With the loss of political autonomy and the change of men’s relationships to their societies and each other it is hardly surprising that the position of women was also effected in both family and society in the Hellenistic period. But to what extent does our image of the position of women in Hellenistic societies offer a contrast to that of women’s positions in classical Greek societies? Remembering that the Hellenistic period was not in actual fact a transitional period, this post will look at briefly answering this question by exploring women in relation to their place in Hellenistic societies and their representation, growing competence in public realms and the philosophies associated with them. It will explore aspects also of education, sexuality and women of respectable and supposedly morally bankrupt natures.
The contrast between the position of women in Hellenistic societies and Classical societies is especially seen in relation to royal women in the Hellenistic period. Pomeroy explains that with the conquests of Alexander the Great there was a significant introduction of new ideologies and views. For instance, royal women among the Macedonian ruling families began to compete in a traditionally male arena with the power struggle created from the significant relationships between mothers and sons and polygamist nature of the kings. In this period a number of royal women came to the forefront of political and imperial power such as Olympias the mother of Alexander who would look after the court of Macedonia in her son’s absence. Women also began to use their talents to gain political power where they could not have in the classical period and they were also more so used in passive roles, for instance in political marriages, such as that between Berentice and Antiochus. While this was done throughout all preceding periods the political aspirations of the female are more so illustrated in the Hellenistic period rather than those just of the men. Women could gain a politically power through their marriage.
Our image of the position of women in Hellenistic societies offers a contrast in relation to the growing competence of women in public realms. Pomeroy explains that during the Hellenistic period the legal and economic responsibilities of women dramatically increased and women more frequently received honours for their services, especially in religious spheres. Even in Athens, Pericles idea that the greatest glory of women was to be least talked about by men was no longer prevailing. Tarn and Griffith explain that honourary citizenship and rights of proxeny were more commonly given to women by foreign cities for their services. This is in contrast to the social standings of women in the classical period where they were only associated to citizenry through their husbands. We even have evidence in the Hellenistic period of women holding offices such as Phile of Priene who was the first woman to build a reservoir and aqueduct which is task usually done by magistrates!
The evolution of woman’s legal rights in contrast to the classical period is seen in many documents of the Hellenistic period, for instance, papyri from Egypt that have recently been studied by Preaux. Such documents show that for at least Egyptian women it was not necessary for them to have a guardian, though for Greek women it still was. Egyptian marriage contracts such as one from 311BC also show a contrast from the classical traditions as they illustrate a sense of mutuality and an expansion of rights and protection for the bride. Gleeson asserts that these contracts show a contract between husband and wife rather than with the wife’s guardian and insurance was made in terms of the dowry in favour of the bride.
The Hellenistic period also saw a marked gain in economic responsibility on the part of women. For instance, inscriptions from Delos illustrate that the women were in charge of their own debts and funds in many regards and had a control over slaves and property. In Sparta we see also that women could now hold property and funds more in their own right compared to the classical period. The mother and grandmother of King Agis were remarkable wealthy women and in Sparta women owned and controlled two fifths of the land. Aristotle and Pausanias also indicate an increase in female economic freedom with the exhibition of wealth and property. They show that the exhibition of horses at the Olympics was one such form of showing this, with Bilistiche of Argos exhibiting horses and winning races. In comparison to the classical period though, in Athens there was still little emancipation of citizen women as seen with Demetrius’ regulation of women; his gynaikonomoi.
With the Hellenistic period we also see a vast improvement of female education which is not so pronounced in Classical society, and with this we see an altered ideology of the position of women in society. For instance, in this period we see a number of female philosophers, poets and writers who show the increased value of female education. Hippachia for one was a cynic philosopher woman who went around in public with her husband and was proud of her education, as Diogenes recounts. Erinna of Talos is also a prime example of the educated female with her writing of her ‘Distaff’ being a feat of poetry. Erinna and Hippachia are two of a host of women which also includes the like of Cleopatra VII who were distinctly educated. Physical education also became more available to women in the Hellenistic period with a focus on athletics such as in the games of Hera. Moretti illustrates this move towards female athleticism with the account of Hedea who won foot-races at Nemea and horse racing at Isthmia. These pieces of evidence are indicative of the movement of the position of women since they show that women now had a more distinguished place outside the home and were more of a prominent part of culture and society than in the classical period.
