Woman Triumphant/Women During the Ages of Antiquity

Women during the Ages of



As the cultivated nations of Antiquity sprang from inferior tribes, it is only natural that in their social life many of the habits and customs of prehistorical times survived. Nowhere was this fact more evident than in the status of women. Everywhere we find a strange mixture of the rude conceptions of the dim past and promising prospects for a brighter future. In many places women were still regarded as inferior creatures, subjected to the will of men and with no rights whatever over their own persons. We also note that polygamy, barter, rape, slavery and hierarchical prostitution still flourish in all kinds of forms and disguises. But at the same time we are surprised to see that among certain nations the members of the fair sex enjoy already the same respect and almost a similar amount of rights and liberty, as our women possess to-day.

Modern archæologists are inclined to recognize those formerly fertile lands between the Persian Gulf and Asia Minor, and watered by the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, as the "Cradle of Civilization," or the place, where in misty ages, before history began, the so-called Sumerians, a Semitic people, first attempted to form themselves into organized communities. According to the traditions of the Hebrews here was the original home of the human race, the "Garden of Eden." and here was, as is told in Genesis XI, "that men said one to another: 'Go to, let us build a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'"

This city was called Babylon, and the country Babylonia. Wonderful stories and legends are connected with these two names, but still more astounding are the revelations unearthed by the pick and shovel of modern explorers. By their diligent work it has been discovered that the people, living in this region somewhere about 4,000 to 6,000 years B. C. were already a highly organized and civilized race, skilled in various trades and professions, and living in towns of considerable size and importance. The inhabitants of these cities were by no means awkward in the fine arts. Most important of all, they had already evolved a very complete and highly developed system of writing, which in itself must have taken many centuries to reach the stage at which it was found by the explorers.

As may be read in the elaborate works of Maspero, Hilprecht and other explorers, they discovered in the ruins of the principal cities of Babylonia several ancient libraries and archives containing thousands of tablets of clay, stone and bronze, covered with inscriptions of religious, astrological and magical texts, epics, chronicles and syllabaries. There are also contracts; records of debts; leases of lands, houses and slaves; deeds of transfer of all kinds of property; mortgages; documents granting power of attorney; tablets dealing with bankruptcy and inheritance; in fact, almost every imaginable kind of deed or contract is found among them.

The most precious relic is the famous Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylonia. This collection of laws, engraved on stone 2,250 years B. C. and now preserved in the Louvre, is so elaborate and systematic that it can hardly have been the first one. Back of it there must have been a long period of usage and custom. But it is the first great collection of laws that has come down to us. In 282 sections it regulates almost every conceivable incident and relationship of life. Not only are the great crimes dealt with and penalized, but life is regulated down to its most minute details. There are laws on marriage, breach of promise, divorce, desertion, concubinage, rights of women, purchase-money of brides, guardianship of the widow and orphan, adoption of children, etc. Through these laws we gain full information about the position of women in ancient Babylonia. Three classes of women are recognized: wives, concubines, and slaves. From other sources we know that all women of the higher class were cloistered in the harem and never appeared by the side of husbands or brothers in public. The harem system, at least for Western Asia and Europe, most probably originated in Babylonia.

The National Geographic Magazine of February, 1916, gives the text of a love letter, written several thousand years ago and sent by a young man to his sweetheart. It reads as follows: "To Bibea, thus says Gimil Marduk: may the Gods Shamash and Marduk permit thee to live forever for my sake. I write to inquire concerning thy health. Tell me how thou art. I went to Babylon, but did not see thee. I was greatly disappointed. Tell me the reason for thy leaving, that I may be happy. Do come in the month Marchesvan. Keep well always for my sake."

In the same place we find the following example of a marriage contract:

"Nabu-nadin-akhi, son of Bel-akbe-iddin, grandson of Ardi-Nergal, spoke thus to Shumukina, son of Mushallimu: 'Give me thy Ina-Esagila-banat, the virgin, to wife to Uballitsu-Gula, my son.' Shum-ukina hearkened unto him and gave Ina-Esagila-banat, his virgin daughter, to Uballitsu-Gula, his son. One mina of silver, three female slaves, Latubashinnu, Inasilli-esabat and Taslimu, besides house furniture, with Ina-Esagila-banat, his daughter, as a marriage-portion he gave to Nabu-nadin-akhi. Nana-Gishirst, the slave of Shum-ukina, in lien of two-thirds of a mina of silver, her full price Shum-ukina gave to Nabu-Nadin-akhi out of the one mina of silver for her marriage-portion. One-third of a mina, the balance of the one mina, Shum-ukina will give Nabu-nadin-akhi, and her marriage-portion is paid. Each took a writing (or contract)."

This document, written on a tablet of clay, is signed by six witnesses and the scribe.

