The Role Of Spartan Women Essay

1726 words - 7 pages

Unlike other Greek city states, women played an integral role in Spartan society as they were the backbone of the Spartan economic system of inheritance and marriage dowry and they were relied upon to fulfill their main responsibility of producing Spartan warrior sons. These principle economic systems affected wealth distribution among Spartan citizens especially among the Spartan elite class. Spartan women led a completely different life than women in most other ancient Greek city states, as they were depended upon to maintain Spartan social systems. In a society where the state is more involved in home life women had freedom of movement and they were permitted to communicate with men who were not their husbands. Women had domestic responsibilities including the maintenance of homes and farms when the men were on campaign, while the typical Greek female responsibilities such as weaving were delegated to slaves. Girls were raised much like Spartan boys as they were made to go through physical training insuring their success in fulfilling their most important role in society, child-bearing. The few primary sources on Sparta and Spartiate women, namely Aristotle, Plutarch, Herodotus and Xenophon were historians who lived after the prominence of ancient Sparta; therefore, the facts regarding the women’s influence in social, economic and political issues must be carefully interpreted and analysed with help from secondary sources.
In his Politics, Aristotle offers three defects in the Spartan System, the constant threat of a helot uprising, the nature of the estates and the status of women. Like other Greek women, the main responsibility of Spartan wives was Fertility and childbirth. The average age of a Spartan bride was between 18-20, 4-5 years older than other typical ancient Greek brides. Like most things in Spartan life there was a state control over marriage in Sparta, guided by the dowry system. And with the result of blood tying dowry exchanges fathers would arrange marriages in order to create family alliances. There is evidence of wife sharing in Sparta with the idea of building a military state. If one woman’s fertility was considered exceptional she would be shared with men other than her husband in order to produce numerous great warrior sons. There is even evidence of marriage between close kin to ensure the production of good Spartan warriors.
Aristotle, a critic of the Spartans, called Sparta “A state ruled by women.” He saw the status of women in Sparta as an affront to his own views on how Greek society should be a male dominated hierarchical society with limited control and freedom for women. Aristotle blames Spartan women’s lack of discipline for being one of the main reasons for the society’s eventual decline. This conflicts with other ancient sources like Xenophon who describes women’s participation in athletics and gymnastics, albeit nowhere near as regimented and arduous as the male agoge. Xenophon explains that Lycurgus...

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