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Attic Red Figure, Hydra
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Women In Ancient Greece: A Comparison Between Athenian and Spartan Women

woman_with_baby.jpg
A woman with her baby. Note that the child is a male child. (Lewis, 2002 pg.16)

The Attic Red Figure Hydra was produced around 430 BCE.  This artifact shows women dealing with an infant.  In the context of this artifact it would seem to illustrate the social structure with regards to infants in Ancient Athens.  It is immediately obvious that women in Ancient Athens severed in the roll as nurturer to the infants of the city, unless they had a slave to do so for them.  This contrasts to the city state of Sparta where young boys left home to live in a barracks at a very young age.  Thus leaving only female children at home to be educated and nurtured by the mother.

 

            Ancient Athenian pottery depicting infants and their mothers looks, at least from the surface to hold no clues about the male, female domination of society.  However, it is imperative to note that female infants are almost never depicted.  For a mother to be depicted with a female infant would not have been flattering.  On the other hand it was very flattering for her to be depicted with a male infant.  For this meant that she had done a good job as a mother in that she produced a male heir for her husband.  This was because in Ancient Athens it was seen as important to pass on the family spirit by having a male descendant in each generation.  “If a man had a son or sons, either natural or adopted, then they inherited his property, sharing it equally between them, and perpetuated his oikos.” (Blundell, 1995 Pg. 116)  So it can be seen that a male heir was valued over the female heir as he inherited all of the property.  On the other hand daughters could not inherit their fathers property, or own property in Ancient Athens.

 

This difference in terms of property rights is in stark contrast to the situation in Sparta. 

“Aristotle identifies the unevenness of the distribution of private property as one of the basic weaknesses of Spartan Society, and singles out for particular criticism the fact that by his time almost two-fifths of the land was owned by a woman.”  (Blundell, 1995 Pg. 155)

 

Denoting that not only did these women own property but that they owned in their own right almost half of the property in the city state.  This was unheard of elsewhere in Ancient Greece.  For example in Athens women were not allowed to own land.

Project History 1001 A Virtual Museum Exhibit.  Noreen Emmanuel, Adam Dewar, & Kerylin Foss.