As Professor Clay explains "it has been the custom with most peoples in a large part of the ancient as well as the modern Orient to base a betrothal upon an agreement of the man or his parents to pay a sum of money to the girl's father. In Babylonia this "bride-money," together with the gift of the father and other gifts, formed the marriage-portion which was given to the bride. There were prudential reasons for this practice. It gave the woman protection against ill-treatment and infidelity on the part of the husband, as well as against divorce; for if she returned to her father's house she took with her the marriage-portion unless she was the offending party. If she died childless, the marriage-portion was divided among them.

In case the girl's father rejected the suitor after the contract had been made, he was required to return double the amount of the bride price. The betrothals took place usually when the parties were young, and as a rule the engagements were made by the parents. A marriage contract was necessary to make a marriage legal. In some cases peculiar conditions were made, such as the bride's being required to wait upon the mother-in-law, or even upon another wife. If it was stipulated that the man should not take a second wife, the woman could secure a divorce in case her husband broke the agreement.

Concubinage was indulged in, especially when the wife was childless and she had not given her husband a slave maid that he might have children. The law fully determined the status of the concubine and protected her rights.

At the husbands death the wife received her marriage-portion and what was deeded to her during the husbands life. If he had not given her a portion of the estate during his life, she received a son's share and was permitted to retain her home, but she could marry again. A widow with young children could only marry with the consent of the judge. An inventory of the former husband's property was made and it was intrusted to the couple for the dead party's children.

If a man divorced a woman, which he could do by saying to her "Thou art not my wife!" she received her marriage-portion and went back to her father's home. In case there was no dowry, she received one mina of silver, if the man belonged to the gentry; but only one-third of a mina if he was a commoner.

For infidelity the woman could divorce her husband and take the marriage-portion with her. In case of a woman's infidelity, the husband could degrade her as a slave; he even could have her drowned or put to death with the sword. In case of disease, the man could take a second wife, but was compelled to maintain his invalid wife in his home. If she preferred to return to her father's house, she could take the marriage-portion with her.


From several of these engraved tablets it appears, that a woman received the same pay for the same work when she took a man's place.

To Herodotus, the so-called "Father of History," we are indebted for some highly interesting notes about the "marriage market of ancient Babylon." Its site, uncovered in 1913 by the German Oriental Society, was in close neighborhood of the palaces of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar and occupied a rectangle of 100 by 150 feet. Open to the air on all four sides, it was most probably shielded from the sun by rich awnings devised to shelter the daughters of Babylon and bring out their charms. The marble block upon which they stood while being bid for was in the center of the spectators and richly carved with cherubs, who worshiped and protected the "Tree of Life." Several inscriptions leave no doubt, that this was the actual market of which Herodotus gave the following description: "Once a year the maidens of age to marry in Babylon were collected at the market, while the men stood around them in a circle. Then a herald called up the damsels one by one and offered them for sale. He began with the most beautiful. When she was sold for no small sum he offered for sale the one who came next to her in beauty. All of them were to be sold as wives. The richest of the Babylonians who wished to wed bid against each other for the loveliest maidens, while the humbler wife seekers, who were indifferent about beauty, took the more homely damsels with marriage-portions. For the custom was that when the herald had gone through the whole number of the fair ones he should then call up the ugliest—a cripple if there chanced to be one and offer her to the men, asking who would agree to take her with the smallest marriage-portion. And the man who offered to take the smallest sum had her assigned to him. The marriage-portions were furnished by the money paid for the beautiful girls, and thus the fairer maidens portioned out the uglier. No one was allowed to give his daughter to the man of his choice, nor might any one carry away the damsel he had purchased without finding bail really and truly to make her his wife. If, however, it was found that they did not agree the money might be paid back. All who liked might come, even from distant villages, and bid for the women."

Herodotus as well as the Roman Curtius Rufus have written also about the so-called "hierarchical or sacred prostitution," as it was connected with the service of Mylitta or Belit, the Babylonian goddess of the producing agencies." Her temple was surrounded by a grove, which, like the temple, became the scene of most voluptuous orgies, about which Jeremiah too has given indications in his letter directed to Baruch. (Baruch VI. 42, 43.)

According to these statements every woman was compelled to visit the temple of Mylitta at least once during her life and give herself over to any stranger, who would throw some money on her lap and with the words: "I appeal to Mylitta!" indicate his desire to possess her. Such an appeal could not be rejected, no matter how small the sum was, as this money was to be offered on the altar of the goddess and thus became sacred.

