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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 6: Women and the City of Athens

Pomeroy, chapter 4
Lefkowitz and Fant: 79, 82-83; 86-88

Solon: Archon of Athens in 594 BC. Responsible for legislation codifying changes in Athenian women's social and legal position that had developed throughout Archaic period.

Purpose: curbing aristocracy through sumptuary laws and strengthening democracy.

The Status Dispute: "seclusion" vs. "protection"

Economic Protection for Women: Dowry (L&F 79)

  1. Girl's share of paternal estate; after 451/50, establishes citizenship of children
  2. Provided for poor girls by law; state dowered war orphans
  3. Inalienable
  4. Passes from husband's administration to son, who inherits
  5. Economic competition to dower girls well

Citizenship and Demographics

  1. Adult male citizen population of Attica: 30,000-40,000 in 5th century, 21,000 in later 4th century
  2. Athenian concept of "citizenship" - were women citizens? Meaning of "citizen": inherited and formal participation in a community
  3. Pericles' citizenship law of 451/50 BC
  4. Life expectancy and age at marriage: effect on family patterns
  5. "Infanticide dispute"

Customs and Laws Pertaining to Women

  1. Property administration:
  2. Divorce
  3. Proof of legitimate marriage or citizenship (L&F 86, 90)
  4. Respectable women not named in public (L&F 79)

Role of Women in Religion

  1. Ritual activities--women contribute to welfare of city-state
    1. Girls: choral dancing, arrephoroi, "bears" at Brauron
    2. Married women:
      • Panathenaic procession, other civic cults
      • Thesmophoria
      • Dionysiac rituals
  2. Priestesses: important class of citizen women named during their lifetimes in inscriptions, because of their public role
    1. often hereditary within family
    2. function: sacerdotal official
      • oversee cult of divinity
      • administrative duties connected with cult, e.g., assessing fines, organizing festivals
      • legal standing exactly parallel to that of male counterparts, could make contracts, sue and be sued
      • sacrosanct, given public funeral
    3. acted in public sphere when performing religious function
      • Priestess of Athena Polias forbade Spartan king Cleomenes to enter Acropolis (508 BC)
      • Theano, priestess of Demeter and Kore, defied public order to curse Alcibiades (415 BC)
  3. Priestess of Athena Polias
    1. served for life, had residence on Acropolis
    2. managed cult and its personnel
    3. trained girls who served the goddess
    4. oversaw the weaving of sacred robe and its dedication
    5. prepared sacred banquests
    6. Lysimache: held office for 64 years during the period of the Peloponnesian War, named by Aristophanes in contexts that suggest she was publicly known as proponent of peace
  4. Role of Basilinna, wife of the Archon Basileus, at Anthesteria
  5. Priestess of Demeter at Eleusis:
    1. eponymous
    2. paid an obel daily by all initiates
    3. priestesses may have enacted sacred tale of goddesses