The philosophers and philosophies of the time also illustrate a marked contrast between the position of women in classical and Hellenistic periods. The large retention of traditional roles shows that women’s positions were altered as society changed during the Hellenistic period. With the fluctuating mores of the Hellenistic period the Neopythagoreans in particular were concerned about the proper behaviour of women. Pomeroy explains though that there were a number of philosophies which were on the side of the changing position of women such as the Epicureans and the cynics who were oriented towards happiness of the individual rather than that of the state and community.
Art and New Comedy provide us with another medium with which to compare the ideologies and values of the classical period with those of the Hellenistic period. New Comedy for a start provides us with insight into sexual experiences and everyday life of women in this period which was not illustrated by the works of the Classical period and shows a new interest in the eroticism of women in the Hellenistic period. Ovid also shows that the position of women in society as sexual creatures is more defined in the Hellenistic period with his advice for personal gratification. Pomeroy also explains that there was a marked shift in poetry and that it was now acceptable for female narrators to appear. This indicates a change in the position of women within the mind set of society.
Art and representation of women also is indicative of the contrast between the two periods as Webster asserts we see a startling increase in the number of depictions of women in the latter period and a marked change in how women are represented. Art has always been a good indicator of changing social attitudes and this is particularly true in this case as we witness a re-evaluation of the aesthetics of the female body. The increase in depictions of women in sculpture, a distinctly public form of art, illustrates a marked change in the general mind set towards the female body; it is no longer seen as second rate but rather art-worthy. In Greek art female nudity is for the first time introduced starting with depictions of goddesses before moving towards ordinary women and fully naked women (most likely prostitutes) depicted on more private forms of art such as vase paintings. The Capitoline Aphrodite is a prime example of this change in ideology as though naked she is making a token effort to cover herself up showing a modest nature. Even not so perfect women are considered art worthy, which is a very significant change to how women were viewed and their position in society. One such example of this is a sculpture of a female dwarf show dancing with a great sense of fun.
Through the image we get of women in Hellenistic societies we are able to distinguish a marked contrast to women in classical societies. We see a growing competence in public realms as well as a change in ideologies seen throughout the representation and depiction of women in art and New Comedy. We also we a change in relation to education and philosophy and how women were seen and used in political realms as well as in economic and legal realms. New questions are brought up about women which also show that the view of women has suffered change between the periods, such as Plutarch’s question of the arête of the female in comparison to the male.
- Hellenistic Statue from Izmir (rogueclassicism.com)
- Hellenistic Art (hellenisticromangreekart.wordpress.com)
- Archaeologists discover shipwrecks, ancient harbor on coast of Israel (scienceblog.com)
We talk often about the archaeology and artifacts, excavations and publications, but little do we hear about the museums that house these wonderful pieces of history. A Lebanese friend of mine recently told me of a restoration effort that I had never even heard of before and is an interesting story of what can be achieved even after devastation and vandalism.
The Beirut National Museum has been through a lot in its relatively short history. This museum is the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon and is one of the most significant Near Eastern museums of archaeology because of its rich collection which is even more impressive because of the trials this collection has suffered. The idea for the museum was conceived in 1919 with its foundations in the collection of the French officer Raymond Weill who was stationed in Lebanon. In 1923 an official founding commitee was set up called the ‘friends of the museum committee’ which was headed by the then Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Fine Arts, Bechara El Khory. Work began with the work of architects Antoine Nahas and Pierre Leprince Ringuet and the building was completed in 1937 in the area of the Beirut Hippodrome.
