Assess the role played by Spartan women within their society

Download 9.93 Kb.
Size9.93 Kb.

Assess the role played by Spartan women within their society

Every class in Spartan society had an important duty to perform in order for the state to maintain a level of military supremacy Accordingly, Spartan women had to create healthy babies for the Spartan state. This Eugenic role does not solely define them however as they had significant religious , economic and social roles. Despite the fact that our sources are largely non Spartan and male, even archaeological evidence from Artemis Orthia and poetry by Alcman support the image of Spartan women as highly visible, unusual in a Greek world. This image however is restricted to Spartiate women as sources revealing the lives of helot, and perioikoi women are almost non existant

Spartan women were well educated and brought up in a distinct manner to become proper mothers for the state, manage kleroi (state-owned property) and participate in religious festivals. A woman’s education was similar to that of the Spartan males, yet it was also very distinctive. It involved exercising with the boys to increase their physical resilience and make them tougher in addition to encourage competitiveness and equality. This was accomplished through such sports as running, wrestling, javelin and discus throwing, and certain ball games. Herodotus points out an unusual exercise called the bibasis; he calls it a highly strenuous exercise, which involved jumping up and down, each time touching their buttocks and heels. These exercises were designed to increase a woman’s chance of producing fit, healthy males – so they could become great warriors of Sparta. However a woman not only required a strong body, but a strong mind. A girl’s education also included being taught reading and writing (Plato believed that the Spartan women had the best education in philosophy). Here they would remain at home with their mothers to learn these literacy skills. This practice of mental strengthening was reinforced through choral singing, where they were taught, and had to perform, choral lyrics - usually myths with strong military overtones of heroes and war-like gods. Historians know the content of these songs through the ancient text the Partheniai – a collection of poems and songs composed by Alcman, a famous Spartan poet. A woman’s education emphasised their important role within Spartan society. Anton Powell reflects on the uniqueness of Spartan women when he says:” We have already encountered three facts which may have caused Spartan women to be more assertive outside the home than those of other cities; their financial position, their outdoor training and the absence abroad of many men in the period of Sparta’s Empire.”

Women were perhaps the most important feature of Spartan society for many reasons. They weren’t allowed to spin or weave like women from other parts of Greece; such menial tasks were meant for the helots – state owned slaves. Instead, a major responsibility they were given was to oversee the kleros while their husbands were away at war or in training. According to J.T Hooker, a woman could also inherit the state owned land from her father. This meant that they controlled the family wealth – an in effect the entire Spartan agricultural economy. Plato writes later that “ We huddle together all our goods, as the saying goes, within four walls and then hand the dispensing of them to women….In Sparta, the women abstain from wool work, but weave themselves instead a life that is not trivial…”

Spartan male citizens were dependant on their wife’s efficiency to pay their “dues” to the syssitia. Nonetheless their most important role was to become mothers of citizens. Xenophon stated, “for free women the most important job was to bear children.”

From birth, mothers disciplined the child and instilled the attitudes of the agoge both physically and psychologically.In this way they maintained a strong socialization role. They introduced their child to physical training and taught them to be tough by refusing to nurture them as babies. They implanted the ideas of constantly performing at perfection, and were ultimately responsible for raising children to conform and be loyal to the state. Spartan women freely gave up their sons to the agoge at the age of seven, for their formal military training. Consequently mothers had to maintain her son’s discipline before the introduction to the agoge. Spartan mothers were a vital part in the disciplinary aspect of the Spartan military lifestyle. A famous saying a mother would say to her son while handing him his shield before he left for battle was “either with this or, on this” - the ultimate dream a Spartan mother had for her son was for him to be a hero, and a hero only returned victorious or dead

There is much evidence to show that Spartan women had an important role in Spartan religion. Some of this evidence comes from the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, here hundreds of votive offerings were found - interestingly the majority of them were lead figurines in the shape of women. Some possible reasons for this might have to do with childbirth. It is believed that pregnant women would make these offerings for two purposes: either to ask for a successful childbirth (many women died from giving birth in antiquity) or to ask that they bear a strong and healthy son, fit to become a warrior of Sparta. Yet it is also possible that the female-shaped figurines represented the understanding of importance and deep respect for the ‘maternal figure’ in Spartan religion – as the Spartans took up many female gods from Greek mythology. At the temple of Athena of the Bronze House, Pausanias mentions the numerous bronze statues of Athena and Aphrodite, typifying the importance of matriarchal figures in Spartan religion. This is further reinforced through the fact that the Spartans did not spend much time being involved in building projects, therefore large religious structures dedicated to women demonstrate the reverence women received. There were three major festivals in Sparta: the Karneia, the Hyakinthia and the Gymnopaediae – not surprisingly, all of which, women were prominent participants. At the Hyakinthia they rode in ceremonial chariots made of reeds, marched in procession, sung, danced and partook in sacrifices and feats. At the Gymnopaediae, they could compete with the males in athletic competitions, sometimes proving that the women had superior endurance and fitness. According to Plutarch, Lycurgus stated that only women who had died giving birth would be allowed to have a marked grave – further archaeological evidence reinforces this custom. This shows how important childbirth was to the Spartans in that “only women who lost their lives to perpetuate the state were honoured as heroes.”

Although Plutarch, Xenophon and Aristotle’s image of Spartan women were part of the general ” mirage”, it is significant that in no sources do Spartan women ever appear as passive, an unusual achievement in a predominantly male Greek world. Their importance to their society centred on their biological, economic, religious and socializing capacity
Download 9.93 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page