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by Archaeology Newsroom

Official professions / functions of a woman in ancient Athens

The Athenian woman of the fifth century practiced a profession only in the case of great need. However, before briefly examining the structure of Athenian society, it would be useful to define women’s position within it. Working women in fifth century Athens were usually widows or others with economic problems or immigrants with the need to work to earn their own and their families living or, finally, slaves.Professions are here classified as purely male, although common to men and women and then as exclusively female. Here we are dealing with the last category. The seclusion of women in their house and their deprivation of essential political and social rights was also reflected in the professional sector. The professional occupation of women was a rare phenomenon that created, as a rule, a negative social attitude towards those women. The fact that professions exclusively for women did exist could be considered as an important exception to the forementioned rule deserving specific analysis and study. Nurses for children, midwives and match-makers were proper female occupations. A typical trait of all three occupations is their functional character.

As regards the nurse and the midwife the importance of the functional character of their profession is reinforced by different evidence, which presents them as most respected persons who enjoyed high esteem in Athenian society. The matchmaker, on the contrary, because of the bad reputation she had in general, was probably not a favored and respectable person.