  • About this subject Rev. T. M. Lindsay, Professor of Divinity and Church History, Free Church College, Glasgow, writes in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in an essay about Christianity: "All paganism is at bottom a worship of Nature in some form or other, and in all pagan religions the deepest and most awe-inspiring attribute of nature was its power of reproduction. The mystery of birth and becoming was the deepest mystery of Nature; it lay at the root of all thoughtful paganism and appeared in various forms, some of a more innocent, others of a most debasing type. To ancient pagan thinkers, as well as to modern men of science the key to the hidden secret of the origin and preservation of the universe lay in the mystery of sex. Two energies or agents, one an active and generative, the other a feminine, passive, or susceptible one, were everywhere thought to combine for creative purpose, and heaven and earth, sun and moon, day and night, were believed to co-operate to the production of being. Upon some such basis as this rested almost all the polytheistic worship of the old civilization, and too it may be traced back, stage by stage, the separation of divinity into male and female gods, the deification of distinct powers of nature, and the idealization of man's own faculties, desires, and lusts, where every power of his understanding was embodied as an object of adoration, and every impulse of his will became an, incarnation of deity. But in each and every form of polytheism we find the slime-track of the deification of sex; there is not a single one of the ancient religions which has not consecrated by some ceremonial rite even the grossest forms of sensual indulgence, while many of them actually elevated prostitution into a solemn service of religion."



The early Hebrews or Israelites, being of the same Semitic stock as the Babylonians, but preferring a pastoral life, observed similar habits in their relations to women. Matrimony to them was not a necessity based on mutual love and respect, but a divine order, binding especially the man. While it was his obligation to maintain the human race, especially the Jewish stock, woman was merely the medium to reach this end by her beauty and charm and by giving birth to children.

For the conclusion of a marriage the mutual consent of the two contrahents was necessary. But generally the marriage was arranged by the fathers or some other relations, who likewise settled the question as to how much would be the dowry of the son as well as of the daughter. That sometimes even a faithful servant was charged with the negotiation of these delicate questions, is told in Genesis XXIV, where it is said that Abraham, in order to secure for his son Isaac a wife of his kindred, commissioned his eldest servant to make a journey to his former home in Mesopotamia. While resting at a well, he met Rebekah, the beautiful daughter of Bethue!, a son of Nahor, Abraham's brother. When Rebekah consented to become Isaac's wife, Abraham's servant brought forth many jewels of silver and gold and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah. Having given also to her brother and to her mother many precious things, he started for the return journey, taking Rebekah and her maid servants with him.

The story of Jacob and Rachel, as told in Genesis XXIX, proves, that among the early Hebrews the barter for women was customary, but that the wooer might obtain the girl of his longing likewise by serving her father for a certain length of time. As the early Hebrew had an aversion to mingling with the inhabitants of Canaan, Isaac, Jacob's father, sent him to Mesopotamia, the former habitat of the Hebrews, to select a wife among the daughters of Laban, his mother's brother.

Meeting Rachel, Laban's youngest daughter, he became so deeply impressed by her charm, and so eager to gain her, that he offered Laban to serve him for Rachel for seven years. Having fulfilled his contract, Jacob was, however, beguiled by Laban, who at the wedding-night substituted his eldest daughter Leah for Rachel. When in the morning Jacob became aware of the deception, Laban claimed that it was not customary, in his country, to give away a younger daughter before the firstborn. And so he succeeded in persuading Jacob to serve him for Rachel another term of seven years.

While monogamy was the rule among the Hebrews, polygamy was permitted, especially if the first wife was barren. As this was the case with Sarah, the wife of Abraham, she gave her husband Hagar, an Egyptian maid-servant, with whom Abraham begat a son, Ishmael. Of Leah and Rachel, the two wives of Jacob, we may read in Genesis XXX, that they, not having born children to Jacob, likewise introduced to him their maids Bilhah and Zilpah, each of which bore Jacob two sons.—It is certain that some of the patriarchs had a great number of wives, and that not all of these held the same rank, some being inferior to the principal wife. The right of concubinage was practically unlimited. Abraham kept a number of concubines, as appears in Genesis XXV, 6, where it is said that he, when dividing his property, gave gifts to the sons of his concubines. Of Solomon the first book of Kings XI, 3, states, that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

In the Mosaic law concubinage and divorce was a privilege of the husband only. A wife accused of adultery was compelled to undergo the horrible ordeal of the bitter water, as described in Numbers V. If found guilty, she might be stoned to death.

To continue the male issue of the family was the paramount mission of the wife. That the birth of a male baby was regarded as an event of far greater importance than that of a female, appears from Leviticus XII, where it is said, that a woman, giving birth to a son, was regarded unclean for only seven days and must not touch hallowed things nor come into the sanctuary for a period of thirty-three days. But if unfortunately she became the mother of a girl, she was considered unclean for fourteen days and had to abstain from religious service for sixty-six days. Only after she had made atonement for the sin of motherhood by offering a lamb or a pair of pigeons, was she forgiven.

