Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 1

Recently a new member of my online critique group made this comment about my manuscript:

Your [unmarried] main character is seventeen, but weren’t girls that age usually married with kids in ancient Greece?

The answer is a resounding yes–if she was Athenian. Those girls wed early, around twelve years of age. But my heroine is from Sparta, where girls didn’t marry until they were eighteen or nineteen.

Actually, I’m surprised no one commented on my heroine’s marital status sooner. Most of what is taught as ancient Greek culture is actually ancient Athenian culture, partly because Athens was so dominant in ancient times and partly because Athenian sources provide so much of what we know about that period. But customs varied from one city state to the next, and the one most unlike the rest was Sparta, homeland of my main character.

Even then, other Greeks thought Spartans were different (to the point of weirdly different). Stands to reason that included the way they treated their women. In the case of marriage, Athenians married off their daughters at the beginning or even before puberty while Spartan girls stayed unwed until they were pretty much done. Why? Spartans were big on producing healthy warriors, and they figured their chances of strong sons were better if the mothers bearing those children were physically mature. In contrast, Athenian men were more concerned about getting brides still impressionable enough to mold into the kind of wives they wanted. That meant a lot of Athenian girls got pregnant while they were in their early teens and sadly many of them died in childbirth.

This is only one of the ways the lives of Spartan women contrasted with their Athenian sisters. Over the several weeks, I’ll be posting more intriguing and sometimes bizarre facts about the women of the military city state. Please look forward to it!

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16 responses to “Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 1

  1. I am writing a series with a similar issue; I’ve finished the first two novels and am waiting for query returns. But it involves time travel and Elizabethan England. There is a love affair involved, and I’m very afraid that people will see it as inappropriate because there is a 15 yr old future Queen Elizabeth with a 22 yr old main character who reasues her from a lecher in the Tudor court. Have you dealt with this issue amongst your readers? It’s a little more complicated because my main character is from 20th c Wales.

    Thanks,
    Julie

    • hi julia,
      I don’t quite have the same issue as my MC is unmarried and there isn’t much romance brewing for her (though there is between her brother and another chara of like age). I do remember tho in The Other Boleyn Girl that it starts off with the 13-yr-old (?) MC married to her much older husband, and everyone kind of treated it as normal (if u haven’t read it, it’s worth a look. bunch of love affairs in that one too.). If your other chara have similar relationships and marriages then it makes it clearer that those were simply the standards for back then.

      Regarding the 22yr old, i don’t know how far he gets with her, but you might show him conflicted or justifying the romance by pointing out the diff btw Elizabethan girls and modern ones.
      -SQE

      • Oh, he’s DEFINITELY conflicted, and she’s actually seducing him. It turns out that she is his age and has traveled into his time and spent time there, but he doesn’t know it – this becomes a major turning point of the book. Okay, thanks very much. I’ve seen OBG movie, but it has been a while since I have read the book.

  2. Pingback: Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 2 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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  7. Pingback: Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 7 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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  9. Pingback: Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 9 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

  10. Pingback: Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 10 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

  11. Pingback: Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 11 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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  14. Pingback: Research Ramblings: Spartan Women Part 14 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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