What was the social status of women in Sparta and in Athens?

The social status of women in Sparta and Athens was very low. That said, Spartan women enjoyed more rights than their Athenian counterparts. Whereas women in Sparta were educated and able to participate in traditionally male activities such as athletic competitions, Athenian women were largely confined to the home.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Generally speaking, women across the Greek world had a very low social status. Each society, be it a democracy, an oligarchy, or a tyranny, was very much a man's world, where men were completely in charge and women, along with slaves, were actively excluded from public life.

Nevertheless, women in some Greek societies enjoyed more freedoms and opportunities than their sisters elsewhere. In Sparta, for example, women were educated, which in other Greek societies would've been unthinkable.

Spartan women were also able to participate in what were traditionally regarded as male pursuits, such as athletic competitions. To some extent, this was because Sparta was a martial society in which physical strength and prowess were highly prized.

In Sparta, there was a class of people called helots. These were slaves who did all the dirty work. In practice, this meant that Spartan women were generally freed of all the grinding domestic chores that Greek women in other societies were expected to perform on a daily basis.

In Athenian society, for example, women were confined almost exclusively to the home. Women were expected to be nothing more than loyal wives and caring mothers, devoted exclusively to catering to the needs of their husbands and children.

Though Athens was a democracy, women, like slaves, were actively excluded from political life. They played no part in the workings of the state and were not permitted to sit on the citizen juries that wielded so much power.

Even so, women in Athens were not completely excluded from public life. They were allowed, for example, to join cults and participate in public religious rituals. They also engaged in private religious rituals in the home, which was regarded as the natural province of wives and daughters.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team