The prejudice against woman is also confirmed by the fact, that, according to Exodus XXIII, 17, all male Jews were required to appear before the Lord three times in the year, and that they had to repair to Jerusalem once a year, with all their belongings. But the women were not privileged to accompany their husbands.



To investigate woman's position among the other ancient nations of Asia is also of interest. The Parsee or Parsis, belonging to the great Aryan or Indo-Germanic race, occupied two thousand years before Christ that part of Central Asia known at present as Iran or Persia. Whether this country was the original home of that race, is unknown. Some modern scientists are inclined to seek it in more northern parts of Asia or even of Europe, as the sacred songs of the Parsee contain indications, that the Aryans originally came from countries with a temperate or frigid zone. When for instance the Vedic singers in hot India prayed for long life, they asked for "a hundred winters."

In their treatment of women these Aryans or Parsee have been much more noble than any other Asiatic race. They believed in marriage for higher purposes than the mere begetting of children. The principal incentive to conclude a marriage was the desire to contribute to the great renovation hereafter, which, according to the sacred book of the Parsee, the Zend-Avesta, is promised to humanity. This renovation cannot be carried out in the individual self, but must be gradually worked out through a continuous line of sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons. The motive of marriage was therefore sacred. It was a religious purpose they had in view, when the male and female individuals contributed by marital union their assistance, first, in the propagation of the human race; second, in spreading the Zoroastrian faith; and third, in giving stability to the religious kingdom of God by contributing to the victory of the good cause, which victory will be complete about the time of resurrection. The objects of the marriage bond were, therefore, purely religious, tending to the success of light, piety or virtue in this world. For this reason the Avesta declares that married men are far above those who remain single; that those who have a settled home are far above those who have none; and that those who have children are of far greater value to humanity than those who have no offspring.

While daughters were believed to be less useful than sons for the continuation of the father's race, they were, however, not disliked, but also objects of love and tenderness. Marriages were not the result of any barter or capture, but of pure selection on the part of the two individuals. If they were still of minor age, the marriage was subject to the confirmation of the parents or guardians.

Infanticide was strictly prohibited. There were also laws against the destruction of the fruit of adultery. Such illegitimate offspring had to be fed and brought up at the expense of the male sinner until they became seven years of age.


Like the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and like the highlands of Central Asia, or Ariyana, so the mountains, plains and forests of India were inhabited long before the dawn of history by masses of men of various races and split into many hundreds of tribes. Of these races descendants exist in almost the same conditions as their ancestors did many thousand years ago. In Southern India the Kader are still living in primitive tree-huts. Assam and Bhutan are regions abounding with villages which are the exact counterparts of the pre-historical lake-dwellings of Switzerland.

These vast regions of India were at some unknown time invaded by tribes of Aryan or Indo-Germanic race. While among the aborigines of India women were subjected to all the hardships and bad treatment of primeval times, the women of the Aryans enjoyed, as stated above, a far higher position. Like their husbands they were the "rulers of the house," had the entire management of household affairs, and were allowed to appear freely in public. Husband and wife also drew near to the gods together in prayer. That the education of the females was not neglected is proven by the fact, that some of the most beautiful Vedas or national hymns and lyric poems were composed by ladies and queens. —

With the decline of the Aryan race and culture in India, caused most probably by the hot, enervating climate of the country, the position of women also underwent a change for the worse. Especially the growing despotism of the Brahmanic priests gradually robbed women of all their former rights and liberty. In time they became completely subject to the authority of man. Mothers owed obedience to their own sons, and daughters were absolutely dependent upon the will of their fathers. The system of conventional precepts, known as "Manu's Code of Laws," clearly defined the relative position and the duties of the several castes and sexes, and determined the penalties to be inflicted on any transgressors of the limits assigned to each of them. But these laws are conceived with no human or sentimental scruples on the part of their authors. On the contrary, the offenses, committed by Brahmans against other castes, are treated with remarkable clemency, whilst the punishments inflicted for trespasses on the rights of the Brahmans and higher classes are the more severe and inhuman the lower the offender stands in the social scale.

Against the female sex Manu's laws are full of hostile expressions: "Women are able to lead astray in this world, not only the fools, but even learned men, and to make them slaves of lust and anger."—

"The cause of all dishonor is woman; the cause of hostility is woman; the cause of our worldly existence is woman; therefore we must turn away from woman."—Girls and wives must never do anything of their own will, not even in their own homes."—"Women are by their nature inclined to seduce men; therefore no man shall sit even with his own relative in lonely places."—"The wife must be devoted to her husband during her whole life as well as after his death. Even if he is not without blame, even if he is unfaithful and without a good character, she must nevertheless respect him like a god. She must do nothing that might displease him, neither during his life nor after his death."—Day and night must women be held in a state of dependence."—

