Spartan Women

Spartan Women

Spartan Women

Spartan Women


This is the first book-length examination of Spartan women, covering over a thousand years in the history of women from both the elite and lower classes. Classicist Sarah B. Pomeroy comprehensively analyzes ancient texts and archaeological evidence to construct the world of these elusive though much noticed females. Sparta has always posed a challenge to ancient historians because information about the society is relatively scarce. Most existing scholarship on Sparta concerns the military history of the city and its heavily male-dominated social structure--almost as if there were no women in Sparta. Yet perhaps the most famous of mythic Greek women, Menelaus' wife Helen, the cause of the Trojan War, was herself a Spartan. Written by one of the leading authorities on women in antiquity, Spartan Women reconstructs the lives and the world of Sparta's women, including how their status changed over time and how they held on to their surprising autonomy. Proceeding through the archaic, classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, Spartan Women includes discussions of education, family life, reproduction, religion, and athletics.


This book is the first full-length historical study of Spartan women to be published. I have not written in detail about Spartan women since the publication of Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves, although more recently I contributed to the scholarship on this subject in two jointly authored books. It was when I was writing a brief survey of the Spartan family and one of the anonymous referees remarked “but there were no female Spartiates” that I first realized that there was much work to be done.

My recent work on Xenophon and Plutarch, two of the major sources on Spartan women, made me appreciate how little had been written about the ways in which the perspectives of these two authors, more than any others, have shaped our views of Spartan women. Because of my training as a papyrologist, I have often written about women in the Hellenistic period; writing about Plutarch convinced me to extend this study to Roman Greece. Thus this book covers some thousand years of history, but despite the timespan, it is short. Extant sources are few, although I have tried to exploit every ancient text and artifact that appeared relevant. The sources on various aspects of Spartan women's lives are unevenly distributed. There is far more information on education,

1. See L. Zuckerman, “Spartan Women, Liberated,” New York Times, Jan. 1, 2000, sec. F, pp. 1,3.

2. New York, 1975, republished with a new Preface 1995.

3. Elaine Fantham, Helene Peet Foley, Natalie Boymel Kampen, Sarah B. Pomeroy, and H. Alan
Shapiro, Women in the Classical World (New York, 1994), and Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanely M. Burstein,
Walter Donlan, and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, Ancient Greece (New York, 1998).

4. Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece (Oxford, 1997).

5. A Spartiate was a Spartan with citizen rights (see chap. 5). The feminine form of Spartiates is
Spartiatis: see LSJ s.v. Sparte. Lippold, RE 3A (Stuttgart, 1929), s.v. Sparta (die Ethnika), 1280–92, esp.
1283, 1291–92, notes that the feminine Lakedaimonia is very rare, Spartiates is rare, and Spartiatis is

6. Xenophon. Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (Oxford, 1994).

7. Plutarch's Advice to the Bride and Groom and A Consolation to His Wife (New York, 1999).

8. E.g., Women in Hellenistic Egypt (New York, 1984; pbk. Detroit, 1990).

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