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Women in Ancient and Medieval Europe Lecture 3 - Osher Lifelong Learning at UNM
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Women in Ancient and Medieval Europe Lecture 3 - Osher Lifelong Learning at UNM

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Traditionally, classes and textbooks on Western history have had little to say about the lives of women in Western civilization. This lack of attention was largely due to the fact that women were …

Traditionally, classes and textbooks on Western history have had little to say about the lives of women in Western civilization. This lack of attention was largely due to the fact that women were officially excluded from politics and the military in such formative civilizations as Classical Greece and Rome, as well as being excluded from official positions within the early Christian Church. In fact, when women did draw the attention of historians in the Classical and Medieval eras, it was usually because these women were transgressing accepted norms in these male-dominated, hierarchical societies. However, as we now know, women contributed to these early societies in very important ways, not just as wives and mothers but, occasionally, as political leaders and even military figures. In this class, we’ll examine the political, social, and cultural forces that shaped women’s lives, and we’ll examine the lives of a few of the remarkable women who challenged these forces, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

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  • Seneb a high ranking official in the 4th dynasty, c. 2500. Wife was Senites.
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  • <number>
    Marble statue of a female female and its reconstruction as a depiction of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Original was a bright color of red and traces were preserved on the original.
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    49.5” high
  • 45.5 inches high, painted terracotta.
  • Transcript