As the subjection of women was made a cardinal principle of the Brahman priests, they did not shrink from misinterpreting the text of the Vedas accordingly. So the sentence: "You wife, ascend into the realm of life! Come to us! Do your duty toward your husband!" was explained to mean that a widow must not marry again but ought to follow her husband also in death. This led to the voluntary burning of the widows with the corpse of the husband, a practice which assumed great dimensions and was observed till the middle of the 19th Century. Mrs. Postans, an English lady, who during the first part of the last century resided many years in Cutch, one of the northern provinces of India, gave the following account of such a ceremony: "News of the widow's intentions having spread, a great concourse of people of both sexes, the women clad in their gala costumes, assembled round the pyre. In a short time after their arrival the fated victim appeared, accompanied by the Brahmins, her relatives, and the body of the deceased. The spectators showered chaplets of mogree on her head, and greeted her appearance with laudatory exclamations at her constancy and virtue. The women especially pressed forward to touch her garments—an act which is considered meritorious, and highly desirable for absolution and protection from the "evil eye."

"The widow was a remarkably handsome woman, apparently about thirty, and most superbly attired. Her manner was marked by great apathy to all around her, and by a complete indifference to the preparations which for the first time met her eye. Physical pangs evidently excited no fears in her; her singular creed, the customs of her country, and her sense of confused duty excluded from her mind the natural emotions of personal dread, and never did martyr to a true cause go to the stake with more constancy and firmness, than did this delicate and gentle woman prepare to become the victim of a deliberate sacrifice to the demoniacal tenets of her heathen creed."



While the fate of women in India was shaped by Manu's Code of Laws, in China it was decided by the orders of Confucius, the famous sage, born in the year 550 B. C. and in popular histories of his life praised in the lines:

"Confucius! Confucius! How great was Confucius!

Before him there was no Confucius,
Since him there has been no other.
Confucius! Confucius! How great was Confucius!"

In the rules, which this savant gave to his followers, he demanded full subordination of woman to man; also, that the two sexes should have nothing in common and live separated in two different parts of the house. The husband must not mingle in the internal affairs of the home, while the wife must not concern herself in any outside matter. Also women should have no right to make decisions but in every-thing be guided by the orders of their husbands.

Women have likewise no proper position before the law and cannot be witnesses in any court. The father may sell his daughter, and the husband may sell his wife. Concubines are permitted and often are housed under the same roof with the wife. Daughters are not welcomed, but treated with contempt.

To get rid of a superabundance of infant girls which are regarded as a burden and as unwelcome eaters, the Chinese in former times resorted to exposure and infanticide to such an appalling extent that these cruelties became a national calamity and disgrace. Generally the female babies were drowned. In the provinces of Fukian and Kiangsi infanticide was so common, that, according to Douglas, at public canals stones could be seen bearing the inscription:

"Infants must not be drowned here!"—

To lessen these abuses one of the emperors of the Sung-dynasty decreed that all persons, willing to adopt exposed children, should be compensated by the government. But this well-meant decree brought evil results, as many people, who adopted such foundlings, raised them for the purpose of making them their own concubines, or to sell them to the keepers of brothels, of which every Chinese city had an abundance. Placed in these brothels when six or seven years old, the unfortunate girls were compelled to serve the older inmates for several years. Later on they assisted in entertaining visitors with song and music. But having reached the age of twelve or thirteen, they were regarded as sufficiently developed to bring profit in the lines of their actual designation.

The final fate of such unfortunate beings was in most cases miserable beyond description. Having been exploited to the utmost by their heartless owners, they were, when withered and no longer desirable, thrown into the streets, to perish in some filthy corner.

Women of the lower classes too had a hard life. In addition to such unfavorable conditions there existed among the aristocrats a strict adherence to ancient manners and customs. Accordingly the life of the whole nation became rigid and ossified. Foreigners, who came in close contact with Chinese aristocrats, speak of their women with greater pity than of the females of the poor, describing them as dull and boring creatures, with no higher interests than dress and gossip.

As in Japan the rules of Confucius were likewise in force, the position of woman in "the Land of the Rising Sun" like-wise was an inferior one. Obedience was her lifelong duty. As a girl she owed obedience to her father, as a wife to her husband, and as a widow to her oldest son. And in the "Onna Deigaku," the classic manual for the education of women, she was advised to be constantly aware of the bar between the two sexes.




Of the many nations that occupy the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the Egyptians are the oldest. To them one of the foremost scholars, George Ebers, paid the following compliment: "If it is true that the culture of a nation may be judged by the more or less favorable position, held by its women, then the culture of ancient Egypt surpassed that of all other nations of Antiquity."

