Greek women had virtually no political rights of any kind and were controlled by men at nearly every stage of their lives. The most important duties for a city-dwelling woman were to bear children--preferably male--and to run the household. Duties of a rural woman included some of the agricultural work: the harvesting of olives and fruit was their responsibility, as may have been the gathering of vegetables.
Since men spent most of their time away from their houses, Greek home life
was dominated by women. The wife was in charge of raising the children, spinning,
weaving and sewing the family´s clothes. She supervised the daily running
of the household. In a totally slave-based economy, plentiful numbers of female
slaves were available to cook, clean, and carry water from the fountain. Only
in the poorest homes was the wife expected to carry out all these duties by
herself. A male slave´s responsibilities were for the most part limited
to being door-keeper and tutor to the male children. Click here for women's
Custom dictated that a Greek woman limit her time outside the house to visiting with her nearest female neighbors. Exceptions to this rigid social convention were weddings, funerals and state religious festivals in which women were expected to play prominent public roles. Click here for women and goddesses.
Vase scenes portraying women inside their houses tend to be sparing in specific details. The common presence of columns suggests that women spent much of their time in the courtyard of the house, the one place where they could regularly enjoy fresh air. Greek cooking equipment was small and light and could easily be set up there. In sunny weather, women probably sat in the roofed-over areas of the courtyard, for the ideal in female beauty was a pale complexion.
|Attic Red Figure Kylix
ca. 480-470 BC
By the Painter of Philadelphia 2449 and the potter Hieron Chiusi, Italy
A scene from the women´s quarter or gynaikonitis. Women talk while sitting on chairs. Two play the aulos (double reed instrument) and krotala (rattle). A standing woman holds a mirror. On the interior (shown above), an elegant woman, holding a box, lifts the lid of an inlaid chest.
H. 8.7; L. 29.8; Dia. 23.3 cm. Photos by Maria Daniels for the Perseus Project (132k)