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Greek and Egyptian Women Research Paper


Abstract

The women in Egypt enjoyed relatively equal rights with men compared to women in other countries of the ancient world that suffered from discrimination and biases demonstrated against women from their birth and until death.

In this respect, the paper focuses primarily on the analysis of primary and secondary sources that support the hypothesis concerning the rights of Egyptian women and Greek women in Ptolemaic period compared to women in neighborhood and equality of rights of men and women in different sectors of domestic and public domain.

Introduction

This essay focuses on the differences between the status of Greek and Egyptian women in Ptolemaic period in terms of property matters such as ownership and inheritance. The question for this essay concerns the width of rights for Greek and Egyptian women with regard to their ability and authority to own property, inherit different types of property, and serve as a party in legal disputes related with other property matters.

This essay is written to argue that Egyptian women enjoyed wider range of rights in terms of property maters such as ownership and inheritance than Greek women taking into account their family status. Based on these arguments, we can judge that Egyptian women were treated more adequately in society because they could possess different types of property including slaves and money and inherit from their kin such as mother and father.

Property Matters

The property matters were of primary importance for Egyptian women as they held a rather high position in this issue compared to representatives of other nations in the ancient world and many situations in the contemporary world when women suffer from discrimination and under-esteem compared to the treatment of male representatives of different classes.

So, the class relations can be considered one of the primary supportive evidence about the position of women in Egypt during the Ptolemaic period. Besides, a married woman had more power in terms of property as she could have a part of her husband’s property if she wished. Generally, Egyptian women can be compared to amazons who were independent contrasted to other women of the time as suggested in the article ‘Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking’ (1989) written by William Blake Tyrrell.[1]

Egyptian women enjoyed a wider range of rights compared to Greek women who were often deprived of the right to give their property and other issues related to property matters in terms of inheritance and ownership.

The passage that comes from the paper written in Oxyrhynchos in AD 186, II 237 coll.VI.4-VIII.7, and papyrus was used as a material is called as ‘A father attempts to end his daughter’s marriage against her will’[2]. The father of the daughter claimed in the letter to the prefect: “… she continues her outrageous behavior and insulting conduct toward me, I claim to exercise the right given me by the law …of taking her away against her will from her husband’s house…”[3]

Though the father claims his action to be in accordance with the Egyptian laws, there were no instances of such behavior among Egyptian population because Egyptian women were free to choose a husband by themselves, to go to the house of the husband as a symbol of being married, and to divorce with him with their free will.

In this respect, the claimer seems to be of Greek origin which proves that he could do as he claims in the letter because Greek women had no property of their own and could not act regardless of the will of their parents and husband thus being limited in the rights in terms of property possession and inheritance rights.

The Egyptian women enjoyed a wider range of rights in terms of property matters with regard to inheritance and ownership. The second original source contains information about the rights of the Egyptian women in terms of property matters.

The excerpt is called ‘A woman divides her property between her husband and her son’[4]; it comes from the papyrus Diog., 11-12 written by Ptolemais Eurgetis, AD 213. “I… having established a division of my property, have allotted to my son Isidoros, on the day before my death…”[5] In this respect, the case is about an Egyptian woman who has some property of her own hence she can give this property to someone or divide it between her relatives so that they did do not need to divide it after her death.

This shows how powerful women in Egypt were compared to their counterparts in other neighboring countries with regard to existing laws. The idea of power in the hands of Egyptian women also finds evidence in one of the secondary sources ‘Women in Ptolemaic Egypt’ (1898) written by Rachel Evelyn White who claims about the nature and role of women in Ptolemaic Egypt.[6]

Moreover, it is necessary to claim that Egyptian women could afford more rights in terms of status and property matters under the reign of roman emperors when Egypt was claimed to be a province of the Roman Empire. The role and status of Egyptian women are vividly explained in the primary source that dwells on the property rights for Egyptian women. The source of this information is the BGU v 1210 (Gnomon of the Idios Logos) (excerpts) written in the second century AD.

The source is called ‘Roman rules on women’s status and property’[7]. It focuses on the rules established for Roman women referring to all women that live on the territory of the Roman Empire in terms of property matters hence. Thus, “The dowry brought by a roman woman over fifty years of age to a husband less than sixty years of age the treasury confiscates after her death”.[8] This means that a woman could not decide whether her property should go to her husband o to her children after her death being deprived of her right for property.