Indeed, when we study the innumerable inscriptions, paintings and sculptures of Egyptian tombs, and investigate the many well preserved papyrus rolls, we find this praise fully justified. Not only did the Egyptians generally confine themselves to one wife, but they also extended to her more and greater privileges, than she had in any other country. Woman was honored as the source of life, as the mother of all being. Therefore contracts, carefully set up, protected her in her rights and secured her the title Neb-t-em pa, "the mistress of the house." As such she had, if the authority of Diodorus can be credited, absolute control over all domestic affairs and no objection was made to her commands whatsoever they might be. It is also significant, that where biographical notes appear, on tombs, statues and sarcophagi, the name of the deceased mother is frequently given, while the name of the father is not mentioned. So it reads for instance: "Ani, born by Ptah-sit," "Seti, brought to life by Ata." The spirit of true affection and real family life likewise found expression in many poetical names given by sorrowful widowers to their departed wives. There is an inscription, in which a husband praises his lost mate as "the palm of loveliness and charm"; another one extols his spouse as "a faithful lady of the house, who was devoted to her husband in true fondness."

That the highly developed, culture of the Egyptians was based on strong ethical principles, also appears from the text of the so-called "Papyrus Prisse," perhaps the oldest book of morals ever written. Its author, Prince Ptah-hotep, who lived about 3350 B. C. gives hints and advice in regard to social intercourse and manners, to be observed among people of refinement. Hear what he says about the treatment of women: "If you are wise, you will take proper care of your house and love your wife in all honor. Nourish, clothe and adorn her, as this is the joy of her limbs. Provide her with pleasing odors; make her glad and happy as long as you live, because she is a gift that shall be worthy of its owner. Don't be a tyrant. By friendly conduct you will attain much more than by rough force. Then her breath will be merry and her eyes bright. Gladly she will live in your house and will work in it with affection and to her heart's content."

Children were regarded as the gifts of the gods, and brought up in good manners and obedience.

In company with their husbands Egyptian women took part in all kinds of social and public festivals. At social affairs the master and mistress of the house presided, sitting close together, while the guests, men and women, frequently mingled, strangers as well as members of the same family. Agreeable conversation was considered the principal charm of polite society, and according to Herodotus it was customary at such gatherings, to bring into the hall a wooden image of Osiris, the Lord of Life and Death, to remind the guests not only of the transitoriness of all earthly things and human


pleasures, but also of the duty, to meet all others during the short span of this earthly life with kindness and love.

That ladies' parties are not an innovation of our times but date back thousands of years before Christ, we learn from many finely executed carvings and frescoes which represent feasts. In long rows we see the fair ones sitting together, in finest attire, with hair carefully dressed and adorned with lotus flowers. Waited upon by handmaids and female slaves, they chat and enjoy the delicious sweets, cakes and fruits, with which the tables are loaded. As the hours passed, fresh bouquets were brought to them, and the guests are shown in the act of burying their noses in the delicate petals, with an air of luxury which even the conventionalities of the draughtsman cannot hide. Wine was also partaken of, and that the ladies were not restricted in its use, is evident from the fact, that the painters have sometimes sacrificed their gallantry to a love of caricature. "We see some ladies call the servants to support them as they sit; others with difficulty prevent themselves from falling on those behind them; a basin is brought too late by a reluctant servant, and the faded flower, which is ready to drop from heated hands, is intended to be characteristic of their own sensations."[1]

In Egypt women were permitted to practice as physicians. They were likewise admitted into the service of the temple. In most solemn processions they advanced towards the altar with the priests, bearing the sacred sistrum, an instrument emitting jingling sounds when shaken by the dancer. Queens and princesses frequently accompanied the monarchs while they offered their prayers and sacrifices to the deity, holding one or two ceremonial instruments in their hands.

The constitution of Egypt also provided that, when at the death of a king no male successor was at hand, the royal authority and supreme direction of affairs might be entrusted without reserve to one of the princesses, who in such case ascended the throne. History records several Egyptian queens, among them Cleopatra VI, who became famous through her relations to Caesar and Anthony.



The great regard extended to women by the Egyptians could not fail to influence to some extent those nations, with whom they came in contact, especially the Greeks and the Romans.

Ancient Greece, or to be more correct, Hellas, was occupied by the Hellenes, belonging to the Aryan or Indo-Germanic race, who had immigrated from Central Asia in prehistoric times. A pastoral rather than an agricultural people, they were divided into several branches, of which the Dorians, Ionians, Aeolians, and Pelasgians were the most prominent.

No people has ever recognized the charm of women with greater enthusiasm than the Greeks. To them the fair sex was the embodiment of cheerful life, of the joy of being. To this conception we owe many of the most excellent works of art, among them several unsurpassed statues of Venus, the goddess of beauty and love.

In the treatment of their women the various branches of the Hellenes were not alike. But all took deep interest in the harmonious development of the body, of beauty and art. Gymnastic games and prize-fights were the favorite entertainments, especially among the Dorians, one branch of whom, the Spartans, became famous for their strict methods in rearing and educating boys as well as girls.

