Calamos Supports Greece
GreekReporter.comAncient GreeceWomen in Ancient Sparta

Women in Ancient Sparta

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Young Women of Sparta
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Young Women of Sparta, 1868-1870. Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The educated, powerful, noble women of Ancient Sparta enjoyed far more freedom and independency than in any other Greek city-state.

Conversely, women in other regions of ancient Greece frequently faced significant limitations on their rights, including the absence of voting privileges, minimal influence in their husbands’ affairs, and restrictions on property ownership. Within this unique cultural landscape, Spartan women assumed vital roles in fostering the prosperity of Sparta alongside their male counterparts.

While many of their privileges were shaped by the distinct nature of Spartan society, their exceptional status highlighted the intriguing dynamics between personal freedoms and communal obligations within the Spartan way of life.

Women of Sparta Were Educated

A significant distinction between Spartan women and those in other Greek city-states lay in the realm of education. In ancient Greece, women’s roles were often overshadowed by men, and their education primarily revolved around equipping them with the skills needed for household and child-rearing duties. However, Sparta introduced a groundbreaking shift in this regard.

Spartan women’s education bore striking similarities to that of men. While boys were sent away from home at the age of seven to be raised as honorable warriors, girls, though they remained at home, engaged in many analogous activities. They received instruction in reading and writing, with a substantial emphasis on physical development, mirroring the training provided to boys.

The Spartans held the belief that only physically robust women could give birth to healthy and strong offspring. Consequently, young Spartan women actively participated in sports such as running, wrestling, horseback riding, and javelin throwing. While they did not receive combat training like their male counterparts, their education did encompass basic self-defense skills to protect themselves and their property.

Additionally, attention was devoted to cultivating their abilities in singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. Notably, women’s choirs even engaged in competitions as part of religious festivals.

Short Comfortable Clothes

The emphasis on intense physical activity also gave rise to a distinctive aspect of Spartan women’s lives. Their clothing differed significantly from the attire of women in the rest of Ancient Greece.

During that era, conventional clothing for women tended to be modest and covered, yet in Sparta, women wore relatively short dresses, providing them with greater freedom of movement. These garments were notably simple in design and devoid of embellishments.

The shorter attire was chosen to facilitate exercise, aligning with Spartan society’s values that prioritized strength and robust health among its inhabitants.

Marriage and Motherhood

Marriage held great significance in Sparta, and the duty to marry was deemed essential, with any failure to do so seen as disgraceful. Spartan women and men entered into marriage primarily to produce male heirs who would contribute to the support of the Spartan army.

Spartan women usually married at a later age, typically around eighteen to twenty years old. This differed from many other city-states where girls often wed as teenagers to considerably older men.

Young Spartan men were not allowed to live with their wives. To meet their brides, they had to leave the communal barracks at night if they wanted to spend time with their spouse.

In terms of household management, Spartan women were not responsible for domestic chores. These tasks were performed by serf helots, which afforded women more freedom.

Regarding motherhood, it held a revered place in Ancient Sparta, but mothers didn’t spend extensive time with their sons. Boys commenced their military training at the age of seven, at which point they left their parents’ homes. Sparta aimed to groom exceptional soldiers from a young age, and mothers took pride in raising courageous warriors.

According to the historian and philosopher Plutarch, mothers sometimes even handed their sons shields with the condition to return with them or on them, meaning to return either as victorious warriors or as fallen heroes on the battlefield.

Spartan Women Owned Land

In Sparta, unlike many other Greek cities, women had the right to own and manage land and property. This was imperative to the city’s life support since men were often far away and participated in the battles.

In this way, Spartan women, trained in self-defense, were given financial independence in the management of lands, farms, and estates. The land passed to women as a dowry or inheritance, and after death, it was passed on to their children.

Women of Sparta at the Olympic Games

bronze running girl
Bronze running girl, c. 560 BC. Credit: Caeciliusinhorto – Own work / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Olympic Games were revered and considered sacred, captivating the hearts of all Greeks. Yet, due to their sanctity, women were categorically forbidden from engaging in competitions and stepping onto the arena grounds. The penalty for women caught among the spectators could even be as severe as a death sentence.

However, there existed a remarkable exception to this rule in the form of Kyniska, a Spartan and the daughter of King Archidamus II. She was granted permission to participate in the Olympic Games, albeit in a unique capacity as a horse trainer. By competing as an equestrian, she avoided physically entering the sacred precincts of the Olympic Games, as she traveled on horseback.

Thus, the formal prohibition remained unbroken. Kyniska exhibited extraordinary talent for her time and went on to become the first woman to achieve victory in the Olympic Games.

See all the latest news from Greece and the world at Contact our newsroom to report an update or send your story, photos and videos. Follow GR on Google News and subscribe here to our daily email!

Related Posts