Women in Greece

Women in Greece

Ellie Lambeti, Greek actress
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.146 (2013)
Rank 27th out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 3 (2010)
Women in parliament 21.0% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education 59.5% (2012)
Women in labour force 42.5% (employment rate OECD definition, 2015)[2]
Global Gender Gap Index[3]
Value 0.6782 (2013)
Rank 81st out of 144

The status and characteristics of ancient and modern-day women in Greece evolved from the events that occurred in the history of Greece. According to Michael Scott, in his article "The Rise of Women in Ancient Greece" (History Today), "place of women" and their achievements in ancient Greece was best described by Thucidydes in this quotation: that The greatest glory [for women] is to be least talked about among men, whether in praise or blame.[4] However, the status of Greek women has undergone change and more advancement upon the onset of the twentieth century. In 1952, they received their right to vote,[5] which led to their earning places and job positions in businesses and in the government of Greece; and they were able to maintain their right to inherit property, even after being married.[6]

Women in ancient Greece

Woman kneeling before an altar. Attic red-figure kylix, 5th BC, Stoa of Attalos

Social, legal and political status

Although most women lacked political and equal rights in ancient Greece, they enjoyed a certain freedom of movement until the Archaic age.[7] Records also exist of women in ancient Delphi, Gortyn, Thessaly, Megara and Sparta owning land, the most prestigious form of private property at the time.[8] However, after the Archaic age, women's status had gotten worse and introduction of legal laws such as gender segregation were implemented.[7]

Women in Classical Athens had no legal personhood and were assumed to be part of the oikos headed by the male kyrios. Until marriage, women were under the guardianship of their fathers or other male relatives; once married, the husband became a woman’s kyrios. While the average age to get married for men was around 30, the average age for women was 14. This system was implemented as a way to ensure that girls were still virgins when they wed; it also made it possible for husbands to choose who their wife’s next husband was going to be before he died.[9] As women were barred from conducting legal proceedings, the kyrios would do so on their behalf.[10] Athenian women had limited right to property and therefore were not considered full citizens, as citizenship and the entitlement to civil and political rights was defined in relation to property and the means to life.[11] However, women could acquire rights over property through gifts, dowry and inheritance, though her kyrios had the right to dispose of a woman’s property.[12] Athenian women could enter into a contract worth less than the value of a “medimnos of barley” (a measure of grain), allowing women to engage in petty trading.[10] Slaves, like women, were not eligible for full citizenship in ancient Athens, though in rare circumstances they could become citizens if freed. The only permanent barrier to citizenship, and hence full political and civil rights, in ancient Athens was gender. No women ever acquired citizenship in ancient Athens, and therefore women were excluded in principle and practice from ancient Athenian democracy.[13]

By contrast, Spartan women enjoyed a status, power, and respect that was unknown in the rest of the classical world. Although Spartan women were formally excluded from military and political life they enjoyed considerable status as mothers of Spartan warriors. As men engaged in military activity, women took responsibility for running estates. Following protracted warfare in the 4th century BC Spartan women owned approximately between 35% and 40% of all Spartan land and property.[14][15] By the Hellenistic Period, some of the wealthiest Spartans were women.[16] They controlled their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who were away with the army.[14] Spartan women rarely married before the age of 20, and unlike Athenian women who wore heavy, concealing clothes and were rarely seen outside the house, Spartan women wore short dresses and went where they pleased.[17] Girls as well as boys received an education, and young women as well as young men may have participated in the Gymnopaedia ("Festival of Nude Youths").[14][18] Despite relatively greater mobility for Spartan women, their role in politics was just as the same as Athenian women, they could no take part in it. Men forbade them from speaking at assemblies and segregated them from any political activities. Aristotle also thought Spartan women's influence was mischievous and highlighted the greater legal freedom of women in Sparta were its ruins.[19]