To secure to the state a race of strong and healthy citizens, the Spartans allowed no sickly infant to live, and girls were required to take part in all gymnastic exercises of the young men. Women were even admitted to co-operate in all public affairs. As great attention was given also to their education, the women of Sparta gained in time such great influence over their men, that the other Hellenes jokingly spoke of "Sparta's female government," a remark, which was promptly answered with the reply, that the women of Sparta were also the only ones, who gave birth to real men.

That the Hellenic women were treated with great dignity during the so-called "heroic age," and that they enjoyed far greater liberty than in later periods, is evident from the poems of Homer. In the Iliad Achilles says: "Every true and sensible man will treat his wife respectfully and take proper care of her." And in another place Homer declares that "besides beauty good judgment, intellect and skill in all female works are the merits, by which a wife will become a respected consort to her husband."

In the "Odyssey" Homer gives in Penelope a very attractive example of female faithfulness and dignity. He also makes Odysseus say to Nausikaa: "There is nothing so elevating and beautiful, as when husband and wife live in harmony in their home, to the annoyance of their adversaries, to the rejoicing of their friends, and to their own honor!"

Among the many deities, worshiped by the Greeks, one of the most attractive figures was Hestia, the goddess of the home or hearth fire. As explained in a former chapter, the constant fire, kept by aboriginal bands in the centre of their villages, became in time a sacred symbol of home and family life, and by degrees grew into a religious cult of great sanctity and importance. As women in ancient Hellas too were the guardians of this tribal fire, so its deity was believed to be a goddess, Hestia, whose name means "home—or hearth-fire." As the tribal fire was always kept burning so the fire in the Pytaneion, the temples of Hestia, was to remain alive. If by any mischance it became extinguished, only sacred fire made by friction, or got directly from the Sun, might be used to rekindle it. The Pytaneion was always in the center of the villages and cities. Around its fire the magistrates met, and received foreign guests. From this fire, representing the life of the city, was taken the fire wherewith that on the hearth of new colonies was kindled.

In later times, however, the high conceptions the Greeks had of womanhood underwent considerable change, and the close intimacy between husband and wife, which had hitherto distinguished married life, vanished. When with the extension of navigation and commerce the Greeks came into closer touch with the luxurious life of Asiatic nations, they adopted many of their manners and thoughts. Suspicion and jealousy, conspicuous traits in the character of southern races, now made themselves felt. Besides misogynists like Hipponax, Antiphanes, Eubulos and others began to poison the minds of the people with degrading, insulting remarks about women and matrimony. As did for instance Hipponax by saying:

"There are only two pleasant days in married life, the first, when you take your bride in your home, and the second, when you bury her."—

And Eubulos is responsible for the sentence: "Deuce may take him, who marries a second time! I shall not scold him, that he took his first wife, as he did not know what was in store for him. But later on he knows that this evil is woman."—

Euripides is responsible for the most degrading comment. He wrote the following lines:

"Dire is the violence of ocean waves,
And dire the blast of rivers and hot fires,
And dire is want, and dire are countless things,
But nothing is so dire and dread as woman.
No painting could express her dreadfulness,
No words describe it. If a god made woman
And fashioned her, he was for man the artist
Of woes unnumbered, and his deadly foe!"

The undermining effect of such remarks was increased by numerous comedies in which married life was turned to ridicule, and husbands were depicted as despicable slaves to women. So bye and bye the high position, formerly held by the female sex, sank to a much lower level. Their liberty was greatly curtailed, and daughters as well as wifes were confined to the strict seclusion of the "Gynakonitis" or women's quarters at the back of the house. Here they spent their time with spinning, weaving, sewing and other female work, not seeing or hearing much of the outside world. For this reason they were often nicknamed "the locked up," or "those reared in the shadow." As they rarely got out into the fresh air, they relied greatly on rouge and cosmetics, to hide their faded complexion. The only interruption in this monotonous life were the festivals of the various deities, during which they joined the solemn processions and carried the ceremonial implements and vessels on their heads.

As the education of the girls was greatly neglected, and as they generally married very early, they had no influence whatever on the male members of the family. They even didn't appear at table with men, even with their husbands' guests in their own homes. But the principal cause for the decline of woman's position and of family life in Hellas was the rise and growing prevalence of the "heteræ" or courtesans, many of whom became famous for their fascinating beauty and accomplishments. Clever in graceful dances, well educated in song, music and in the art of entertaining, these women, many of whom were natives of foreign countries, in time became constant guests of the symposiums of prominent citizens. Far outshining the housewives and their daughters in gracefulness and wit, they soon won a domineering influence over the all too susceptible men, many of whom became lost to their own neglected families.

