The duty of women to have children creates a bias against them. Many laws for women and writings about women relate to their job of childbearing. It is their most important responsibility and also what gave them less freedoms then men. I will explore this fact in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome using the writings of Sappho, Aristotle and the scribe Any.
The first laws regarding women that we have record of was Hammurabi’s code. In Hammurabi’s code it states that a man may only take a second wife if the first wife has born him no children (law 144). This shows that the most important role of women was to have children. The only purpose of the second wife is to bear children so that the man can pass on his family name. This idea is reinforced by law 145 which states that if a man does take on a second wife she will not be equal to the first wife. The Sumerians were very intense about passing on their genes and having children as soon as possible because life was very unsure for them. The Tigris frequently had violent floods which could wipe out entire crops and kill many people.
The Egyptians on the other hand could rely on their river more and women also had more leeway. To them marriage was considered a partnership and women were allowed to own property and represent themselves in court. “In A Scribes Advice to his Son”, the scribe Any writes “It is a joy when your hand is with her”4 in reference to his son’s future wife. Life was less volatile so men had time to appreciate their wife’s for something more than the children they can bear. Although their main job was still to have children, as shown by Any writing “take a wife while you’re young that she make a son for you”4, once women had a couple of kids they gained a lot more freedoms.
The Greeks were very concerned with inheritance because Greek citizenship was inherited from father to son. Therefore, it was very important that the children were a man’s own. This caused Greek women to live a very secluded life and only be let out of the house for funerals and religious holidays (Wiesner-Hanks, 31). In “On a Good Wife”, Aristotle describes the attributes of the perfect wife. “Therefore his wife’s training should be the object of a man’s unstinting care that so far as it is possible children may spring from the noblest of stock.”1 Aristotle was a Greek philosopher in the 4th century BCE. Since the women were the people that educated the children, and the children were of utmost importance, it was important that women were perfectly trained. This is why women were generally married at a young age to a much older gentleman. Not only did the older man know much more than a younger man and thus would train his wife more correctly, but he also wouldn’t be swayed by his wife’s beauty. She wouldn’t be able to use her womanly charms on him to get her way.
Xenophon, who was a Greek historian in the 4th century BCE, writes “but I for myself and your parents for you considered who was the...