Every modern phenomenon or concept has its roots in the past. The close analysis of such roots can lead the researchers to numerous benefits. J.M. Bennett, the author of the book History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (2006), believes that those, whose aim is to discover and enrich the feminist history, should pay more attention to the premodern eras. Although both history and feminism grow stronger over the decades, the relationship between them is weak, because much feminist theory is remarkably uninformed by historical insight (Bennett, 2006). In addition, the positive examples from the world history seem to be underestimated, as the strategy of blaming and arguing is usually easier. To get the full picture of the role of women in a certain period of the history, the positive aspects are crucial.
Sparta, one of the most influential parts of ancient Greece, is the most suitable field for studying, as the rules of this city-state are the most considerate of women, especially on the educational, cultural and physical level. Spartan women have the special position in the ancient Greek society, as they are able to enjoy such benefits as respect, power or status on a par with Spartan men. The important issue for such circumstances is the role of education. According to S.B. Pomeroy, Sparta is the only polis where the training of girls is prescribed and supported by public authority (2002, p. 7). Formally, Spartan women are excluded from the prominent spheres of social life, such as politics or military training. However, they are recognized as those, whose influence on raising the warriors and politicians is crucial. According to this, Spartan society pays common attention to the cultivation of both brave soldiers and sophisticated mothers.
Although Sparta has a uniform educational system, women are not expected to follow the masculine strategies of full-time practice and scrutiny. “Compared to other Greek women, they have plenty of time to do whatever they want to do” (Pomeroy, 2002, p. 4). As a result, women are able to develop their creative skills and knowledge. According to the ancient scholars and writers, there are 17 or 18 women among the 235 disciples of Pythagoras, and nearly one-third of them are Spartans. In contrast, only three of the 218 men are Spartans (Pomeroy, 2002, p. 10). The level of growth available to the women of Sparta is well-described by B. Hughes in the book Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (2013). Of course, the case of Helen is unique, but it is still illustrative. There is an evidence that the physical development of the women is also on the high level in Sparta, and there is more evidence for the athletic activities of Spartan women alone than for the athletics of all the women in the rest of the Greek world combined (Pomeroy, 2002). Women of this city-state are able to defend their children and themselves and even take part in competitions.
Finally, the Spartan women are able to control their own properties and make the corresponding decisions. This is a significant aspect of the community life, since Spartan men are highly involved in military exercises. The women can be confident in their position even without men. Spartan women can manage their own property and live close to their kinsmen and friends in a relatively well-protected territory, which means that widowhood and the loss of a son are not such frightening and dreary prospects as for the women from other Greek states (Pomeroy, 2002). The ultimate sphere unavailable for women is politics, as they cannot take part in it directly.
The analysis of women’s role in ancient Sparta helps to establish and develop the more general idea of the human history from the point of such concepts as patriarchy and feminism. The feminist historians have already paid attention to this issue, but even a single additional contribution to its enrichment and informative presentation is valuable.
- Bennett, J.M. (2006). History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Hughes, B. (2013). Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore. London: Pimlico.
- Pomeroy, S.B. (2002). Spartan Women. New York: Oxford University Press.