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Discuss The Role Played By Spartan Women In Their Society

2902 words - 12 pages

Discuss the role played by Spartan Women in their society

The role of women is one of the most controversial issues in existence. During the 20th century mankind has seen the role of women changing from one of “nesting mothers” as was the case in Nazi Germany to one of the most influential parts of society today. In ancient Greece the predominant role of women was to revolve around house duties and to be beautiful objects. However this was not the case in ancient Sparta. Here women were somewhat emancipated and free to socialise and exercise like their male counterparts. The role of these superior women was to ultimately bear healthy children, create indoctrinated offspring and ...view middle of the document...

Therefore their education took on a different role, this being physical and strenuous exercise and as Plato states this meant, “They [women] had to be tolerably efficient” and live upto to Spartan expectations.

They trained in running, wrestling, throwing discus, javelin and a unique form of exercise known as bibasis, which consisted of jumping, and having ones feet hit your own buttocks. According to Plutarch women exercised naked, but historians such as P Bradley infer that they most probably, “wore a split skirt which allowed them to move more freely”. This view is evident in the well-known bronze figure of a Spartan woman housed in the British Museum which also illustrates the emancipation of Spartan women. This physical education was supposed to have created physically powerful women and as Plutarch states, “Thereby their children in embryo would make a strong start in strong bodies.”, thus emphasising the importance of physical training in the procreation of the polis.

Spartiate girls also throughout their education participated with boys in dances, such as the Hormos, and again according to Plutarch participated in the nude. During these festivals Spartan girls composed songs for boys deserving praise, and also encouraged rivalry, which makes it evident that Spartan women, even from a young age, already played a role in the state propaganda machine as this helped create a sense of competition and a striving to excel in the young male population, thus creating the beginnings for excellent warriors. Again, the view that the role of women was to produce strong, male children is reflected in Plutarch’s work, Lycurgus, which states “ Those who buried a dead person were not permitted to inscribe the name on a grave except in the case of … a woman who had died in labour”. According to Xenophon Lycurgus decreed, “Women should take as much trouble over physical fitness as men… on the grounds that if both parents were strong the offspring would be more sturdy.” The Spartans believed in eugenics strongly as can be seen in the case of King Leonidas on the eve of his departure to Thermopylae where he told his wife, Gorgo, that she should, “Marry a good man and bear good children”.

When raising a child Spartan women had to be tough from the beginning, as it was their role to produce healthy men and women. Upon giving birth to a child women would usually, according to Plutarch, wash their babies in wine not water. This is, “Said to be that they [unhealthy children] lose their senses, and their limbs go stiff, whereas healthy ones are toughened by it and acquire a hard constitution.” The main reason they did this was to try and make their babies appear stronger and better in build, as they had to pass a test conducted by the eldest of the tribe who would state whether or not the child was strong enough to survive. If the child was not deemed as such they were to be left at the base of Mount...

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