While the opening was postponed because of the lead-up to WW2, the museum was finally opened in May 1942 by President Alfred Naqqache. It housed objects from prehistory all the way to the 19th century AD including large sarcophagi, mosaics and smaller collections of artifacts including jewelry, coins and ceramics. For the first 30 years of its operation, the museum added extensively to the collections through excavations undertaken under the direction of the Directorate General of Antiquities.
With the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, the museum closed its doors in 1975 with the situation in decline and the buildings located on the demarcation line which had divided Beirut. The museum and its antiquities thus became a victim of the raging war. Originally the authorities intended the closure to be temporary but this closure ended up being full term. But instead of allowing the antiquities to fall victim to total destruction, the authorities took action.
The first protection measures were undertaken in the periods of truce which alternated with the destruction. Firstly the smaller finds and most vulnerable objects were removed and placed in storerooms in the museum’s basements and were walled up so that no access was possible to the lower underground floors. The mosaics in the floors of the museum were also covered in a layer of concrete and large unmovable objects such as sarcophagi and statues were protected by sandbags. However, with the situation further worsening, in 1982 these sandbags were replaced by concrete cases which were built around wooden structures that surrounded the monuments. It was measures such as these which eventually saved a vast majority of the artifacts and monuments in the museum.
When cease-fire was announced in 1991 the museum was in a state of extraordinary destruction. Water flooded the basement levels and poured from the roofs and windows. The outer walls were covered in shots and shell-holes and the inner walls were covered in graffiti left by the militia who used the museum as a barracks. The flooded basements left many artifacts beyond repair, and shellfire had left many documents and 45 boxes of archaeological objects destroyed alongside all the lab equipment. In 1992 the first plans to restore the museum were set out by Michel Edde the then Minister of Culture and Higher Education. But the initial proposal was turned down because of the state of the building leaving it in danger of looting. But once the doors and windows were put in with the help of private donations, the concrete barring the basement was removed and the restoration could begin.
The restoration work continued through 1995 to 2000, starting on the building itself and inventory, recording and restoration of objects. This was made possible through the work of the Ministry of Culture, the Directorate General of Antiquities and the National Heritage Foundation. In 1997 the doors reopened to the ground floors but then closed again in 1998 for modifications and modernisation. The museum reopened again in 1999 with over 1300 archaeological artifacts on display. The rehabilitation continued on the underground galleries but already the museum was returning to its former significance especially as a leading collector of Ancient Phoenician objects. The museum is now under the directorship of Anne-Marie Ofeish and retains many of the artifacts which were originally packed away and successfully saved.
Human history is full of wars and conflicts and artifacts and archaeology often suffer in the process which is a great shame. Through efforts such as those undertaken in this case we are lucky to see such wonderful artifacts survive.
For further information:
Short Documentary – “Beirut National Museum;Rebirth”
- U.S. returns 4,000 archaeological relics to Mexico (cbc.ca)
- New archaeology museum at the University of South Alabama peers into the area’s past. (al.com)
- Stray cat discovers ancient Roman catacomb in a residential neighborhood (slashgear.com)
- On Display at New Orleans Baptist Seminary (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
Hello Everyone! This month this website turns one year old. Thank you everyone for reading and continuing to do so! GraecoMuse has now had over 40,000 views and has 528 subscribers. 🙂
So incase you missed some of the entries and are interested in having a read, here are all the entries for the last year. Hope you all enjoy, keep reading, and most of all learn new things.
Also remember that there is now a facebook page for archaeology and history news and comments. At https://www.facebook.com/GraecoMuse.
