Women in Ancient Greece

By: Maddie Winslett

in Ancient Greece

Greece is one of the most notable civilizations in history due to their
impressive religions, sculptures, plays, and ways of life. However, in spite of
all these successes, ancient Greece was still incredibly flawed. Men in the
society were able to achieve almost anything; they could educate themselves and
even have roles in government.[1]
Women in ancient Greece, however, were not able to gain a lot of power in this
society, and they were treated as “objects” in real life. While they were not
considered important in real life, they were portrayed as powerful leaders in
literature and mythologies. Women had a substantial impact on art and religion
in ancient Greece, but due to the social structure, they were still limited in

impact on art was shown through the clear feminism in several Greek plays,
including Helen. When the play begins, Helen seems to discover how much
everyone despises and resents her for her role in the Trojan War.[2]
However, the observers of the play are aware of Helen’s actual story and know
that she has done nothing wrong. This is important because the story follows a
plot that is biased towards Helen’s perspective which normally does not happen
even in modern stories. While the characters do not treat Helen well at first,
the audience is always aware of Helen’s innocence, and they recognize that the
play uses these instances of misogyny to call out society. By making the
audience understand that Helen should not be treated as an object, it helps
them recognize the sexist mistakes they make in real life, and thus, it is
truly a play about feminism.  

of this lesson in the play, not only does the audience hopefully change, but so
do the characters. As stated earlier, Helen is not treated well in the
beginning. She states, “…and my name is but a sound without reality beside the
streams or Simois…”[3] This
proves that Helen is not considered a real person at this point. Instead, she
is “a sound without reality” and essentially meaningless. However, the other
characters start to realize that Helen did not do anything wrong, and they even
respect her. Towards the end of the play, Menelaus (Helen’s husband) discovers
that she is innocent, and instead of questioning it, he immediately believes
Helen’s story.[4] In
addition to this, Helen creates an escape plan for her and Menelaus, and he
agrees to it without question.[5]
This is incredibly important because it shows respect for women and
understanding that they are capable too. Also, by having this character arc for
Menelaus, the playwright has created a story with a very feminist message;
women are not respected as much as they should be, and this is clearly a
problem in Greece that needs to change. 

A lot of “female empowerment” in Ancient Greece is also shown through
the portrayal of two Greek goddesses: Athena and Artemis. To start, Athena is
the goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts; because of this, she is shown as both a
respectful and incredibly smart deity.[6]
This is important because it highlights that women can be just as smart as men
(or even more), and by having an extremely powerful goddess be relatable
(through household chores), she is more likely to become an inspiring role
model for women and girls. Because someone female is portrayed as incredibly
smart and capable, it shows that there was at least some respect for women in
the terms of mythology. This is relevant because in modern day, women are still
oppressed and are sometimes believed to have less intelligence than men. This
portrayal of a very famous goddess instead shows absolute respect for a gender
that has not been taken seriously for thousands of years. Athena is not the
only powerful goddess though. Artemis is the goddess of hunting, wild nature,
and chastity.[7]
What this means is that not only is Artemis an incredibly strong goddess who
can hunt, explore, and fend for herself, but she literally was shown to not
need a man in her life to still succeed. When she was a very young child,
Callimachus’ Hymn to Artemis states that she said, “Pray give me eternal virginity; as many names as my brother
Apollo; a bow and arrow like this…and, lastly, any city you care to choose for
me, but one will be enough, because I intend to live on mountains most of the
Artemis always knew that she preferred to stay in the woods and hunt than to be
tied down by a husband. This is extremely important because it shows
that she had a choice which, ironically, most women do not even have
today. By having a goddess have these qualities, it helped girls recognize that
they had a right to choose what they want to do in their lives; this is a major
topic in female empowerment, and it shows that women did have an impact on
religion, but people can also argue that religion had a substantial impact on

