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Archaic Greek Woman



Life for Women in Ancient Greece

What do you think of when you picture life in Ancient Greece? Philosophy? Wine? Drinking parties? The Olympic Games? Well, you’re not wrong. These were all important parts of life for the people of Ancient Greece.

But there’s something missing from the picture: women. The women of ancient Greece had far fewer rights than men. They couldn’t vote, they couldn’t participate in drinking parties and their main role in life was to raise their kids. As children, young Greek girls were under the authority of their father. And after marriage, their husbands became their official guardians.

But how did the life of Ancient Greek women change from childhood to maturity? Were there exceptions? And what did their daily life look like?


Resources:

  • Hanson, Victor Davis/ Heath, John, “Who Killed Homer : The Demise of
    Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom”, Encounter Books,
    April 2001, Dimensions: 9.01″ x 5.98″ x 1.05″, Paperback, ISBN: 1893554260
  • Winterer, Caroline, “Culture of Classicism : Ancient Greece and Rome in
    American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910″, Johns Hopkins University Press,
    December 2001, Dimensions: 9.22″ x 6.3″ x 0.89”, Hardcover, Category:
    History/Ancient – General, ISBN: 0801867991

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Women in Ancient Times : Woman in Ancient Greece

Life in Ancient Greece was not a lot of fun for women. But if you lived in the right city-state or wound up with the right job, things could be a little bit easier. From lady Olympics to religious rites, here&rsquos what life was like for women in Ancient Greece. Name something, literally anything, and Ancient Greek men probably banned women from doing it, watching it, or participating in it. Working? Nuh-uh. Politics? No way. Even just walking around the market? Totally frowned upon. This included the Olympic Games. But women did actually have their own version of the Olympic Games called the Heraean Games. Held every four years, the games consisted of 16 women from various city-states competing in footraces. The winners received olive branch headdresses, plus part of a dead cow, and statues with their names carved on them were dedicated to them. Spartan women apparently won a lot of the time, as you'd expect. Some historians don't believe the Heraean Games actually existed, since there's very little evidence for them. But others say this is just a sign of the insignificance of women to the Ancient Greeks.

Ancient Greek women had very different outcomes in life depending on where they were born, and the class they were born into. Some could be isolated, valued only for their ability to bear children. Some could be prostititutes . and others could be empowered, tough, capable women who kept society together.

Ancient Athenian vs Spartan Women: the Lives of Women during Ancient times. What was it like to live in Ancient Athens and Sparta as a woman? What were the differences in education, lifestyle, fashion, sex, gender roles, political and economic power? Why are Spartan women regarded as being more liberated than their Athenian counterparts? How oppressed were Ancient Athenian women compared to others?


Women in Ancient Greece

Women in most city-states of ancient Greece had very few rights. They were under the control and protection of their father, husband, or a male relative for their entire lives. Women had no role in politics. Women with any wealth did not work. They stayed indoors running their households. The only public job of importance for a woman was as a religious priestess.

In Sparta, men stayed in barracks until they were thirty. Since Spartan women did not have this restriction, they had more freedoms and responsibilities in public life. They were able to go out in public unescorted, participate in athletic contests, and inherit land. In the fourth century, over two-fifths of the land in Sparta was owned by women. In Athens, the law required all inheritances to go through the male line and limited property that could be owned by women.

It was the wives who supervised the slaves and managed the household responsibilities, such as weaving and cooking. In affluent homes, women had a completely separate area of the house where men were not permitted. In the homes of the poor, separate areas were not available. Poor women often worked outside the home, assisting their husbands at the market or at some other job. Poorer women often went to the market without a male escort.


The Rise of Women in Ancient Greece

Michael Scott looks at how a time of crisis in the fourth century BC proved a dynamic moment of change for women in the Greek world.

The sources that survive from ancient Greece are overwhelmingly written by men for men. The surviving physical evidence – temples, buildings and battle memorials – all speak of a man’s world. Surviving works of art feature women in various guises, but rarely give an insight into any other kind of world except that in which women were controlled, contained and often exploited. Even ancient Athenian democracy,which the modern world honours, denied women the vote. The place of women in ancient Greece is summed up most acutely by the historian Thucydides writing in the fifth century BC when he comments: ‘The greatest glory [for women] is to be least talked about among men, whether in praise or blame.’

