The Athenian businesswoman

Authored by: Edward E. Cohen

Women in Antiquity

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138808362
eBook ISBN: 9781315621425
Adobe ISBN: 9781317219910


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Many Athenian women participated in the cash economy of Classical Athens, sometimes working at mundane tasks for limited compensation, sometimes exercising control over sizeable assets, sometimes engaging in commercial transactions of significance. Some women soared financially, and their accomplishments (and their names) tend to be memorialized in our sources. The toil of anonymous female slaves, however, almost invariably underlay this success, for Athens was a “slave society.” Despite the ubiquitous presence of unfree individuals in virtually all human communities prior to the nineteenth century (Klees 1998: 1–18), Attica constitutes one of the world’s few attested true “slave economies” (those in which the contribution of a huge number of unfree persons to the totality of wealth production is so substantial that the society’s overall production, distribution, and consumption are highly dependent on slave labor: Nafissi 2004: 395–399). A striking counterpoint is provided by the widespread exploitation of female slaves in two important sectors—textile production and sexual commerce—areas in which Athenian businesswomen achieved substantial success.

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