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!