Women in Ancient and Classical Societies: Similarities and Differences - Paper Example

Published: 2023-09-16
Women in Ancient and Classical Societies: Similarities and Differences - Paper Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Women Human rights Ancient history
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1813 words
16 min read


Trying to create a role for women in society has been a difficult problem even in the earliest civilizations. In the ancient and classical ages, there was a fine line in treating women as property of men and genuinely trying to protect them from men. Women are expected to be efficient in managing the home and being supportive of her husband so he could succeed. There are many similarities and differences in how ancient and classical China, India, the Mediterranean civilizations, and the Middle East tried to solve the delicate problem of trying to provide for the protection of women and recognizing the abilities women brought to each society.

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Classical China

Women in the olden times did not have one's freedom or a place in society. They were recognized and inferior to their husbands and even father figures. The women got physically ill-treated and forced to compete for their husband's love and affection with other concubines (Stearns 12). Even though women got tortured under the male-dominated society, some of the women did not break through these barriers, but they rose to live extraordinary lives by producing great literature, scholarship, and even ruling the Chinese empire itself (Stearns 10). The society bases on the yin and yang principle. "Yang" stood for the Male denomination, which was more superior to the feminine nature. "Yin" stood for the female nature, which was soft and had to be submissive to then male nature.


Women in Chinese society had to maintain full chastity and have good behavior, which represents a woman's upbringing, and also represents the woman's virtue (Stearns). One had to know how to address men in that one had to choose the right words and avoid the use of vulgar languages. Women also had to keep themselves clean together with one's ornaments and clothes. It was essential to keep one from disgrace and keep the utmost cleanliness when the childbearing time comes. Women also had to show total devotion and serve men with wine and food.


Marriages in the ancient Chinese times were not based on love but economic and social considerations. Young girls in the Chinese society had no say when it came to marrying, most of the young girls were married off at a tender age (Stearns 11). When a woman got married to a man, she was regarded as a substantial piece other than a companion.

According to the laws, a man was able to divorce the wife, but a woman had no right to divorce her husband. The accepted grounds to divorce a woman were based on a woman's bareness, unfaithfulness, and the lack of treating the husband's parents in the right way (Stearns 9). A man also was able to divorce the wife if she suffered from infectious if one was jealous or even or if she talked too much.

A widowed woman was not allowed to remarry. A widowed woman was not allowed to inherit the property of one's husband, and this left her with nothing to offer to her new husband.

Family and Working Life

Their husbands strictly controlled married women in the upper-class status. The women had to stay and remain indoors with minimum freedom of movement. Their roles inside the homes included the management of household chores, finance, and also educating the children.

Women living a low social life, such as the peasant's wives, had to work on farms such as cultivating rice (Cooky 26). During times of drought and famine, women got forced into prostitution in order to provide for the families.

Classical India

In the previous olden Indian culture, the male gender dominated over the feminine gender. Their husbands tortured the women and that they could not have the freedom or own their properties or even remarry (Coleman 345). The women did not have a say or even take matters into one's hand when it came to making family decisions. Women had to know the right way to talk to their husbands even if talked to harshly.

The women were regarded as mistresses and had to ensure that the houses were clean. The women had to observe high standards of moral values. The women were considered objects and had to kill themselves after the husband had died. This system referred to as "SATI."

Laws of Manu

The laws of Manu tend to take control of the women's rights, and the laws regard that men are more superior to women. Over the years, the Manu laws have discriminated the women and that it does not support independent women. It is evidenced below;

The laws do not support women to be self- independent. When the female is young, she is a subject but the father, but in her youth, she is a subject to the husband (Coleman 344). When her husband is not allowed to intermarry or be self- independent. The law also states that a widow must remain chaste even after her husband's death.

The Manu laws also view women as subjects such a woman must worship her husband as a god and love the husband unconditionally. A woman in Indian society cannot be declared to have one's wealth. A man in society is free to marry a girl of a younger age without question.