While women did appear to have power in these stories, myths, and
art pieces, in reality, women did not have much power when it came to social
structure or politics. In Marilyn A. Katz’s journal article, Sappho and Her
, she writes, “women played no significant role in public life”.[9]
Not only were they not significant in public, but women were excluded from
government roles as well. Politically, ancient Greece was primarily a
democracy; this means that more people in society get a say in the decisions that
the civilization makes, and more people actually vote on different topics.[10]
However, these “people” that have a say in this society all happen to be men
who are most likely rich.[11]
Because of this, women did not have much say in how they were treated, and they
were thus treated like objects. Instead of having a public life, women were
very focused on household life and family.[12]
In family life, there was a significant presence of patriarchal dominance. It
was sort of like Confucianism’s filial piety; the son respected his father, the
father respected his father, and so on. However, the mother was excluded from
this, and it was most likely because she was considered lesser than the men of
the family. This whole topic brings up the idea of oikos, which is how a
society works in a household.[13]
In this system, women were never directly given power. This is completely
different to the mythology and stories of this time because while women and
goddesses had lots of power over what they do, women in real life were not
treated as equals and were instead looked down on as if they were property.
Unlike Artemis, women did not have a say in if they got married or not, and
they also could not choose their husband.[14]
This also shows that women did not have an impact on social structure because
their own lives were planned out for them by someone else. 

Women were also not involved in the economics of this society
either. Instead, men took over this process by dealing with trade. Trade was a
necessary part in Greek culture. It not only helped them discover new things
and make a profit, but it also helped them spread their own culture.[15]
The Greeks would use merchant ships to travel to different countries and trade
their goods, such as wine, olives, and tools, and they used ships because it
was a civilization surrounded by water.[16]
The Greeks adapted to this and actually became quite skilled at sailing and
Aside from seas and rivers, there are also a lot of mountains in Greece, which
means there is not much room for agriculture.[18]
Instead, the men would sail away and trade to other countries. This is yet
another example of women not being treated equally in ancient Greece. By giving
only men the opportunity to get goods and supplies, it makes people believe
that these men has more power. This would keep women out of power for so much
longer simply because they were not allowed to do anything, and they had no
control over their lives.

In conclusion, women were not treated well in ancient Greece. They
were not even allowed to make the simplest choices like whether they wanted to
marry or not. Instead, men would choose for them, keeping women out of power.
However, in art like plays, men respected a woman’s idea, and the audience was
even on her side the entire time. In religion, two of the most powerful deities
happen to be female. One of these goddesses is seen as a role model to young
girls due to her being relatable yet also wise. The other shows that women do
have power in their lives, whether they believe it or not. With these thoughts
in mind, the women of Ancient Greece were probably strong, confident people,
but because they never got a chance to show their strength, they were left to
take care of a household. While men took away Greek women’s chance at power away
from them, they still had a significant impact on art and religion due to the
immense female empowerment displayed in these stories. 


Mark. 2018. “Ancient Greek Government.” World History Encyclopediahttps://www.worldhistory.org/Greek_Government/.

Mark. 2012. “Athena.” World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/athena/.

Mark. 2019. “Artemis.” World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/artemis/.

Mark. 2018. “Trade in Ancient Greece.” World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/115/trade-in-ancient-greece/.

Marilyn A. 2000. “Sappho and Her Sisters: Women in Ancient Greece.” Signs 25
(2): 505–31. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3175564.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Ae305f44e8279236ccf7275d1cde535d2&ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search_gsv2%2Fcontrol&origin=&acceptTC=1.

Joshua J. 2013. “Ancient Greece.” World History Encyclopedia. 


Internet Classics Archive. Helen by Euripides.” Classics.mit.edu. http://classics.mit.edu/Euripides/helen.html.

[1] Katz, Marilyn A. “Sappho and Her
Sisters: Women in Ancient Greece”, 514.

[2] Euripides. “Helen”

[3] Euripides. “Helen”

[4] Euripides. “Helen”

[5] Euripides. “Helen”

[6] Cartwright, Mark. “Athena”

[7] Cartwright, Mark. “Artemis”

[8] Cartwright, Mark. “Artemis”

[9] Katz, Marilyn A. “Sappho and Her
Sisters: Women in Ancient Greece”, 514.

[10] Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greek

[11] Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greek

[12] Katz, Marilyn A. “Sappho and Her
Sisters: Women in Ancient Greece”, 517.

[13] Katz, Marilyn A. “Sappho and Her
Sisters: Women in Ancient Greece”, 517.

[14] Katz, Marilyn A. “Sappho and Her
Sisters: Women in Ancient Greece”, 518.

[15] Cartwright, Mark. “Trade in Ancient

[16] Cartwright, Mark. “Trade in Ancient

[17] Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greece”

[18] Cartwright, Mark. “Ancient Greece”