Women in most parts of Ancient Greece had very few rights. Men were in charge, and women were considered second-class citizens.
Once a woman got married, she was expected to obey her husband and take care of the home. Before marriage, the woman’s father or another male relative served as her guardian.
However, there were some exceptions. Different city-states treated women in different ways.
Rights of Ancient Greek Women
Most Ancient Greek women did not have much freedom. Typically, they did not get to choose who they married. Instead, a woman would be “given” in marriage by her father to her new husband.
Married women couldn’t leave the house without permission from their husbands, even to go visit a female friend.
Wealthy women could only leave the house if accompanied by a slave or male companion. Only poor women might go out alone to fetch water, wash clothing, or shop for the family.
Girls and young women typically did not go to school. They might receive a basic education at home, or they might simply learn to cook, clean, and sew.
For the most part, women didn’t have jobs. They could be priestesses for the Greek goddesses. Some poor women might take on work to help support the family, but this was considered shameful.
In most city-states, Greek women could not own property. Sparta was one exception to this rule. In fact, Spartan women owned about 40% of the city-state’s property at one time.
In Athens, which was a democracy, women did not have the right to vote and were not considered full citizens. Only men could be citizens. Women did not participate in government at all.
Women were typically separated from men in Ancient Greece. They often lived in a different part of the home, and they ate their meals after the men were finished eating. Many gatherings were for men only.
Daily Life for Ancient Greek Women
In Ancient Greece, women were expected to have children (preferably males) and manage household duties. Men were often away on business or at war, so the women oversaw the home.
Wealthy women had servants or slaves who helped cook, clean, care for the children, and more. The women were in charge of managing the slaves and servants.
Even wealthy women typically helped sew clothes for the family too.
Women without slaves or servants handled all the household responsibilities themselves.
For this reason, poor women often had slightly more freedom. They had to leave home to run errands and fetch water. They sometimes took jobs as servants or worked in shops.
Rural women might be expected to gather vegetables and harvest olives and fruit.
For the most part, Ancient Greek women were confined to the home, where they raised children and managed the household.
Women in Sparta
Spartan women enjoyed far more freedom than most other Ancient Greek women.
Sparta was known for producing the best warriors. Spartan women had to be strong and athletic to give birth to strong, athletic soldiers. They were honored and respected for being the mothers of soldiers.
In addition, Spartan men mostly lived outside the home in military barracks and were often away at war. Women had to have a certain amount of independence.
Spartan women could own property and could go wherever they wanted without asking for permission.
They participated in sports and athletic competitions, socialized freely with men, and openly expressed their opinions.
They also attended school and were considered witty and highly educated. Other Greek city-states disapproved of this, but the Spartans wanted strong and intelligent women to give birth to their future soldiers.
One thing Spartan women could not do was work. However, they could earn money from land holdings that either they or their families were given through a public land distribution program.
Sparta was the city-state that gave women the most freedom. But there are some documented instances of women owning private property in Delphi, Gortyn, Sparta, Thessaly, and Megara too.
Interesting Facts About Ancient Greek Women
In Ancient Greece, wealthy women were only supposed to leave the home to visit female neighbors (with permission). Exceptions to this rule were funerals, weddings, and important religious festivals.
Married women in Ancient Greece attended a three-day religious festival called the feast of Thesmophoria. There, they shouted insults at each other to amuse the gods and ensure a good harvest.
Most Ancient Greek women had to wear ankle-length tunics, but Spartan women could wear short tunics like men.
Ancient Greek women could not participate in the Olympic Games, and married women could not even attend. If a married woman was caught at the Games, she could be put to death.
Most girls in Ancient Greece got married around the age of 15.
Jewelry and makeup were popular in Ancient Greece. Often, only wealthy women could afford these luxuries.
Even poor Ancient Greek women usually wore complicated hairstyles, and most women could afford to use occasional oils and perfumes in their hair.
To get fresh air, women would spend a lot of time in the open-air courtyards of their home. However, they made sure not to get too much sun, since very fair skin was considered attractive and a sign of wealth.