Athens was also the cradle of philosophy at the time and anyone could become a poet, scholar, politician or artist except women.[19] Historian Don Nardo stated “throughout antiquity most Greek women had few or no civil rights and many enjoyed little freedom of choice or mobility.[19] During the Hellenistic period in Athens, the famous philosopher Aristotle thought that women would bring disorder, evil, and were “utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy.”[19] Because of this, Aristotle thought keeping women separate from the rest of the society was the best idea.[19] This separation would entail living in homes called a gynaeceum while looking after the duties in the home and having very little exposure with the male world.[19] This was also to protect women's fertility from men other than her husband so her fertility can ensure their legitimacy of their born linage.[19] Athenian women were also educated very little except home tutorship for basic skills such as spin, weave, cook and some knowledge of money.[19]

Plato acknowledged that extending civil and political rights to women would substantively alter the nature of the household and the state.[20] Aristotle, who had been taught by Plato, denied that women were slaves or subject to property, arguing that "nature has distinguished between the female and the slave", but he considered wives to be "bought". He argued that women's main economic activity is that of safeguarding the household property created by men. According to Aristotle the labour of women added no value because "the art of household management is not identical with the art of getting wealth, for the one uses the material which the other provides".[21]

Contrary to these views, the Stoic philosophers argued for equality of the sexes, sexual inequality being in their view contrary to the laws of nature.[22] In doing so, they followed the Cynics, who argued that men and women should wear the same clothing and receive the same kind of education.[22] They also saw marriage as a moral companionship between equals rather than a biological or social necessity, and practiced these views in their lives as well as their teachings.[22] The Stoics adopted the views of the Cynics and added them to their own theories of human nature, thus putting their sexual egalitarianism on a strong philosophical basis.[22]

Right to divorce

Despite the harsh limits on women's freedoms and rights in ancient Greece, their rights in context of divorce were fairly liberal. Marriage could be terminated by mutual consent or action taken by either spouse. If a woman wanted to terminate her marriage, she needed the help of her father or other male relative to represent her, because as a woman she was not considered a citizen of Greece. If a man wanted a divorce however, all he had to do was throw his spouse out of his house. A woman’s father also had the right to end the marriage. In the instance of a divorce, the dowry was returned to the woman’s guardian (who was usually her father) and she had the right to retain ½ of the goods she had produced while in the marriage. If the couple had children, divorce resulted in paternal full custody, as children are seen as belonging to his household. While the laws regarding divorce may seem relatively fair considering how little control women had over most aspects of their lives in ancient Greece, women were unlikely to divorce their husbands because of the damage it would do to their reputation.[9] As women were barred from conducting legal proceedings, the kyrios would do so on their behalf.[10]


In ancient Greek society, education was considered to encompass cultural training in addition to formal schooling. Young Greek children, both boys and girls alike, were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic by a litterator (the equivalent to a modern elementary school teacher). If a family did not have the financial ability to provide further education, boys would begin working for the family business or train as an apprentice, while girls were expected to stay home and help their mother’s manage the household. If a family did the money to continue their children’s education, parents could choose to continue to educate their daughters as well as their sons. This next level of schooling included learning how to speak correctly and interpret poetry, and was taught by a Grammaticus. Music, mythology, religion, art, astronomy, philosophy, and history were all taught as segments of this level of education.[23]

Women in the Greek War of Independence

Amongst the Greek warriors in the Greek War of Independence, there were also women, such as Laskarina Bouboulina. Bouboulina, also known as kapetanissa (captain/admiral) in 1821 raised on the mast of Agamemnon her own Greek flag and sailed with eight ships to Nafplion to begin a naval blockade. Later she took part also in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.

Another heroine was Manto Mavrogenous. From a rich family, she spent all her fortune for the Hellenic cause. Under her encouragement, her European friends contributed money and guns to the revolution. She moved to Nafplio in 1823, in order to be in the core of the struggle, leaving her family as she was despised even by her mother because of her choices. Soon, she became famous around Europe for her beauty and bravery.