The divorce could make the inheritance right and other related matters less accessible for a woman. This idea finds evidence in one of the secondary sources written by Pnina Galpaz-Feller.

So, the article ‘Private Lives and Public Censure: Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel’ (2004) contains information on the divorce and its value for property matters for women.[9] “It appears that (this) oath was an elegant solution to conflicts involving divorce, the division of property, or inheritance”[10] making the divorce less complicated for men and women after a man’s oath about him to treat his wife kindly.

Moreover, a woman could ask their husbands not to have more wives than she. In other words, some goods were possessed by a woman only whereas some goods purchased during the marriage were divided between the husband and the wife respectively in the process of a divorce.

The next argument that should be analyzed with regard to the property matters concerning Egyptian and Greek women is that women could possess some property regardless of their marriage and they did not need to ask their husband about the right to give their property. This fact finds evidence in one of the primary sources in the paper called ‘A woman divides her property between her husband and her son’[11]; it comes from the papyrus Diog., 11-12 written by Ptolemais Eurgetis, AD 213.

The woman states that she has some “…fields and buildings and gold objects and clothing belonging to me…”[12] This means that the woman can be an owner of some objects, buildings, and slaves regardless of her age and status as she is an Egyptian women. So, this rule refers to Egyptian women in Ptolemaic period because Hellenic period was not marked with this freedom in rights of women.

This fact is also obvious in the secondary source where the author claims about the freedom of women in terms of property matters. Sheila L. Ager writes about property matters for women in her article ‘Familiarity Breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty’.

Though women were not always free to marry those men they wanted because of inappropriate status and social position, they had more freedom than others of that time. “The idea of hypergyny as a notion driving female marital strategies presumes more choice-power for the female than we can necessarily assume in the Hellenistic world.”[13] In this respect, women had power, property and authority to make decisions and participate actively in the political, cultural, and social life of the nation in Ptolemaic period.

Egyptian women had more rights to inherit property in marriage as compared to Greek women leaving in Ptolemaic Egypt. The incest is described as a way to preserve the property and power in a family by Sheila L. Ager in her article ‘Familiarity Breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty’ (2005).[14]

The incest was one of the most important parts of the marital and independent life of women as they were becoming owners of their husband’s property due to the marital status and might inherit a part of the property owned by the husband after being divorced or after the husband’s death.

Thus, the marriage enabled Egyptian women that lived in the Ptolemaic period to be active participants of the legal issues including matters related to marriage, property, divorce, and their right to inherit some property.[15] This fact finds evidence in the study by Cheryl Ann Cox which is called ‘Incest, Inheritance and the Political Forum in Fifth-Century Athens’ (1989).[16]

The Greek woman is reported to have been deprived of the right to do whatever she may find necessary with her property because she was under the guardianship of her father instead of being guarded by her husband. This fact finds evidence in the primary source by written in Oxyrhynchos in AD 186, II 237 coll.VI.4-VIII.7, and papyrus was used as a material is called as ‘A father attempts to end his daughter’s marriage against her will’.[17]

The woman writes to the prefect: “…even after my marriage contract with him which I stated that I brought him this right unimpaired…”[18] about her father and relations between her father and her husband who should pay for using the property that was supposed to be her dowry. This shows that the woman was not considered the owner of the property and had no right to use this property as she found it necessary as all issues were arranged between her father and her husband.

The case is clearly referred to the Greek woman because the relationships in the Egyptian society were established in accordance with class organization of society.

In other words, Egyptian society of the Ptolemaic era can be contrasted to other contemporary societies where gender was prevailing in the shaping of public attitude whereas Egyptian people were treated in accordance with the social class belonging.[19] This fact finds evidence in the book Pandora’s Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity (1987) written by Eva Cantarella[20].

The Roman era in Egypt has shifted the priority in the property matters for Egyptian women. So, Egyptian women were aligned to Greek and roman women who were deprived of rights of ownership and inheritance.

This fact finds evidence in one of the primary sources BGU v 1210 (Gnomon of the Idios Logos) (excerpts) written in the second century AD. The source is called ‘Roman rules on women’s status and property’[21]. The rule number sixty-nine says: “An Egyptian woman who had sent slaves out (of Egypt) with her sons through Peloision… was condemned to pay 1 talent, 3000 drachmas.”[22]

As property meant a lot for representatives of both genders in Egypt, it is necessary to analyze the reasons for women to enjoy equal rights with men in terms of property matters including ownership and inheritance. In this respect, some women had more property whereas others had less of it due to their social class belonging as richer men and women had more property including goods, slaves, money, and other items.

