Friday, May 4, 2012

Compare and contrast the roles of Spartiate men and women in the Spartan society.

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Sparta was a Greek state renowned for its individuality amongst the rest of Greece from the sixth century BC. The majority of Greece was cultured in their thinking and the arts, yet very conservative concerning the roles of women. Sparta, however, involved women much more in their society. Importance was placed on the physical fitness and the equality between the Spartiates � therefore, including women promoted the Spartan ideals. Although Spartan men held complete power over the state, women shared similar roles in day to day life.

Both men and women of Sparta were completely loyal and proud of their state. Raised in a militaristic environment, their interests lay in the strength of Sparta and its people. They believed their people were direct descendants of the half-god Heracles, and strived to keep their blood of pure Spartan heritage. Endurance and strength were two very important values to the Spartiates, and every element of their lifestyle reflected this. The purpose of a Spartan woman’s life was to give birth to healthy children, especially boys, with the aim of keeping Sparta full of strong people. These strong people could continue the tradition of making powerful Spartan soldiers and women ready to give their life in the name of Sparta. Plutarch tells of a woman that had a son who died in battle, and proudly said “I bore him so that he might die for Sparta”. This attitude was also reflected in the Spartan soldiers themselves, as they were raised as full time soldiers and knew nothing but loyalty to their state. Participation in battle was incredibly important, and cowardice was punished by loss of citizenship and humiliation. Cowards were not allowed Spartan liberties such as being a member of a syssitia or compulsory mess, and were singled out by remaining unshaven and an outcast. On the other hand, if a soldier died in battle, he received a marked grave � a great honour that no ordinary person could acquire, except for one minority � women who died in childbirth. This gives an indication of the great importance and honour placed on fighting and childbearing in Sparta.

The Agoge, or Spartan education system was the most important tool used to shape Spartan values, and both men and women participated in a planned learning process. However, education differed in structure between the sexes. Men had three distinct stages of education. They were raised at home, sometimes by a nanny instead of a mother, so as to not risk being over-cared for. At the age of seven, they moved to a barracks where only men lived and trained. They were fed simple food, shaved their heads and wore no shoes in order to embed a way of thinking that allowed little or no leisure. Obedience and devotion to Sparta were two primary teachings in the first stage of education. The second stage of education began at twelve to thirteen years of age when the boy hit puberty. A philosophy of endurance and teamwork was applied to the teenage years. They were allowed to wear only one garment in winter and had to make their own beds from hard rushes to promote their endurance. The boys were fed very little and were encouraged to steal and live from the land in order to survive. If they were caught stealing, however, they were punished. The second stage was also a time to participate in athletics and musical competitions, but the emphasise was on teamwork and not solitary success. The third stage of education began when the boy was about nineteen, when he became an “eiren”. Training became tougher and more physical, for example playing a hard type of rugby where any form of wrestling was allowed to tackle the opposition. At the age of twenty, a man joined a syssitia � a group of about fifteen men who trained and socialised together. This was necessary for Spartan citizenship. At the age of twenty four a man became a fully qualified soldier, and at thirty a citizen.

Education for girls was much less drawn out as it included basic physical and literacy training to keep healthy and manage the state-owned helots. Girls did not leave home like the boys did at seven, but stayed with their mothers. This did not mean women had to do housework and weaving like most Greeks, because this was done by the helots. Spartan women lived comparatively free lives to other Greek women - they were outdoors often, did no chores, mixed freely with other people and inherited their own land. Like Spartan men, the women were organised into bands to socialise and exercise in team sports and choral singing. Such emphasise was placed on exercise because Spartans believed that by staying strong and healthy, women would produce healthy babies. They also learned basic reading and writing in order to keep helots under control.

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Spartiate men had much more power than women in their society. Men could participate in the Ecclesia or Assembly from the age of thirty, and were also eligible to become an Ephor. Women could not become citizens, yet like the men, had to be a child of two Spartan parents. Men had power in the political system, and also inherited power and influence with land. However, women inherited land even if they had brothers, probably half the amount given to men. This was because the land would be distributed more evenly among marriages, diminishing the risk of creating a dramatic class system in Spartan society. This inherited land gave women power and influence and the ability to speak to men as equals. Plutarch said “Spartan men were always subject to their wives and allowed them to interfere with affairs of state” which supports the idea that they influenced those in power around them.

The idea of strength and rejection of leisure can be seen in both men and women’s lives of Sparta. The men’s strenuous physical training and learning to live without luxuries reflects the Spartan ideal that toughness, simplicity and tradition are the best things to learn and live by. Women were also taught this, as they were prevented by law to have and luxuries regarding beauty and other things. For example they were expected to wear simple clothes, no makeup, no perfume, no jewellery and simple hairstyles. Despite this, Spartan women were known for their natural beauty and healthy physiques.

Fertility was prized in Sparta as population numbers were always too low. Every man wanted to have strong Spartiate babies, and so did women. Marriages were in late teenage years to early twenties, and the couple were of similar ages � unlike Athenian culture. A woman felt as if she had let down Sparta if she was barren, and her husband may have arranged with another man to sleep with his wife, in order to keep producing healthy children. Extra-marital sex was not uncommon, and as producing healthy children was the aim for both men and women, it was acceptable.

Spartan women were probably the most free-willed females of ancient Greece, and shared many responsibilities with male citizens, for example producing children, exercising and controlling the helots. Their education and power differed in degree, but women were still very influential in Spartan society.

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