Kepler’s Somnium (The Dream) – 30/10/11
Lost in Translation: It’s all Greek to Us – 07/11/11
Wilde/Chase Books 1-4: Andy McDermott – 22/12/11
Santa Claus Before Coca Cola – 25/12/11
Felix sit annus novus! Happy New Year! – 31/12/11
Female Heroism in Ancient Greek Literature – 04/02/12
Ancient Scripts of Egypt: An Introduction – 02/03/12
Tools of the Trade: Archaeology – 18/03/12
Ancient Sites of Cilicia, Anatolia: Part 1 – 08/05/12
Ancient Sites of Cilicia, Anatolia: Part 2 – 08/05/12
Isthmia: Roman Baths and Muscular Men – 16/05/12
The Cave of Letters – 20/06/12
Graecomuse and Parkinson’s Disease – 01/07/12
Archaeology Travel Blog: Istanbul pt. 1 – 18/07/12
Archaeological Travel Blog: Istanbul Part 2 – 27/07/12
Archaeology Travel Blog: Ancient Side – 04/08/12
Curses and Fines on Greek Grave Stele – 06/09/12
Neodamodeis – The Freed Helots of Sparta – 07/10/12
I have been looking back into Spartan history lately and so I thought I’d share with you some of the more interesting less known parts of Spartan society. A huge part of the Spartan population was made up by those who were not actually Spartan, the helots; a cause of great concern to the Spartans throughout their history. These helots were slaves that were usually captives of the Spartans forced into the service of their captors. But some of these slaves were awarded their freedom after spending time in the service of the hoplites of the Spartan Army. These freed helots of military service were known as the ‘Neodamodeis’.
Neodamodeis (νεοδαμώδεις) literally means those who are new to the people; ‘lately made one of the people’. This comes from the Greek words νέος meaning ‘new’ and δῆμος meaning ‘people’ or ‘community’. A simple use of terminology to describe a simple concept. While the study of helots has been a topic of great interest in modern scholarship there is little to be said on the helot who was freed or became a part of the wider Spartan society.
The first available apparition of the term Neodamodeis comes from Thucydides who uses it in passing without explaining the term or its origin. Ducat does attempt to place an approximate date on the origin of the term and the idea. Ducat’s book Les Hoplites (1990) asserts that the term originated in line with the episode concerning the Brasidians where the Helots were freed after taking part in the expedition of Brasidas in 424 BC. Neodamodeis are certainly attested after 424BC from at least 396 BC in relation to the part of the Spartan army in Agesilaus II’s campaign in Ionia.
Lazenby explains that the neodamodeis could still serve in the Spartan army but were distinct from the helot soldiers they had once been. This assertion is made in relation to Brasidas again when they are first mentioned in connection with his soldiers return from Thrace in 421BC. This is recorded in Thucydides who explains that these neodamodeis were not in fact free at the time of returning but were earmarked for freedom and hence distinguished from the remaining helots. Thucydides tells us that these men were given their freedom shortly after the event and were then settled with the neodamodeis already settled at Lepreon on the border of Spartan territory. This tells us that neodamodeis were named so before actually being freed on the understanding that they would soon be freed. That they were given extra status on that understanding alone, and then that when freed they were kept in close association with Sparta still. The episodes at Lepreon in Thucydides also shows that neodamodeis likely stayed under the direction of the Spartan army though no longer slaves and served as non-citizen hoplites. Hesychius of Alexandria explains that the neodamodeis, while freed from the helot status, never acquired full citizenship.
There are few other references to neodamodeis in the ancient texts in comparison to those for helots (Εἵλωτες).
Athenaeus makes mention of them in his Deipnosophists, 6.102:
Μύρων δὲ ὁ Πριηνεὺς ἐν δευτέρῳ Μεσσηνιακῶν ‘ πολλάκις, φησίν,ἠλευθέρωσαν Λακεδαιμόνιοι δούλους καὶ οὓς μὲν ἀφέτας ἐκάλεσαν, οὓς δὲἀδεσπότους, οὓς δὲ ἐρυκτῆρας., δεσποσιοναύτας δ᾽ ἄλλους, οὓς εἰς τοὺςστόλους κατέτασσον, ἄλλους δὲ νεοδαμώδεις, ἑτέρους ὄντας τῶν εἱλώτων.
And Xenophon and Plutarch make a few mentions of them in relation to their analysis of Spartan society and history. Not much can be said for the freed slaves of the Spartan world. But the Neodamodeis give us a brief glance into the lives of those without voice.
Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
Xenophon, Minor Works
Lazenby, J.F., The Spartan Army (2012)
Sabin, P., et.al., The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare: Volume 1 (2007)
Hanson, V., Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience (1993)
Atkinson, K., Ancient Sparta: A Re-Examination of the Evidence (1949)
Hunt, P., Slaves, Warfare, and Ideology in the Greek Historians (2002)
Cartledge, P., Sparta and Lakonia: a regional history, 1300-362 BC (2002)
Cartledge, P., Sparta and Lakonia & Hellenistic and Roman Sparta (2001)
Theodora was the wife of the Emperor Justinian of Byzantium who reigned from around 527AD. Procopius explains that Theodora was born into a poor family in Constantinople and was one of three daughters; Theodora received no education and acted as would a male prostitute and a dancer. Justinian fell in love with Theodora but was unable to marry her due laws relating to her low position in society. However, Treadgold explains that Justinian managed to change the laws to allow repented prostitutes and actresses to be exempt from this law. Theodora was an extremely clever and beautiful woman who became very educated after marrying Justinian and improving her status considerably. Sarris accounts that Theodora was referred to by Procopius though as a meddlesome whore indicating controversy relating to her personality and background. Treadgold assesses Theodora as being a Protectress to women as she used her influence to help them gain rights, she is also seen in popular legend as a protector and defender of the poor and weak. Theodora was seen as a faithful wife and a close collaborator of Justinian with a strong will, though she was a Monophysite.
Theodora is a character of popular Greek legend who possessed many of the qualities that are seen in the definition of a hero. Campbell assesses that heroes are partly defined as protectors and defenders. These attributes are shown is Theodora’s character as she was Protectress to the poor and women, she was also wise and beautiful, qualities often attributed to classical heroes. Theodora effectively changed the course of history in dissuading her husband to take flight and influencing the changes in laws and rights, in this way she is sometimes referred to as a heroine even though Procopius and some other historians focus on the deaths that this dissuasion cost. Theodora also possessed three of the five Christian values which are suggested to make her a Christian heroine. The value of faith is expressed by Treadgold as she was pious as well as faithful to her husband, she was also charitable to those who were less fortunate as she had once been, and she is said to have had penitence which was parallel to Mary Magdalene. These values uphold Theodora as a heroine in a religious and Christian sense.
There is considerable controversy on the personality of Theodora which plays a significant role in determining whether or not Theodora was a heroine. Procopius greatly disapproved of Theodora’s personality and background, blaming her for political and financial upheaval. Foss describes her as “less than saintly”. Procopius’s notorious account of Theodora in his ‘Secret History’ shows extreme dislike for her character by evaluating her former occupations as very near the bottom of the “hierarchy of the arts.” Procopius’s writes that Theodora was secretive and unfaithful, yet this can be attributed mostly to his own personal bias against her because historians, and the way Theodora has been made into a prominent figure of Greek legend, suggests these ideas are not completely accurate. Theodora was a very commanding personality with great influence as seen in her persuading Justinian to change laws and her reaction to disloyalty when she was left effectively in control. Treadgold comments that because of her interference “Justinian faced…financial and military crises…without his best administrator and his best general.” Theodora’s personality was seen as controversial but this was generally due to bias of historians and how she acted against ideas of females in society as she was strong willed, opinionated and believed that women should have rights. This view of women in itself was controversial in what was primarily a patriarchal society.
Campbell, J., The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Princeton, 1993), pp. 30-40
Foss, C., Life in City and Country, The Oxford History of Byzantium (Oxford, 2002), pp. 82-83
James, L., Women, Men and Eunuchs: Gender in Byzantium (London, 1997), pp. 121, 128, 131
Mallet, C. E., The Empress Theodora, The English Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Jan, 1887), pp. 1-20
Procopius, (1966). Tran. With introduction by G. A. Williamson, pp.114-129
Sarris, P., The Eastern Empire from Constantinople to Heraclius (306-641), The Oxford History of Byzantium (Oxford, 2002), pp. 46-47
Treadgold, W., A Concise History of Byzantium (London, 2001), pp. 58, 61-64, 68, 82-83