Ancient Greece

The role of men, women, and children

Men

Men in Ancient Greece held many of the primary occupations and contributed the most to society. They were the head of the household, many of them worked outside away from the home, and they were expected to remain unloving and distant from their families. Often, when a woman was pregnant, it was her husband who decided whether she would keep the baby. In Athens, all free men of Athenian descent played a role in the government, which women, slaves, foreigners, and slaves could not participate in. In most ancient Greek cities, only men could participate in the Olympic Games, vote, entertain guests, or even attend public events.

Women

Rights and Freedoms

Women had virtually no political rights and were not even viewed as legitimate citizens. Very few had any role in society at all, and what little they had was determined by their social standing. Women of higher classes had more freedom than those of the lower classes and consequently had more influence in society. The rights of Athenian women were extremely limited: they could conduct very little business, own very little property, and even their inheritance was given to a husband or brother.


Responsibilities

When family or friends visited an Athenian household, the women were rarely ever seen by the guests. They tended to keep to their duties of cooking, watching the children and slaves, and cleaning, especially when guests were around. This dedication to household chores when guests were over was a way of living up to societal expectations and showing the guests that they were good wives.


Role in Religion

Contrary to what one might believe, there were actually a lot of women priestesses during the Hellenistic period who had much power in religious circles and carried out their own religious festivals for women only. In fact, some of these women even formed philosophies that spoke out for women's rights.

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Children

Infancy

The first few years of life were the most dangerous for Greek children. In fact, infant death was so common that children were often not given names until they were a few days old: long enough for the parents to determine whether the kid was strong enough to survive childhood. In addition to that, children born with deformations were often abandoned in the woods or on mountaintops by their parents. Abortions could also be preformed by the parents, but the method itself was not accepted by the Greeks. Those lucky enough to survive the first few months were sometimes bound in cloth until their second birthday because of a myth that binding a child ensures that the limbs will grow straight and strong. At age 3, children were invited to a festival where they would take their first drink of wine, and males would be excepted into a brotherhood.


Education

Sparta- In Sparta, boys were raised by their parents until the age of 7, at which time they would be turned over to the military and trained to be soldiers. They underwent harsh military training that included physical activities such as gymnastics and were taught to take pride in the amount of pain they could endure. Girls were taught in a similar fashion, but they were not required by the state to attend military schools.

Athens- In Athens, a child's education was quite different from that of a Spartan child. Athenian boys attended school from the age of 6 to 14, and the lessons centered around literature, particularly Homer. At age 14, boys from poor families apprenticed in a trade, and boys from wealthy families were taught by philosophers. It was not uncommon for rich boys to learn the arts of oration and public speaking from their philosopher-teachers, because those who could persuade the Senate had the most power, and consequently a higher social status. Girls, on the other hand, were taught how to perform domestic duties, and sometimes girls of the upper class were sent to special all-girls' schools.


Marriage

When girls turned 12 or 13 and hit puberty, they were considered adults and married off as soon as possible. Boys, on the other hand, tended to wait until they were in their 20's or later to marry, so the majority of marriages had a substantial age difference. Once married, girls left their childhood toys at the temple of Artemis to symbolize their adulthood, and were then expected to bear children within a few years of marriage. If a girl couldn't have children, she was seen as cursed by the gods, and infertile girls were sometimes divorced by their husbands as a result of their inability to bear children.

By Makayla Dunlap and Rebecca Harrison