Contemporary period

During the past decades, the position of women in Greek society has changed dramatically. In 1983, a new family law was passed, which provided for gender equality in marriage, and abolished dowry and provided for equal rights for "illegitimate" children.[24][25][26] Adultery was also decriminalised in 1983. The new family law provided for civil marriage and liberalised the divorce law. In 2006, Greece enacted Law 3500/2006 -"For combating domestic violence"- which criminalised domestic violence, including marital rape.[27] Law 3719/2008 further dealt with family issues, including Article 14 of the law, which reduced the separation period (necessary before a divorce in certain circumstances) from 4 years to 2 years[28] Greece also ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2014.[29] As of 2014, there are 21.0% women in parliament.[30]

Family dynamics remain however conservative. The principal form of partnership is marriage, and extramarital childbearing and long term cohabitation are not widespread. For instance, in 2014 Greece had the lowest percentage of births outside marriage in the European Union, at only 8.2%.[31]

See also


  1. "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LFS_SEXAGE_I_R#
  3. "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13.
  4. Scott, Michael. The Rise of Women in Ancient Greece, History Today, Volume: 59 Issue: 11 2009
  5. Kerstin Teske: teske@fczb.de. "European Database: Women in Decision-making - Country Report Greece". Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  6. Hitton, Shanti. Social Culture of Greece, Travel Tips, USA Today
  7. 1 2 Nardo, Don (2000). Women of Ancient Greece. San Diego: Lucent Books. p. 28.
  8. Gerhard, Ute (2001). Debating women’s equality: toward a feminist theory of law from a European perspective. Rutgers University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8135-2905-9.
  9. 1 2 Kirby, John T. "Marriage". go.galegroup.com. Retrieved 2015-10-19.
  10. 1 2 3 Blundell, Sue (1995). Women in ancient Greece, Volume 1995, Part 2. Harvard University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-674-95473-1.
  11. Gerhard, Ute (2001). Debating women’s equality: toward a feminist theory of law from a European perspective. Rutgers University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-8135-2905-9.
  12. Blundell, Sue (1995). Women in ancient Greece, Volume 1995, Part 2. Harvard University Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-674-95473-1.
  13. Robinson, Eric W. (2004). Ancient Greek democracy: readings and sources. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-631-23394-7.
  14. 1 2 3 Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddess, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. p. 60-62
  15. Tierney, Helen (1999). Women’s studies encyclopaedia, Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 609–610. ISBN 978-0-313-31072-0.
  16. Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 137
  17. Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 134
  18. Pomeroy 2002, p. 34
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pry, Kay O (2012). "Social and Political Roles of Women in Athens and Sparta". Sabre and Scroll Vol 1 Issue 2.
  20. Robinson, Eric W. (2004). Ancient Greek democracy: readings and sources. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-631-23394-7.
  21. Gerhard, Ute (2001). Debating women’s equality: toward a feminist theory of law from a European perspective. Rutgers University Press. pp. 32–35. ISBN 978-0-8135-2905-9.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Colish, Marcia L. (1990). The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: Stoicism in classical Latin literature. BRILL. pp. 37–38. ISBN 90-04-09327-3., 9789004093270
  23. Kirby, Ed T. "Education". Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale Group. Retrieved 2015-11-30.
  24. Marcos, Anastasios C, and Bahr, Stephen J. 2001 Hellenic (Greek) Gender Attitudes. Gender Issues. 19(3):21-40.
  25. http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/26/world/around-the-world-greece-approves-family-law-changes.html#
  26. Demos, Vasilikie. (2007) “The Intersection of Gender, Class and Nationality and the Agency of Kytherian Greek Women.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. August 11.
  27. http://www.isotita.gr/en/index.php/docs/c81/
  28. http://www2.ohchr.org/English/bodies/cedaw/docs/54/CEDAW-C-GRC-7.pdf
  29. "Liste complète". Bureau des Traités. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  30. http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
  31. "Eurostat - Tables, Graphs and Maps Interface (TGM) table". Retrieved 20 April 2016.

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