This means that Egyptian women had to pay for their rights they enjoyed and for property they had. However, there is more interesting argument concerning the property matters related to the marriage customs in Egypt of that period.

Thus women were free to marry their brothers and representatives of other levels of kinship. In this respect, the incest is one of the most crucial peculiarities concerning the Egyptian women as they were not forced to marry their relatives but wanted to act in this manner to protect their rights in terms of property matters such as inheritance and ownership.

Women were encouraged to marry their brothers and first cousins because this added some prestige to them and their status hence being one of the reasons for Egyptian women to be treated more respectfully then other women of the time; this argument find evidence in a secondary source ‘Women in Ptolemaic Egypt’ (1898) written by Rachel Evelyn White.[23] Evidence to this fact can also be found in the study ‘The Power of Excess: Royal Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty’ (2006) written by Sheila L. Ager.[24]

When classes appeared, the states occurred as well due to the class nature of the state development and establishment. In this respect, Egypt was one of the ancient states that practiced treatment of population in accordance with the social class belonging and other related factors whereas other states established attitude based on the gender differentiation when women were treated worse than servants and slaves because of their gender.

The incest was one of the most important aspects of the Egyptian culture though Egyptian women were not considered as victims. This fact finds evidence in the article by Russell Middleton which is called ‘Brother-Sister and Father-Daughter Marriage in Ancient Egypt’ (1962).[25] Moreover, “there is no official code of law from ancient Egypt”[26] making the analysis of lawfulness of actions by men and women problematic.

In addition, every woman could purchase and sell her property and did not need authorization or confinement of her husband, father, or brothers (regarding the status of a woman and the person being her official guardian). In other words, a woman could make agreements and be a full-fledged member of a society in terms of legal matters solved. This fact is clearly seen in the study by Sarah B Pomeroy which is called Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves. Women in Classical Antiquity (1975).[27]

Egyptian women had greater rights when it came to property ownership as compared to Greece women living in Egypt during the reign of the Ptolemys. In addition, they had their own property when they came to the house of their husband being also able to use his property and vice versa.

A woman in Egypt could own different categories of property outside the marriage and had some property that remained her own during the marriage and in case the marriage was broken. A bridal gift was one of the categories of owned goods that a woman was supposed to own even when the marriage ended up. Besides, as women were active participants of the social life, they were also active contributors to the increase of population.

As the number of children characterized the authority of a woman and respect of other for her because of her fertility, she could gain more property by means of owing the part of property inherited from, for example, her parents and some property possessed by her children until their coming of age.[28] This fact finds evidence in the study by Dominic Montserrat which is called Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt (1996).[29]

The idea of incest as the primary driving force for protection of property is also evidential in the study by Brent D. Shaw which is called ‘Explaining Incest: Brother-Sister Marriage in Graeco-Roman Egypt’ (1992)[30].

This author claims about the relations between brothers and sisters in Egypt in terms of property matters and rights of Egyptian women for property. Moreover, the book Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure (2003) written by Joseph Gilbert Manning[31] shows a great number of evidence that support the idea of the rights of Egyptian women and their role in property matters.

Conclusion

Women that lived in Egypt during the Ptolemaic era were privileged in some way compared to their counterparts in other countries of the same period and a part of female population of the modern era. The primary difference lies in the fact that

Egyptian women enjoyed a wider range of rights and freedoms including another concept of marriage and status in marriage, property ownership and inheritance, education, and participation in the political, social, and cultural life of the country in terms of legal rights and opportunity to reign in the country.

Though the incest was an ordinary thing for Egyptians when a man could marry his sister, mother, or daughter, it was typical primarily of the royal family to ensure that the property and power are sustained in the hands of the family members.

Besides, women had their property that was not divided with a husband in case of a divorce that was a frequent occasion as well as marriage. Women were not limited to certain partners to choose for their marriage which draws another great difference between Egyptian women of the Ptolemaic period and Greek and Roman women of that time.

Bibliography

Ager, Sheila L. : Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 125 (2005): 1-34. Web.

Ager, Sheila L. : Royal Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Anthropological 48.2 (2006): 165-186. Web.

