A WOMAN’S LIFE IN ANCIENT MACEDONIA

imagesCA5E144RAt the time of Alexander, women were expected to be stay-at-home moms, spending time at the loom and tending their children. Marriage was a social transaction aimed at creating relationships between families and the bride was seen as a valuable commodity. The wife of the king was mistress of his household and responsible for managing his residence, attend to the hospitality of guests and was sometimes present at the drinking parties for the men but mostly spent time in the women’s quarters ((gynaikonites) spinning and weaving in the company of her handmaidens.rtisnab

Because legitimate offspring were essential to ensure the inheritance of property and status, women were devoted to managing domestic affairs and bringing up children and were excluded from political life. Women did not take part in symposiums even when they were held at her home. If a woman lived in a rural area she often shared arduous tasks with the men and enjoyed a greater independence. But city women lived a fairly pampered and sheltered life. Intellectual pursuits were exceptional and girls did not go to school. Women of the more common folk enjoyed greater independent, frequenting the marketplace (agora) and some women worked as midwives and nursemaids. The only truly independent women were the courtesans (Hetairai). They circulated freely, attended symposia, entertained whomsoever they pleased and managed their own property. Many of them worked as temple maidens and entertainers.

In the Classical period of Macedonia the lives of the women of the royal house were well documented. Marriages of princesses were celebrated with great pomp which included state banquets and games. These marriages were arranged by the king for military and political reasons. Polygamy was customary for the Macedonian kings, serving their military and political purposes as well as ensuring large numbers of male offspring.

The everyday life of the women of the royal house was simple. they helped in preparation of the daily meals, wove cloth, and participated in formal banquets. Macedonian women seem to have been fascinated by magic as indicated by the wishes and curses they inscribed on lead strips (katadesmoi) placed in te tombs of the deceased.  Plutarch refers to the surreptitiousness of Olympias who took part in licentious rites with large tame snakes coiled around the thrysoi and wreaths.

However, they also played an important role in state affairs. Women such as Eurydike and Olympias – mother and wife of Philip II – had their statues set up in the Philippeion at Olympia . These women enjoyed special treatment and were permitted to be the regents of kings who were still to young to rule and were actively involved in matters of state. Often they were the target of scandal-mongering as in the many tales told about Alexander’s mother, Olympias.  When Alexander was away in Asia, she had general supervision of his kingdom and represented the Macedonian state. After Alexander’s death she issued decrees on behalf of the joint-kings and herself as well as ‘in the name of the house of Philip and his son Alexander’.  Even so she failed to unite the royal house and her life story has been embellished with many scandals, most likely to be untrue as they express the defamation and hostilely that had broke out between her supporters and her opponents who were supported by Kassander.