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Thomas Figueira: Rutgers Institute for High School Teachers

Friday, February 01, 2019, 09:00am - 02:30pm

Rutgers Institute for High School Teachers

Women in Ancient Greece. The Case of Sparta

February 1, 2019, 9am-2:30pm

Thomas Figueira, Distinguished Professor of Classics and of Ancient History, Rutgers University

The study of women in the ancient world can be particularly valuable for the wider investigation of women’s history. The societies of the ancient Greeks and Romans are particularly well attested for pre-modern humanity, and exhibited a high level of self-awareness of their cultural existence as merely one of many co-existing civilizations. Hence the lives of women in the Greek and Roman world offer invaluable points of comparison for us about a number of important issues, including, for example, fertility in the nuclear family and its interaction with the demography of the community and state; maturation, procreation, and child-rearing in an environment of high mortality and primitive medicine; the allocation of productive roles within the proto-Western household; social roles mediating the private and public spheres;, the ideological boundaries between nature and culture, and the political status of women in civic militarized states.

Sparta and Athens are the two best referenced Greek city-states. We have a wealth of information about Spartan women which not only presents them as mirror images to their Athenian sisters, but also marks out several significant ways in which they differ from other women in pre-modern European contexts. Sparta’s atypical political economy freed citizen men and women from all conventional work duties. Thus, Spartan women are seen to have shared an elaborate cycle of initiations and long athletic and musical educations, exercised autonomous control over their households, supervised the upbringing and marriages of their daughters, undertook family planning, and stringently policed men’s adherence to their political and military behavior codes. Aristotle reflected Athenian thinking when he contrasted Athenian democracy with Spartan gynecocracy ‘rule by women’. We shall explore several exemplary aspects of this social matrix.

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