The Women Of Ancient Greece You Need To Know
At first glance, you could almost be fooled into thinking that there were no influential women in Ancient Greece. But when you choose to look a little deeper you will find some incredible stories of Greek women who left their mark. These women may be less known than the famous Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato. But don’t forget that there were famous female philosophers as well! While women were often oppressed and vastly overshadowed by men in these times, there were the women of Ancient Greece that began to turn this narrative on its head. They fought to pave the way for those that came after them. These are their stories.
Let me first introduce you to one of the most important women of Ancient Greece. For this, we need to go back in time over 2,000 years, which brings us to the golden age, when Athens was in its prime and led by the powerful Pericles. It’s also where we meet his wife, Aspasia. Aspasia came from Myletus, as she was not an Athenian citizen, she belonged to the class known as metoikoi. In a way this allowed her to escape the traditional restraints put upon Athenian women.
She was disliked by the Athenian elite. The men thought she exerted great influence on Pericles, and historians to this day believe that many of his famous speeches were partly written by her. During her partnership with Pericles, she would become one of the most influential political and cultural figures of classical Greece. No woman in Athens had the influence and fame that Aspasia acquired. No matter where the line between myth and reality lies, historians agree that Aspasia paved the road for a more equal society in Athens, and the opportunity for more women to be accepted as intellectual figures and leaders.
The Amazons. The women of Ancient Greece that everyone knows about. These powerful women warriors are reinvigorated by modern-day depictions in movies and novels, yet they were also an integral part of many ancient myths. Some historians believed that the Amazons were merely a fictional creation. Tactfully placed to reinforce the Greek heroes power when they killed these fearsome warriors. But little do people know is that these women really existed.
Recent archaeological findings in Russia has pointed to the real Amazonian women. There are telltale signs that point to these women being Amazons. The first being a woman that was buried with her legs bowed and with two spears, indicating she was a horsewoman. While others were buried with ceremonial pieces that indicated their importance as leaders. Due to their warrior status, these women received the same funerary rites that men receive.
Cynisca was a Spartan princess and another important woman in Ancient Greece. This is because in 396 BC she was to become the first ever female Olympian. This might strike you as strange because you might know that women were not allowed to compete in the Ancient Olympics, it was an event reserved only for men. Women were not even allowed to watch. But there was one way they could get involved and that was in the chariot racing events. Women could participate if they were only training or breeding horses.
So, this is exactly what she did. But she also took it a step further. Cynisca was a woman of great influence and wealth which gave her a firm grounding to negotiate her way into participating in the games. Surprising everyone, she went on the win the chariot race! After Cynisca’s win, many other women went on to compete. She is considered to have been the driving force behind this change and was honoured for her skill.
The story of Agnodice is another wonderful tale of perseverance and female power. Women in Ancient Greece were discouraged from practicing medicine. Yet she became known as the first female physician. Agnodice decided to pursue her career even though, legally, she was not allowed to. She dressed as a man and attended the school of Herophilos, who is known as the father of anatomy.
After graduating she would go on to attend to women in labour. She found that they were very hesitant to trust male physicians. So, she would reveal herself to them and having another female presence in the room helped them feel at ease. Agnodice helped many Athenian women deliver their babies. However, it wasn’t long until she was discovered and trialled for breaking the law. Appalled at this injustice, after everything she had done for them, the women of Athens rallied to her defense and urged for the law to be changed. Agnodice is another example of powerful women creating a chain reaction of positive change for the women of Ancient Greece.