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From Ancient Greece to Prada SS19: The history of the headband

Since ancient times the accessory has evoked sporting prowess, regal ambitions, hard work and louche lounging, as well as eternally nostalgic style on the catwalk. Vogue traces the history of the headband

As the models emerged on Prada’s SS19 catwalk, their padded headbands immediately made an impact. Worn with every look, in designs from pearly shell pink to black studded leather, Miuccia Prada’s luxurious creations kick-started the resurgence of this age-old accessory.

In many ways, the headband is less a singular item, more a whole genus of accessories. It can be padded à la Prada or a classic Alice band, so named after Lewis Carroll’s eponymous character (followed by Disney’s 1951 film, which further cemented the girl who tumbled into another world’s status as a memorable headband wearer). It’s incarnation as a wrap or a scarf has a history as long as it is complex, ranging from specific faith-based and cultural uses to Gloria Swanson lounging around in silks. It can also be something elaborate, closer to a fascinator or headpiece.

No surprise then that the reference points are so immediately wide-ranging. Headbands and their attendant variants have been around for centuries. Mesopotamian fillets kept hair in place, while Greek laurel wreaths were rooted in mythology both were images of intellectual or physical prowess. Then there’s medieval diadems and the ever-eternal flower crown, beloved of ancient civilisations and Coachella attendees alike.

Portrait of actor Louise Brooks

In the 20th century the headband moved through plenty of iterations, too. In the 1920s it was worn by a new generation of women determined to do away with past sartorial restrictions. Ideal for accentuating fashionably cropped hair, silent film stars Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were both fans. It’s a detail of the decade that’s stuck ever since: any Great Gatsby-themed party is incomplete without a sea of feathers bobbing from spangled headbands.

Come the 1930s, Coco Chanel made the headband look effortless, styled with belted white trousers while the 1940s saw it take on a more practical guise for women in the Second World War. This functional headband not only changed the position of women in the professional sphere, but also the role of clothing in a society where, for a while, fabric rationing and workplace requirements called for pragmatism. Most famously worn by Rosie the Riveter in her poster proclaiming “We Can Do It!”, the red polka-dot bandana—described in another ad as “Water repellent. Washable. Dust proof.”—formed part of the uniform of Women Ordnance Workers.

Audrey Hepburn holding her pet fawn

Post-war the headband returned to its decorative roots. It could reliably be found atop a beehive or adding a final touch to an immaculate New Look-inspired get-up. Brigitte Bardot wore them frequently most famously in Le Mépris, her wide navy scarf accompanied by stripes and thick eyeliner. Grace Kelly always looked polished in hers. For Audrey Hepburn, headbands came with bows (and sometimes accompanied by her baby deer Pippin). Jackie O wore one in hot pink during a trip to India. Sharon Tate’s flower child garb was completed by headbands worn low across the forehead.

American singer and actress Diana Ross, 1973

Tipping towards the loose lines and easy glamour of the 1970s, Diana Ross plumped for glitz and velvet, while Bianca Jagger favoured opulent headwraps and metallics for her Studio 54 nights out. The 1970s also saw the return of the headband in a sports context—the legacy of 1920s tennis player Suzanne Lenglen continued in Björn Borg’s famous striped terry-cloth styles. Off court, the rise of fitness videos in the 1980s inspired some memorable looks from the likes of Olivia Newton-John and Cher, a brightly coloured headband proving the perfect counterpart to spandex and leg warmers.

Hillary Clinton attends White House event

In the 1990s and 2000s, the Alice band returned to the fore. Hillary Clinton wore them frequently while on screen, the preppy all-American won out—from Alicia Silverstone in Clueless to Selma Blair in Legally Blonde, and the ultimate queen of headbands and venomous remarks, Leighton Meester as Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf.

Princess Diana in a David Emanuel dress

With this legacy, the headband now occupies an interesting position: running the gamut between carefree afternoons on the beach to political rallies and heady, after-dark occasions. It’s been the domain of coquettish flappers and machinating students, wannabe princesses and neon-bright fitness queens, boiler suit-clad workers and perfectly manicured women. And it will forever evoke Princess Diana, repurposing an emerald and diamond choker as a jewelled headband during a tour of Australia in 1985.