    • 1. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Hunter-gatherer societies as egalitarian • Settled agricultural societies as patriarchal • Patrilinear, patrilocal • Women’s sexuality in need of control and direction • Urbanization and militarization of society • Women tended to have higher status in less urbanized societies, such as Celtic, Norse, and Germanic • Specialization of crafts or appropriation of female industries by men • Mycenaean conquest of Minoan Greek centers and royal (male) appropriation of fabric industry (female)
    • 2. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Mesopotamian society • Hammurabi’s Code, c. 1750 BC • Women as tavern/inn keepers, slaves, “sisters of god”, prostitutes • Wife may divorce husband with just cause; husband can divorce wife for any reason • Husband who divorces wife must return the dowry and provide for her and any children • Wife who leaves husband without just cause will be cast into the river • Wife whose husband disappears in warfare or flees the city may remarry • If the husband returns, she must return to him • Husband is allowed to marry a second wife if the first is neglectful of her responsibilities • Husband must care for wife who is ill or disabled • Wife is not liable for debt husband contracted before marriage • Widows can inherit property and bequeath it to their children • Rape punishable by death of perpetrator; woman viewed as innocent • Adultery punishable by death (drowning), but husband has power to pardon his wife • A woman accused of adultery must go through the “river ordeal” to prove her innocence
    • 3. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Mesopotamian society – The Assyrian Code, c. 1075 BC • Wife cannot inherit property if husband has sons • Wife is liable for debts contracted by husband before marriage • Husband can divorce his wife, but is not required to give her any financial support • Married women and unmarried daughters are to be veiled • Women cannot strike men; penalty is a fine and 20 “blows” • Husband may “strike his wife, pull her hair, her ear he may bruise or pierce. He commits no misdeed thereby.” • Rape punishable by death of perpetrator; woman’s identification of rapist carries weight • Adultery punishable by death, but husband can also choose to mutilate his wife (cutting off of nose)
    • 4. Female figurines: left—Mesopotamia, c. 6000 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art; center—from Nippur, c. 2600 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art; right—from Babylon, c. 1000 BC,Walters Art Museum.
    • 5. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Ancient Egypt • Old and Middle Kingdoms NOT highly militarized • Instruction of Ptah-Hotep (c. 2200 BC) on men’s interactions with their wives: “make her heart glad” for she is “a profitable field for her lord.” • Women as scribes, bakers, prophets, and healers (all gender non-specific) • Women as weavers (gender-specific, but highly profitable) • Women as priestesses, often with responsibilities over land, tax collection, and temple resources • Law based on concept of Ma’at: all free individuals had equal rights • Evidence for women’s right to divorce, own/sell property, testify in court • Evidence for marriage as monogamous • Evidence of male and female children inheriting equally • Women’s status remained high even into New Kingdom/Empire period
    • 6. Women of Egypt: left--Seneb, wife, and children, from theTomb of Seneb, c. 2500, Cairo Museum; center--statue of a woman bearing offerings, c. 1980 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art; left—statue of a Ptolemaic queen, 1st century BC, Christie’s Auctions.
    • 7. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Ancient Greece • Sparta, laws dating to 8th (?) century BC • Lycurgus • Female citizens encouraged to exercise; strong body would produce strong children • Women as managers of household in men’s absence • By mid-5th century, Spartan women could inherit/own property, including horses • Aristotle’s complaint (c. 350) that Spartan women owned 2/5 of Sparta’s lands • No real concept of adultery
    • 8. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Ancient Greece • Gortyn, laws in 5th century inscription, but possibly from 7th century BC • Women as managers of household in men’s absence • Women could inherit and own property • Daughters received slightly less than sons • In divorce, wife took her own property and half the produce of the household • If a father/husband/son violated regulations regarding children’s property, control passed to mother/wife • Married female slave could own property and take it with her upon divorce • Patrōïōkos—female heir • Adultery and rape punishable by fine
    • 9. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Ancient Greece • Athens, law codes from 7th to 5th centuries BC • Kyrios—male guardian (father/husband/son/male relative) • Daughters inherited if there were no sons • Epiklēros—female heir • Dowries • Laws of Solon (6th c.) limited women’s personal property to three dresses /items of clothing • Unmarried woman who had extramarital sex punished by sale into debt slavery • Married woman who committed adultery was divorced by her husband, no longer allowed to participate in public ceremonies • Rape punishable by fine paid to husband; victim divorced (if married) or shunned (if single) • Xenophon’s Oeconomicus (c. 400 BC)
    • 10. Left—vase depicting women at a fountain, c. 500 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art; right—vase depicting women weaving, c. 550 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    • 11. Left—running Spartan girl, c. 500 BC, British Museum; right—statue of a woman and young girl from a grave monument, c. 320 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    • 12. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe Vase of Sappho (r) and Alcaeus (l), c. 470 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich. • Women at work in Greece • Poets • Sappho, fl. 7th century BC • Shopkeepers • Midwives, wetnurses • Hetairai • Courtesans, usually of foreign birth • Aspasia, partner of Pericles, fl. 430 BC • Prostitutes
    • 13. Old market woman, c. 150-100 BCE. Roman marble copy of Hellenistic original, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    • 14. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • Ancient Rome • Female values--fides (loyalty), pudicitia (chastity), modestas (modesty), lanam fecit (lit. she made wool, good housekeeping) • Livy’s History of Rome (written c. 10 AD) • The killing of Horatia (c. 640 BC) • The Rape of Lucretia (c. 509 BC) • The bravery of Cloelia (c. 506 BC) • VestalVirgins—highest religious position for women; required no guardians • TheTwelveTables (c. 450 BC) • Curator—guardian (father/husband/brother/son/uncle) • Women to be in perpetual guardianship “propter animi levitatem” • Marriage cum manu (lit. with hand) • Respectable women to be veiled in public • Women not allowed to drink wine • Women not allowed to attend public events without a guardian • Women allowed to inherit property equally with brothers if no will • Divorce allowed—”Tuas res tibi habeto”
    • 15. Left--sarcophagus with reclining couple, from Cerveteri, c. 520 BCE, Museo Nazionale diVilla Giulia, Rome; right—sarcophagus of woman reclining with bust of husband, c. 1st century AD, British Museum.
    • 16. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe Bust of Empress Faustina, wife of Antoninus Pius, c. 140 AD, Capitoline Museum, Rome. • Ancient Rome ● Laws from the late Republic and Empire • Marriage sine manu (lit. without hand) – Women prohibited as sole or main heir of property – Guardianship • Laws of Caesar Augustus (30 BC-14 AD) released free women from guardianship after birth of three children (four children if freedwoman) – Adultery punishable by death • Lex Julia 18 BC modified this to exile • 6th century AD law required the husband to put his wife in a nunnery – Rape punishable by death • Later modified to rapist losing property and/or being exiled – By late empire (c. 500 AD) widows gained right of guardianship over children – Divorce illegal after conversion to Christianity
    • 17. “On account of lightness of mind:” social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe Top—relief of women in a poultry shop, Museum of Roman Civilization, Rome; bottom—relief of two female gladiators, British Museum, London. • Women at work in Rome • Poets • Physicians, midwives, wetnurses • Shopkeepers • Actresses, dancers, musicians • Prostitutes • Gladiators • Philosophers • Sosipatra, d. mid-4th century • Hypatia, d. 415
    • 18. “On account of lightness of mind”: social and cultural views of women in ancient Europe • A philosophical view of women • Socrates, d. 399 BC • Plato, d. 347 BC • The Republic, The Laws • Aristotle, d. 322, BC • Politics • Epicureans • Cynics • Hipparchia, wife of Crates • A medical view of women • Theories on male versus female • Plato’s Timaeus • Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals • Hippocrates, d. 377 BC • Galen, d. circa 200 AD • “Women’s troubles” and the “wandering womb” • Childbearing • Average lifespan 34-36 years • Average number of births, 4.6 with 1.6 deaths

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