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Women in Antiquity: CLAS 330/HUM 330/WS 330 (3 units)
Presession, Summer 1995: Monday, May 15 - Saturday, June 3
9:00 -11:50 AM MTWTHF ML 312
Instructor: Marilyn B. Skinner (

Lecture 5: Dark Ages and the Archaic Period

Pomeroy, chapter 3
Lefkowitz and Fant: 76, 97-99; 401

Changes in Social Values, 800-600 BC

The period from Homer (c. 800 BC) to Solon (archon of Athens in 594 BC) witnesses a shift in the structure of Greek society and an apparent change in the position of women.
  1. Rise of the polis: movement from a tribal monarchy with a warrior aristocracy, such as we find in Homer, to a community in which the nuclear family is central. No change in women's functions, but a change in ideology.
  2. Fluid social and political structure: age of colonization, in which men (not women) went abroad to found new settlements. Population pressure on land.
  3. Relation of oikos to the community: a. central to a stable social fabric in times of unrest b. producer of citizen soldiers (hoplites) c. household cults--community interest
  4. Shift in ideology
    1. family becomes source of legitimate children (e.g. Spartan concern with production of healthy offspring)
    2. men become defenders of city, not individual household
    3. women's importance as household partner and producer of legitimate children becomes community concern
    4. adultery punished by public as well as private sanctions, as in law code of Gortyn
  5. Increasing class divisions because clans no longer provide for dependents; hence greater economic pressure on all
    1. fierce competition between household units for resources
    2. wife the weak link, since she has no emotional stake in her marital oikos: interloper
    3. failure of wife represents significant threat to livelihood
    4. Hesiod's myth of "Pandora" and Semonides' catalogue of bad wives: woman a necessary evil
    5. sexuality and desire are detrimental to prosperity of oikos and survival of polis

Dorian and Ionian Women

Greece composed of different tribes with different customs and social structures. The Dorians settled Sparta and Crete, the Ionians Athens.
  1. Dorian women
    1. GORTYN (L&F 76): provisions of archaic legal code
      1. women as "legal persons"
        • laws on rape
        • recognition of economic contributions
        • female children can inherit, manage property
      2. situation of fatherless daughter without brothers:
        • pays compensation, gains choice of partner
        • poorer girls have most autonomy
        • protection of maternal (not paternal) uncles
    2. SPARTA: state of continuous war (L&F 97-99)
      1. communal life, no private property
        • warriors' mess halls
        • children regarded as property of state; elders decide if child is to live, allot land share
      2. emphasis on women's childbearing capacity
        • physical health
        • low interest in monogamy, sexual fidelity, because no private land, hence no concern with inheritance
        • citizen women did not weave
        • homoerotic bonding (L&F 401) as vehicle of socialization for girls (cf. Sappho)
      3. charged mother-son relationship: women left alone to raise sons and train them in warrior code
        • girls experience close bond with mothers
        • boys controlled by shame
        • "masculinized" Spartan mother tells us something about Athenian mother, by contrast
      4. women did amass land and money through inheritance, because men died in battle. Aristotle (4th c. BC): two-fifths of Spartan land held by women
  2. Ionian women
    1. Marriage: an agreement between two heads of households in which a woman is "handed over" (ekdosis) from one household to the other for the purpose of producing legitimate children
    2. Dowry: material evidence of this agreement and a link to the family of birth
      • woman's paternal inheritance
      • inalienable
      • after 451/50 BC, established citizenship of children
    3. Oikos: total of resources contributed to marriage by both partners (see Ischomachus' remarks in L&F 267)
      • male as public representative of the household
      • woman as internal guardian of resources
    4. Inheritance patterns and male-female population ratios