Today, the headband suggests a certain kind of cool too: the minimalism of Dior’s SS19 sleek bands over even sleeker hair, or the eclectic (and, crucially, Instagrammable) appeal of fur and pearls crowning braids à la Shrimps AW19. In the hands of Simone Rocha, with her inclusion of sparkling headbands for both SS19 and AW19, they’ve become something delectable. These are a new type of headband altogether. One that taps into the current taste for late 1990s/early 2000s’ rhinestone-and-barrette-edged nostalgia, while also offering the pure childish pleasure of donning a toy tiara, a glimpse of gems or satin nestled atop a head held high. Whether worn by ambitious girls or royalty, the headband is the ultimate chameleon, which will no doubt retain its allure for years to come.


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Reclining and Dining (and Drinking) in Ancient Greece

Elite Greeks and Romans reclined to dine, and ordinary people copied them when they could. Although the practice seems strange to us, it must have been both comfortable and convenient, since reclining during meals spread throughout the Mediterranean and survived for over a millennium!

At the Getty Villa we revived Greek and Roman practices of drinking and dining for a recent gallery course, which provided the opportunity to reenact (and, of course, photograph) ancient lounge-drinking practices. I’ll talk about Greek customs, moving to the Romans in a follow-up post.

Greek dining couches of the archaic and classical periods were intended for men and, sometimes, their female companions (courtesans or prostitutes—like the woman on the painted vase above—but not elite wives and daughters). The couches were “single beds” that could accommodate an additional person, especially during a symposion (symposium), the after-dinner male drinking party.

From seven to fifteen beds were arranged against the walls of the andron, the male dining room, each bed with its own little table and often a step stool. Rather than actually lying down, the men reclined on their left elbows and used their right hands to eat and drink. They propped themselves up quite high on pillows and kept their balance by bending their right knees and bracing them against the left (and probably by leaning against the wall, when necessary). This pose requires a flexible waist!

Getty Villa docent Don Peterson reclines on his left side, elbow raised on a stack of pillows, with his right knee bent. He holds a skyphos, a common stemless drinking cup.

After dinner, the drinking party began. Often high-toned symposiasts—Socrates, for example—held educational as well as convivial conversations other times, the drinkers got down to partying ASAP.

If additional people joined the drinking party, they could be squeezed onto the couches. Since the room was designed for right-handed people, lefties had to accommodate to the layout, or turn and face the wall.

Latin students Petal Niles and Athena Schlereth squeeze onto one couch for a symposion. Athena (right) holds a kylix as she contemplates the philosophical discussion she intends to initiate Petal (left) examines the image on her skyphos as she awaits the arrival of the wine-pouring slave.

The area in the middle of the Greek dining room was left open for serving food and drink, for entertainment, and for a stand to be placed during kottabos, a drinking game in which the drinker tossed the lees in his wine cup to knock something off the stand. Wine was not filtered and strained as it is today, and the dregs were left in the bottom of the cup. In this video I demo the basics.

The painting on the cup at the top of this post shows a naked slave woman playing kottabos, hooking her forefinger into one handle of her skyphos as she prepares to toss her wine dregs toward the stand in the middle of the room.

There won’t be any drinking games, but this Saturday, we’re offering another homage to ancient Greek drinking with a lecture and wine tasting celebrating the symposion that combines erudition and wine. Or try kottabos at your next dinner party, recreating the Greek dining couches with benches and lots of pillows.


The Amazons of Lemnos

The rather unknown North Aegean island Lemnos amazes with its great prehistoric past. About 5000 years ago there existed a highly-developed civilization which created imposing cities, mighty rock buildings and impressive sanctuaries on this Greek island. The discovery of Poliochni was sensational. Because of its largeness and refinement this Bronze Age settlement is regarded as the most ancient city of Europe. Also the discoveries at Myrina in the west and Hephaistia in the north witness the island's prehistoric importance. Presumably there was a further city in the Northeast - Chryse, which was sunken under the sea.
Moreover, the findings make evident that in this ancient civilization there was gender equality, it even seems that the women had the predominating gender role. Not without reason in antiquity Lemnos was described with the words »island dominated by women«.
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Watch the video: Griechenland: Die Helfer im Elend von Moria. ARTE Reportage (January 2022).