Introduction to the Hellenistic Periodcolumn2(1366 bytes) (323-30 B.C.E.)

Royal Women (mothers, wives, sisters, daughters: cf. Grace Macurdy, Hellenistic Queens, Chicago, 1985):   Played an important role in public affairs: received envoys, obtained commissions for husbands or sons, built temples, founded cities, engaged mercenary soldiers, commanded armies, held fortresses, acted as co-rulers with males or as regents for sons, entered Panhellenic equestrian competitions, were made goddesses with important priestesses after death (apotheosis).

1) Olympias, wife of Philip II of Macedon and mother of Alexander the Great (d. 323). She worked for the succession of her son in preference to Philip's other sons; she met in battle and defeated Eurydice (Philip's daughter by another woman) who was considered a warrior equal to her father; she corresponded with Alexander while he was on campaigns and arranged political marriages for her daughter Cleopatra.

2) Phila advised in political matters her father Antipater, regent in Macedonia, and her husband Demetrius, king.

3) Arsinoe II had her step-son by her first husband killed after that step-son supposedly refused her love; she supported mercenary armies, later married her brother Ptolemy II Philadelphus ("Loving Brother"), ruler of Egypt, successfully completed her husband's previously unsuccessful war with Syria, was honored with portraiture on coins, was praised by the poet Callimachus; beautiful, intelligent, great administrator; a murderer for political advantages.

4) Berenice II, daughter of Arsinoe II and Ptolemy II, wife of Ptolemy III, sole heir to Cyrene (wealthy city in Libya),vast income from shipping and trade; governed in Egypt while husband was on military expeditions; sponsored race horses at Panhellenic games; was an accomplished equestrian; was honored with portraiture on coins; praised by poet Callimachus (poem "Lock of Berenice" imitated by the Roman Catullus and later English Pope), killed by one son for trying to advance career of other son, honored as goddess after death with prietess awarded precedence over other priestesses.

5) Cleopatra VII, married her brothers, ruled Egypt, had great facility in languages and could negotiate directly with ambassadors, raised and directed armies, entered into liaisons with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony in order to advance her country's welfare through the help of Rome. She died in 30 B.C.E. after the battle of Actium won by Octavian (Augustus Caesar).

Women were granted citizenship and political rights for diplomatic, economic, cultural services throughout the Greek speaking world. They owned more than half the property at Sparta, served as purchasers, sellers, lessors and lessees, borrowers and lenders, taxpayers of property and commercial activites in Egypt. They also had the right to receive and bequeath legacies, although usually with a male guardian. They could write petitions to the governors or police of their cities and states.

Non-Royal Women cited in public decrees honoring their public service:

1) As weavers of Athene's peplos or as priestesses of Athene (e.g., Lalla)

2) Archippe of Cyme, who wined and dined the total population of her city in the second century B.C.E.

3) Aristodama of Smyrna was a poetess given honorary citizenship by the Aetolians of Thessaly.

4) A woman served as archon or ruler in Histria in the second century B.C.E.

5) Phile of Priene constructed a reservoir and aqueduct in the first century B.C.E.

Women Poets famed for elegiac verse (Anyte, Nossis, Moero) and epic (Erinna).

  • Epitaphs, votive inscriptions, amatory verses, clever or informational poems, descriptions of works of art, versified reflections on life and morality, convivial pieces for symposia, abusive or satirical verses

1) Erinna, from island near Rhodes, 4th century B.C.E., poems about her childhood and her friend Baucis.

2) Anyte, from Tegea in Peloponnese, about 300 B.C.E., epigrams for men, women, animals, dedications, pastorals.

3) Nossis, from Locri in south Italy, 3rd century, epigrams to goddesses and dedications by and for women;  mentions Sappho and Eros

4) Moero, c. 300 B.C.E., dedication to vine cluster, hexameters of Pleiades who had served baby Zeus.

Recommended text:  Lefkowitz and Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome, Baltimore, MD 1982

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