed herself she would bask in the glory since the horses would belong to her

Sources Used:

Cartledge, P. (1981). Spartan Wives: Liberation or Licence? The Classical Quarterly, 31(1), 84-105. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/638462

Constantinidou, S. (1998). Dionysiac Elements in Spartan Cult Dances. Phoenix, 52(1/2), 15-30. doi:10.2307/1088242

Dillon, M. (2007). Were Spartan Women Who Died in Childbirth Honoured with Grave Inscriptions? Hermes, 135(2), 149-165. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40379113

Pomeroy, S. B. (2002). Spartan women. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pomeroy, S. (2008). Spartan Women among the Romans: Adapting Models, Forging Identities. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes, 7, 221-234. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40379356

Scott, A. (2011). PLURAL MARRIAGE AND THE SPARTAN STATE. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, 60(4), 413-424. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41342859

Salus, C. (1985). Degas’ Young Spartans Exercising. The Art Bulletin, 67(3), 501-506. doi:10.2307/3050964

 

 

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