Mediterranean Civilizations

Women that lived in the Mediterranean societies were protected with some laws that granted them protection. Some experienced additional advantages, such as having one's wealth and businesses and control over their properties like in the case of women under the Roman rule (Stearns 12). Women in a high social class were also educated and that the men did not so much restrict them. Women also in the Mediterranean regions were deeply loved by their husbands, faced little discrimination, and that one was allowed to choose a husband of one's liking.

Legal laws

Ancient Rome

Marriage Choice

In ancient Rome, marriage was regarded as consent between two parties. Women were allowed to refuse to consent to her father's wishes of marrying a particular suitor that the father had selected. The reasons she may give to support this was if the husband was unworthy in terms of habits or even evil characters. The widows were given the freedom to remarry, but they had to consent from their fathers.

Marriage laws

The marriage laws were formed by Romulus, who is a well-known Rome Founder. Laws suits both teams, in that woman and a husband got married, it was regarded as a sacred marriage and that they had to share all possession and rites (Stearns 8). These laws, unlike others, also favored the women, since when a woman is widowed, she will have her wealth.

Romulus also made strict rules that do not allow the woman to divorce her husband but give the husband the power to divorce her if she is found using drugs or practicing Voodoo or any forms of adultery.

Property Rights

A woman in the ancient Rome had the right to own properties, in that she could give the wealth to her sons since one had complete influence over it (Stearns 7). The laws state that women when they are divorced, they should have their dowries preserved so that one can remarry again. One also had legal control over the wealth of the dead husband.

Rape Laws

The roman laws also recognized rape as a capital crime. Anyone found in that act was imposed a massive amount of fine or even heavy penalties.

Ancient Greece

According to the ancient Greece rule, the laws formed were kind of strict and were meant to dishonor a woman who is found engaging in acts of adultery. A woman found indulging in adultery was not allowed to wear jewelry or even enter public grounds. It was formed to prevent them from corrupting the minds of innocent women who live chaste lives and are faithful to their husbands. When the men found this woman, who committed adultery in public, they were free to strip off her clothes and jewelry, but they had no right to kill but only strike her (Stearns 112). Although these rules may be strict and seemed to make dominated, the rules also advocated for women's rights, such as the fining and of men found by the law in the act of defiling women.

Rape and Adultery Laws

In ancient Greece, if a man was charged with rape, one was fined and had to pay 100 starters. The amount of fine imposed on the man after raping a woman was varied and depended on the social statuses such as when the female was a house girl, the man paid less, and when one raped a free woman in the society, the court charged him with more fine

Middle East

Women in the Babylonian rule, unlike other societies, they had rules that protected them. A woman's role mostly relied on one's home, and by failure to commit one's role, the woman would be divorced. Acts of immorality such as committing adultery, the woman would be drowned. When the woman's husband dies, she is left in full control over the wealth, and she also determines which children will inherit the wealth. Specific rules protected women from being defiled or even mistreated by their husbands.


When a man defiles a young girl, the man will face the consequences such as been drowned. Like in a case such as acts of adultery, unlike other societies, the Babylonians held both parties accountable such as both man and woman found in the act. Both of them are bonded and face a death penalty of being drowned.

The laws also protected the women from feminine gender-based violence, such as when a man strikes the other person's wife, and she is pregnant, and in that process, a miscarriage occurs (Stearns 110). The man will be fined a considerable amount of money in order to replace the miscarriage. If a man takes a woman and does not pay the dowry, the woman is not considered as his wife.


Women's rights and developments have seemed to evolve over the past decades—some societies in the past considered women as tools, such as the Indians and the Chinese. Males dominated over the women, and by doing so, it led to increasing acts of discrimination, physical and sexual abuse. Unlike other societies, the Mediterranean societies had set rules and judicial systems that helped protect the women. Also, the women in these societies had free will to choose one's spouses and also own wealth. In modern-day society has evolved, women are respected, and one can freely own wealth to whichever amount.

Works Cited

Coleman, T. "A time for dharma, a time for bhakti: Buddhist and brahmanical discourse in ancient India." International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 2018, pp. 343-349, doi:10.1007/s11407-018-9232-6.

Cooky, C. "Women, sports, and activism." Oxford Handbooks Online, 2017, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190204204.013.39.

Stearns, P. N. (2012). Documents in world history. Boston: Prentice Hall.

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