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Women's Roles in Ancient Greece and Rome

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Women's Roles in Ancient Greece and Rome

Women have played important roles throughout history. They have been responsible for the rise and fall of nations, sustaining families, and have been the focal point of worship in ancient religions. Moving forward in history, women's roles have continually changed. Their status as matriarchs changed as the more advanced ancient civilizations rose. The patriarchal societies of ancient Greece and Rome viewed women differently from some societies of past eras. The study of the economic and political status of women, their rights, and their contributions to both these ancient societies reveals how views change throughout history.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, much off what we know about the lives of women is recorded by men. Because of this, the public lives of women are more understood than the aspects of their private life. Did women loathe their roles in society in secret, or did they revel in their ability to be free of the expectations that burdened their male counterparts?

In Ancient Greece, women were considered inferior to men. They were believed to have strong emotions but weak minds, incapable of governing themselves. Because of this, women were appointed guardians to protect them from themselves and to protect others. This role, held by either the closest male relative or husband, is known as the kyrios. The kyrios controlled the life of the women, as they were unable to buy goods, own property of enter in to contracts on her own. Although a woman could not purchase items, they were allowed to own their own clothes, personal items and slaves. Property was obtained by inheritance, marriage of gifts.

Grecian women married at young ages for the purpose of producing children to continue the lineage or as a means of preserving their status in society. Only citizens were allowed to marry, and marriages were arranged according to wealth and status. From that point, the woman was expected to manage the household and produce children, only leaving the home for funerals or events specific to women. Women and men did not socialize together and during gatherings, women were expected to remain separate from the men.

Women were divided in to two groups, those of wives and those of non-wives. The wives group included both current wives and those with potential as future wives. The non-wives group was subdivided into further groups. Women who lived in brothels were treated much as slaves with little freedom. Some non-wives offered their services on the streets, and could barter prices with customers but were required to wear certain garments to ensure they were recognized in public places. A more desirable role of the non-wives is the hetera. This woman, more than an object, was capable of entertaining the men. They were often sought out to entertain the men during Symposiums with conversation, songs, and music. These women could become self sustaining and own homes and live life as they pleased. Concubine women enjoyed perhaps the most beneficial lives as kept mistresses of men. They were provided homes and cared for by primarily one man. Women were used at the disposal of men and their whims throughout the society.

Women in Ancient Rome enjoyed a slightly better life than those in Ancient Greece. Roman men "placed a very high value on marriage, home and the family and this made quite a difference to society's treatment of women" (Thompson, 2005). Women still were passed from their father's supervision to their husbands, but enjoyed a more important role. While women could not hold office, men often sought the advice of their wives, giving them a powerful role in the politics of the society. There were also laws enacted that allowed women to remain under the power of their fathers rather than their husbands, providing them more freedom to govern their own business.

Consent for marriage was required, and Senators could not marry a freedwoman, nor could the female descendant of a Senator marry a freedman. Certain women were permanently disqualified from marrying freedmen. "Prostitutes, procuresses, actresses, women working in a tavern and women convicted of adultery" (Thompson, 2005) were not allowed to marry but were permitted to fulfill the role of a concubine.

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