In which ancient civilization were women most on a par with men?

Women were most on par with men in:

  • Slavic realm

    Votes: 1 1.0%
  • Rome

    Votes: 11 11.5%
  • Greece

    Votes: 11 11.5%
  • Celtica

    Votes: 13 13.5%
  • Germanic world

    Votes: 4 4.2%
  • China

    Votes: 1 1.0%
  • Egypt

    Votes: 18 18.8%
  • Sumer

    Votes: 1 1.0%
  • Native America

    Votes: 11 11.5%
  • India

    Votes: 4 4.2%
  • Other - please elicit

    Votes: 21 21.9%

  • Total voters
    96

Louise C

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
7,239
Southeast England
#1
Hard to say. In all those ancient societies, positions of authority in public and in private life were overwhelmingly held by men. But women had something approaching legal equality in ancient Egypt.

But social class was really the most important thing for determining what sort of life you lead. An upper class woman in any of those societies would have a very different sort of life from a peasant or artisan woman for instance. Or a slave woman.
 
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Labienus

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
6,479
Montreal, Canada
#2
Spartan women had a lot of freedom compared to other Greek and Roman women. I am not sure if they were the most free of the lot, though.
 
Mar 2011
567
UK
#3
I don't know enough about some of these regions to make any kind of judgement but I was going to post something along the lines of what Louise C said about social class being greatly important.


As far as I'm aware, at least compared with contemporary societies, women in Sumer had things reasonably well.
 
Feb 2011
13,407
Perambulating in St James' Park
#4
Due to the lack of written records it's hard to ascertain the role of women in Celtic society, and perhaps impossible prior to the uninvited Roman intrusion.

One name springs to mind which turns traditional assumptions of the ancient world upside down though - Boudicca.

Women can't have been considered second class if a rebel queen can lead her army against the legions. I assume there must have been capable chieftains, so the fact she was listened to and followed into battle speaks silent volumes about the perception of women.
 

Louise C

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
7,239
Southeast England
#6
Due to the lack of written records it's hard to ascertain the role of women in Celtic society, and perhaps impossible prior to the uninvited Roman intrusion.

One name springs to mind which turns traditional assumptions of the ancient world upside down though - Boudicca.

Women can't have been considered second class if a rebel queen can lead her army against the legions. I assume there must have been capable chieftains, so the fact she was listened to and followed into battle speaks silent volumes about the perception of women.[/

Most ancient societies had a few queens who managed to edge themselves into positions of power, so I don't think that in itself is an indication that women in general were regarded as equal to men.

But the whole concept of equality is a very modern one anyway, all societies in the past were hierarchical, equality wasn't really a concept that existed.
 
Mar 2011
4,134
The Celestial Plain
#7
In many native American societies, women had as much power as men and oftentimes more. In the New England tribes women owned more property than men and could become Sachems (basically the embodiment of the tribes usufruct rights). In the Cherokee leaders were appointed by and goods were distributed by women's councils. Descent was matrilineal, the husband would move in with his wife's tribe and children learned more from their mother's brothers than their fathers.
 
Feb 2010
1,563
#8
Women can't have been considered second class if a rebel queen can lead her army against the legions. I assume there must have been capable chieftains, so the fact she was listened to and followed into battle speaks silent volumes about the perception of women.
Well, the same thing could be said about Cleopatra or Joan of Arc.
 
Mar 2011
4,134
The Celestial Plain
#9
But the whole concept of equality is a very modern one anyway, all societies in the past were hierarchical, equality wasn't really a concept that existed.
However, what can't be disputed is that women had more power and equality in the earliest civilizations than they did in later ones. In the earliest Sumerian texts, from 3,000-2,500 BCE, women are everywhere. Early histories record the names of numerous female rulers and makes clear that women were well represented among the ranks of doctors, merchants, scribes, and public officials and were generally free to take part in all aspects of public life. Men still outnumbered women in these professions, but their societies were largely like ours today, with an extensive number of women in all major professions.

This changes over the next 1,000 years the world over. The place of women in civic life erodes, the more familiar patriarchal pattern takes shape (with its emphasis on chastity and premarital virginity), the loss of independent legal status, an almost wholesale disappearance of women from government and professions, and by 1200 BCE a large percentage of women are sequestered away in harems and subject to obligatory veiling.

According to feminist scholars, this occurs because of the growing scale and importance of war, and the increasing centralization of the state. Generally, the more militaristic the state, the harsher its laws tended to be towards women. Anthropologist David Graeber also sees another factor:

Conquest leads to taxes. Taxes tend to be ways to create markets, which are convenient for soldiers and administrators. In the specific case of Mesopotamia, all of this took on a complicated relationship to an explosion of debt that threatened to turn all human relations--and by extension, women's bodies--into potential commodities. At the same time, it created a horrified reaction on the part of the (male) winners of the economic game, who over time felt forced to go to greater and greater lengths to make clear that their women could in no sense be bought and sold.
From Debt: The First 5000 Years
 
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