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Women have in the present day been accredited with playing a pivotal role in the building of our nation. This task did not begin in the recent years but can trace its beginning as far back as the advent of time where the traditional role of women was mainly to serve their male counterparts. Prior to the colonial era, the roles of women across the world were greatly limited by the traditional attitudes which viewed women as the “weaker sex”.
While the lives of the women during the 1500s were marked with multiple responsibilities and hardships, the women also took the time out to make merriment thus helping to lighten their weary loads thus creating a balance that made life bearable.
This study shall set out to document the typical life of the Egyptian and Greek women before 1500 AD by doing an extensive research and analyzing first hand accounts of how these women lived and survived in a chauvinistic environment. A detailed analysis of the similarities, differences and how these women impacted their civilizations shall also be discussed.
Similarities between the Egyptian and Greek women
The life of these women is interpreted in different light by many a historian. However, the commonly held notion that the society generally devalued the contribution of the women and subjected them to inhuman treatment and suffering is true as is demonstrated by Bentley, Ziegler & Streets (2008).
Women were perceived in these societies as the “weaker Sex”, fragile and incapable of making sound decisions. As such, they were to stay confined to their homes and live to serve their husbands. In both civilizations, the women had slaves who could do all the hard work and protect the women when the husbands were away.
Another similarity is that the women were expected to dress appropriately and conduct themselves in a respectable manner. As Sanders et al (2006) assert, women in these civilizations were not supposed to show any part of their face, legs and even hair to the public. That was a privilege awarded only to the husband.
In addition, they were not allowed to eat together with men nor argue or interfere with the affairs of men. Also, Tastsoglou (2009) states that women in these civilizations were not allowed to learn how to read or write. There were restrictions on the events that they could attend as well as the duration of time they could spend outside the vicinity of their homes.
In both civilizations, women were generally subjected to chores which evolved around child-care. As Sanders et al (2006) explain, Greek women often did repetitive tasks which could easily be interrupted incase their attention was required elsewhere. In addition, they were required to work in areas that did not require them to travel far from home and did jobs that would not amount to any losses when they attend to their children.
What Sanders et al (2006) mean is that women were viewed as mules whose main responsibility and purpose was to satisfy the needs of their husbands and children. The same applied to Egyptian women. They rarely had any social interaction with other members of society as they were often confined to their homes or doing odd jobs such as the collection of sea shells, wild plants, making clothed garments and an array of food processing activities (Bentley, Ziegler & Streets, 2008).
Women in both civilizations were expected to teach their children about the culture and customs of their people. It was the duty of every woman to train her children how to lead a moral life. Shame that emanated from a woman’s undoing was considered as a man’s lack of control over his family.
As such, Tastsoglou (2009) reiterates that women were expected to follow a prescribed code of moral behavior that included modesty, compliance, submission and most important of all; chastity. Punishment for non-conformity was harsh and in some cases involved caning or even disownment.
In addition, women were supposed to maintain the honor of their homes. It was their duty to ensure that their husbands and male relatives get the respect they deserve.
According to Vickers & Vouloukos (2007), women were supposed to be sexually reserved. This was to ensure that they discourage tempting other men (both the Greek and Egyptian women were very beautiful and were viewed as sources of temptations by men). To this effect, they were expected to cover their bodies fully while in public and were discouraged to speak in the presence of men.
Religion is a very important aspect to us as human beings. It has been known to instill virtues and values to all and help man cope with the hardships that come with life. In ancient times, religion played a pivotal role in the lives of everyone. This was mainly because ancient Greek and Egypt had different gods who were believed to be unforgiving in the face of disobedience. Both civilizations had gods of war, peace, fertility among others.
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To appease these gods, sacrifices were made on a regular basis (Lightman, 2007). Women were considered as pure vessels and were therefore tasked with the duty of preparing and offering the sacrifices to the gods. Bentley, Ziegler & Streets (2008) reiterate that days equivalent to half a year were set aside for various religious ceremonies.
During these days, women had a chance to be seen by the rest of the community and interact freely with each other. Vickers & Vouloukos (2007) assert that women were expected to sing songs during these days, tell tales of the gods and goddesses and present sacrifices to them. In regards to family morals, women were expected to teach their children about the religious beliefs, norms and rituals. They were expected to instill morals in their children and ensure that they understand the value and significance of the gods.
The most important role that women in these civilizations had to play was getting married and bearing children. Marriage as an institution was greatly respected and every woman was to be married. Children were viewed as a source of pride by the men and having many children was reason enough to boast.
This was because, a pregnant woman was perceived as a blessed one. Therefore, the more children one had, the more the blessings he was assumed to have. This was mostly because infertility was seen as a form of punishment from the gods. Therefore, bearing children was the most important role that women in these civilizations had to fulfill.
