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The Life in Athens

What role did each of the following play in the life of Athens: male citizens, women, and slaves?

In the classical Greek polis, the dominance of masculinity was proclaimed: a human is always a man, a husband. Although the Athenian society was at that time the most democratic one in the world, this was a democracy for men. Only they could study gymnastics and philosophy, acquire real estate in Athens and enjoy full political rights, i.e. could participate in the National Assembly, elect and be elected to senior positions in the polis.

Women were not only deprived of holding high positions in the society, but were always totally dependent on men. Women in the Athenian society can be divided into two categories (Harris, 2006):

  1. wives and mothers of male citizens, full-fledged freeborn women, who from a social point of view could not be generally considered citizens, because they were disenfranchised, though at the level of everyday consciousness, they perceived as citizens. By the status, these women were assigned for legal marriage, but they did not participate in public life, were uneducated, and in fact, ignorant in matters of literature, art, philosophy, politics, etc.
  2. foreigners, women coming from families where legal marriage wasn’t registered, “free” women: hetairas, auletridas, pallakai, dikteriade. They were intended for an enjoyable holiday, accompanied and entertained their masters. In general, the path of education and emancipation in the ancient world was available only to these women, and unthinkable for wives. Hetairas had a center at the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth, where young girls were taught art, music, rhetoric, and even philosophy.

The slaves were children of slaves, or prisoners, or people sold for debt, at hunger and as a judicial punishment. Slaves couldn’t participate in the political life of the city and visit educational institutions. Simultaneously, they were successfully used in the state service, such as the division of public servants -Scythians – the lowest link of the Athens police. Also, slaves could hold craft workshops, live apart from their masters, while all their property would legally belong to the master. Slaves could testify in court (though under torture), ask for protection and even for selling them to another master in temples. To hit or even kill someone else’s slave was considered an insult to its owner, and the law of Athens prohibits even the murder of one’s own slaves (Harris, 2006). A released slave was automatically becoming metics, and his former master – his patron.

Harris, E.M. (2006). Democracy and the Rule of Law in Classical Athens: Essays on Law, Society, and Politics. Cambridge University Press.