Hellenistic Women and The Law

Agency, identity, and community

Authored by: Gillian Ramsey

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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Women’s history of the Hellenistic period can be written as both micro-history of individuals and on the broad scale of regional comparisons. Greek colonial expansion in the east meant that the lives of Egyptian and Babylonian women were drawn into the ambit of Hellenistic society, producing a constellation of women’s experiences shaped by ethnicity, economic status, and politics. Ordinary women of all ethnicities whose persons and stories would have in earlier centuries been obscured by the traditional Greek male construct of woman—slave and peasant woman a cipher, woman of status a foil for masculine performance—now appear more fully in the Hellenistic evidence with communities, occupations, and personal situations. This chapter compares women from the three main eastern Hellenistic regions—Egypt, Babylonia, and the Greek Aegean—which provide the best sources of evidence—papyri, cuneiform tablets, and inscriptions. For example, a fragmentary papyrus personnel roster for a wool workshop in late second- or first-century 1 Egypt lists textile workers and their roles: Arkadia, Demarion, Helenis, Ebenion, and Herakleia were ill and off-work; Gaza and Euthene specialized at beating in the weft or shaking the warp; Hermione at spinning; and Aristonike, Dianoia, and Theophila at carding. Appearing at the head of an alphabetized list, these women probably had 30 to 35 co-workers and, by their Greek names, would have been considered to have been slaves. 2 Their work was intensive, highly skilled, and communal.

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