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Text: the politics of Aristotle

Exhibit Artifact List
Eastern Section of the Parthenon Frieze: Slab
Attic Red Figure Chous
Attic Red Figure Pyxis
Attic Red Figure, Hydra
Spartan Woman Running
Text: the politics of Aristotle
Text: Euphiletus: A Husband Speaks In his Own Defense
Text: Sophocles, Tereus
Exhibit Primary Text List
Exhibit Design

Women In Ancient Greece: A Comparison Between Athenian and Spartan Women

            The rest of the Ancient Greeks found the Spartan system to be unusual and flawed, attributing it to the comparatively large roll that woman played in the society.  One of the best examples of this is The Politics of Aristotle, written by Aristotle in 350 BCE.  In Book two it assess his views as to why Spartan Society has been in decline, and he seems to heap much scorn on the cities women.  The women in Sparta played an active and important roll in the every day affairs of the Spartan city state.  This is in contrast to Athens and other Ancient Greek city states where women found their roll in society relegated to housework.


“For, a husband and wife being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the women is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury. The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizen fall under the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races, except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves.”  (Jowett, 2006)


According to Aristotle, as translated by Benjamin Jowett, any society that was female dominated was seen as lacking law and order.  It was then evidently seen as important by the Athenian Aristotle to keep women in the house in the roll that Athenians believed they should play.  Aristotle also criticizes the Spartans for allowing women to own property; this is seen as causing the society to become far too greedy.  The implication here is that Sparta is weak because its men are seen as being dominated to a certain extent by the women.  This was largely due to the fact that by the 3rd century BCE women held most of the land in Sparta, while during Aristotle’s time they held 40% or two fifths. (Blundell, 1995 Pg. 156)


            The writings of Aristotle highlight once more the contrast between the roll of women in every day society in Sparta and Athens. 


“But what difference does it make whether women rule or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same. Even in regard to courage, which is of no use in daily life, and is needed only in war, the influence of the Lacedaemonian women has been most mischievous.  The evil showed itself in the Theban invasion, when, unlike the women other cities, they were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy.”  (Jowett, 2006)


            Once again we see that the text highlights the perception of Spartan woman in other city states including Athens.  This in itself gives a hint of the status of women in Athens and the other city states.  Above they have been blamed for a military defeat; it was their fault as far as the rest of the Greeks were concerned because of the roll they were playing in every day Spartan society.  It is obvious that the Athenians did not feel that women should play such an important roll in the running of the city state.

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