Differences between the Egyptian and Greek women
One of the outstanding differences between women from these civilizations was their financial independence and freedom. Women in ancient Egypt enjoyed more financial freedom than their Greek counterparts. Egyptian women could trade, sell and buy slaves, livestock and own property.
They could also sue, appear as witnesses in courts and settle legal disputes. This was contrary to Greek women who were not allowed to participate in any of these activities. Vickers & Vouloukos (2007), state that exceptions were made in extreme cases but under the supervision of a male party (father, brother or husband).
Another difference is that marriage in ancient Egypt was a prestigious affair. However, there were no matrimonial ceremonies, exchange of gifts and other marital rituals as experienced in ancient Greek societies. A woman could be declared as married only after leaving her parents home and into her husband’s house.
Even after marriage, Egyptian women remained independent and owned their own property. On the other hand, Greek women lost possession of their property once they got married. Adoption of children was widely accepted in ancient Egypt. Women were allowed to adopt children and raise them as their own. This was only accepted by very few Greek societies most especially the upper class members of the society (Sanders et al, 2006).
Impact of women to society
Despite their hardships and limited freedom, the impact that these women had on their societies cannot be understated. As Avdela & Psarra (2005) explain, women were in charge of the households and ensured that everything was in order. This refers to the availability of food and clothing to both the husband and the children. In as much as history has effectively left out the impact of women in national building, some historians have effectively shown the relevance of ancient women in today’s societies.
Due to the cultural bearings at that time, women were under constant pressure to ensure that their children lead a moral and culturally enriched life (Vickers & Vouloukos, 2007). Their efforts to this regard ensured that respect and harmony prevailed in the society. This is mainly because all children were taught the same values, how to behave and the importance of maintaining family honor. As such, women played a pivotal role in unifying their communities.
In regards to economic prosperity, women in both civilizations were very instrumental in facilitating economic growth (Lightman, 2007). In as much as women could not own property freely or work for money, their efforts at home were key contributors to the availability of income in their homes.
For example, Greek women would spin and weave fabric, tend to the farms and cater for the livestock. The sale of these products would bring in some money for their families through the husbands. The Egyptian women who had more autonomy would also transact for money which later contributed to the economic growth of their communities.
In regards to religion, women had great impacts on the belief systems held by the people. Avdela & Psarra (2005), state that most of the gods worshiped by these civilizations were women. In fact, the Greeks believed that their gods could dwell among them in the form of men and women.
In addition, women were very important during the procession of religious rituals. Young unmarried girls were viewed as untamed and pure beings worthy to present sacrifices to the gods, while older women were tasked with the duties of appeasing the gods by singing melodious tunes at their presence. Their ability to bear children was also symbolic to blessings from their gods (Avdela & Psarra 2005).
Since they constituted to a larger portion of the population, women were a good source of labor during this era. They could work as slaves in the farms and business areas in exchange for food and/or shelter. As such, they contributed highly in ensuring that there was plenty of food and resources in their communities.
Women had a great impact on the social status of their husbands and male counterparts. Respect in ancient civilization was mainly based on the amount of responsibility an individual had (Lightman, 2007). As such, having a respectful wife and many children demanded more respect from society. This was one way through which men could establish and prove their manliness all the while preserving the honor of his family lineage. Therefore, in as much as they were disregarded, women were great sources of pride to the men in these civilizations.
Indeed, the lives of the Greek and Egyptian women before the 1500s were marked with multiple responsibilities and hardships, however, the women also took the time out to make merriment thus helping to lighten their weary loads thus creating a balance that made life bearable.
From the discussions presented herein, it can authoritatively be stated that ancient women played a pivotal role in upholding morality and ensuring the continuity of society. The challenges that they faced were therefore of social and economic benefits and the environment that they dwelled in only thrived for these significances.
However, the social injustices such as gender discrimination sprouted from this era and up to date, these negative effects are still prevalent in our society. While it cannot be disputed that gender biasness was an unjust and mostly inhumane institute for the ancient women, it can be seen from this paper that it played a significant role in the building of our nation.
Avdela, E., & Psarra, A. (2005). Engendering ‘Greekness’: Women’s Emancipation and Irredentist Politics in Nineteenth-Century Greece. Mediterranean Historical Review, 20(1), 67 – 79.
Bentley, J., Ziegler, H., & Streets, H. (2008). Traditions and encounters: A brief global history. (3rd Ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Lightman, M. (2007). A to Z of ancient Greek and Roman women. NY: Infobase Publishing.
Sanders, T., Nelson, S., Morillo, S., & Ellenberger, N. (2006). Encounters in world history: Sources and themes from the global post volume one: to 1500. (1st Ed.) New York: McGraw Hill.
Tastsoglou, E. (2009). Women, gender, and diasporic lives: labor, community, and identity in Greek migrations. CA: Lexington Books.
Vickers, J., & Vouloukos, A. (2007). Changing Gender/Nation Relations: Women’s Roles in Making and Restructuring the Greek Nation-State. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 13(4), 501 – 538.