Cantarella, Eva. Pandora’s Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Cox, Cheryl Ann. Incest, Inheritance and the Political Forum in Fifth-Century Athens. Classic. J. 85 (1989): 34-46. Print.

Galpaz-Feller, Pnina. : Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel. Near Eastern Archaeology 67.3 (Sep., 2004): 152-161. Web.

Manning, Joseph Gilbert. Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Middleton, Russell. . American Sociological Review 27.5 (Oct., 1962): 603-611. Web.

Montserrat, Dominic. Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt. London: Kegan Paul International, 1996.

Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves. Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.

Rowlandson, Jane. Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Shaw, Brent D. : Brother-Sister Marriage in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Man 27.2 (Jun., 1992): 267-299. Web.

Tyrrell, William Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

White, Rachel Evelyn. . The Journal of Hellenic Studies 18 (1898): 238-266. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Tyrrell, William Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
  2. P.Oxy. II 237 coll.VI.4-VIII.7; Oxyrhynchos, AD 186.
  3. P.Oxy. II 237 coll.VI.4-VIII.7; Oxyrhynchos, AD 186.
  4. P.Diog., 11-12; Ptolemais Eurgetis, AD 213.
  5. P.Diog., 11-12; Ptolemais Eurgetis, AD 213.
  6. White, Rachel Evelyn. Women in Ptolemaic Egypt. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 18 (1898): 238-266. Web.
  7. BGU v 1210 (Gnomon of the Idios Logos) (excerpts); second century AD.
  8. BGU v 1210 (Gnomon of the Idios Logos) (excerpts); second century AD.
  9. Galpaz-Feller, Pnina. Private Lives and Public Censure: Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel. Near Eastern Archaeology 67.3 (Sep., 2004): 152-161. Web.
  10. Galpaz-Feller, Pnina. Private Lives and Public Censure: Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel. Near Eastern Archaeology 67.3 (Sep., 2004): 152-161. Web.
  11. P.Diog., 11-12; Ptolemais Eurgetis, AD 213.
  12. P.Diog., 11-12; Ptolemais Eurgetis, AD 213.
  13. Ager, Sheila L. Familiarity Breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 125 (2005): 1-34. Web.
  14. Ager, Sheila L. Familiarity Breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 125 (2005): 1-34. Web.
  15. Cox, Cheryl Ann. Incest, Inheritance and the Political Forum in Fifth-Century Athens. Classic. J. 85 (1989): 34-46. Print, 40.
  16. Cox, Cheryl Ann. Incest, Inheritance and the Political Forum in Fifth-Century Athens. Classic. J. 85 (1989): 34-46. Print.
  17. P.Oxy. II 237 coll.VI.4-VIII.7; Oxyrhynchos, AD 186.
  18. P.Oxy. II 237 coll.VI.4-VIII.7; Oxyrhynchos, AD 186.
  19. Cantarella, Eva. Pandora’s Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
  20. Cantarella, Eva. Pandora’s Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.
  21. BGU v 1210 (Gnomon of the Idios Logos) (excerpts); second century AD.
  22. BGU v 1210 (Gnomon of the Idios Logos) (excerpts); second century AD.
  23. White, Rachel Evelyn. Women in Ptolemaic Egypt. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 18 (1898): 238-266. Web.
  24. Ager, Sheila L. The Power of Excess: Royal Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Anthropologica 48.2 (2006): 165-186. Web.
  25. Middleton, Russell. Brother-Sister and Father-Daughter Marriage in Ancient Egypt. American Sociological Review 27.5 (Oct., 1962): 603-611. Web.
  26. Galpaz-Feller, Pnina. Private Lives and Public Censure: Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel. Near Eastern Archaeology 67.3 (Sep., 2004): 152-161. Web.
  27. Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves. Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.
  28. Montserrat, Dominic. Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt. London: Kegan Paul International, 1996.
  29. Montserrat, Dominic. Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt. London: Kegan Paul International, 1996.
  30. Shaw, Brent D. Explaining Incest: Brother-Sister Marriage in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Man 27.2 (Jun., 1992): 267-299. Web.
  31. Manning, Joseph Gilbert. Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
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IvyPanda. "Greek and Egyptian Women." March 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/greek-and-egyptian-women/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Greek and Egyptian Women." March 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/greek-and-egyptian-women/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Greek and Egyptian Women'. 20 March.

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