The most striking illustration of this is offered by the life of the famous Athenian statesman Pericles, who fell victim to the charms of Aspasia, a courtesan born in Miletus, Asia Minor. Her extraordinary beauty and still more remarkable mental gifts had gained her a wide reputation, which increased after her association with Pericles. Having divorced his wife, with whom he had been unhappy, Pericles attached himself to Aspasia as closely as was possible under the Athenian law, according to which marriage with a "barbarian" or foreigner was illegal and impossible. And after the death of his two sons by his lawful wife he secured the passage of a law, by which the children of irregular marriages might be rendered legitimate. His son by Aspasia was thus allowed to assume his father's name.

Aspasia enjoyed a high reputation as a teacher of rhetoric. It is said that she instructed Pericles in this art, and that even Socrates admitted to have learned very much from her. The house of Aspasia became the center of the most brilliant intellectual society. Men who were in the advance guard of Hellenic thought, Socrates and his friends included, gathered here.

Another noted courtesan was Phryne, who by her radiant beauty acquired so much wealth that she could offer to rebuild


the walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander (335 B.C.), on condition that the restored walls bear the inscription "Destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne, the hetære." When the festival of Poseidon was held at Eleusis, she laid aside her garments, let down her hair and stepped into the sea in the sight of the people, thus suggesting to Apelles his great painting of "Aphrodite rising from the sea." The famous sculptor Praxiteles too used her as a model for his statue "the Cnidian Aphrodite," which Pliny declared to be the most beautiful statue in the world.

Anteia, Isostasion, Korinna, Phonion, Klepsydra, Thalatta, Danae, Mania, Nicarete, Herpyllis, Lamia, Lasthenia, Theis, Bachis and Theodota are the names of other courtesans, who became widely known for their relations with prominent men of Hellas and acquired enormous wealth.

Sappho, the famous poetess, whom Plato dignified with the epithets of "the tenth Muse," "the flower of the Graces," and "a miracle,' most probably belonged likewise to this class. It is said that she established in Mytilene a literary association of women of tastes and pursuits similar to her own, and that these women devoted themselves to every species of refined and elegant pleasure, sensual and intellectual. Music and poetry, and the art of love, were taught by Sappho and her older companions to the younger members of the sisterhood.

Hierarchical prostitution prevailed in Hellas. It was connected with the service of Aphrodite, the Greek counterpart of the Babylonian Mylitta. Strabo states, that in her temple of Corinth more than one thousand courtesans were devoted to the service of this goddess. The amount of money, earned by these girls and flowing into the priest's treasury, was so enormous that Solon, the great statesman and law maker, envying the temples for such rich income, founded the Dikterion, a brothel of great style, the income of which went into the treasury of the state.

Enticed by the luxurious and easy life of such courtesans, thousands of young girls chose the same profession and entered the schools, which were established by many courtesans for the special purpose of giving instruction in all the arts of seduction. As the legislators, bribed by heavy tributes, were most liberal in giving concessions to these institutions as well as to prostitutes and keepers of brothels, public life became in time thoroughly demoralized. In fact these conditions were greatly responsible for the final decay and downfall of the whole Hellenic nation.


Among the various nations who in early times occupied the Italian peninsula, the Latins, Sabines and Etruscans were the most prominent. That among them barter and the forceful abduction of women was customary, is indicated by the well-known story of the "Rape of the Sabine Women" by the original settlers of Rome.

As the legend runs Romulus and his band of adventurers, having no women with them, and too poor to buy some from their neighbors, decided in the fourth month after the foundation of Rome to get wives by resorting to a stratagem. Accordingly they invited their Sabine neighbors to partake with their wives and daughters in the celebration of a festival. Suspecting nothing, the Sabines came and greatly enjoyed the entertainments provided for them. But in the middle of the feast the Romans, far outnumbering the unarmed Sabines, rushed upon their maiden guests and carried them off by force. To avenge themselves, the Sabines went to war, in which both parties suffered severely. But the fierce struggle was brought to an end, when the kidnapped girls flung themselves between the combatants, imploring their fathers and brothers to become reconciled, as they would like to stay with their Roman husbands. Their urgent appeals brought not alone peace, but resulted even in the confederation of the Sabines and Romans.

It is impossible to say whether this legend rests on actual facts, but it indicates that the forceful abduction of women was customary in ancient Italy. Undoubtedly it took many centuries before this drastic means of securing wives gave way to more peaceful methods. But to remind people of the intervention by which the women had ended the bloodshed between Romans and Sabines, the Romans celebrated a festival on the first of March of each year, called "Matronalia." It could only be participated in by women, who went with girdles loose, and on the occasion received presents from husbands, lovers, and friends.

Laws were also instituted for the protection of women. Woe to those who dared to hurt their feelings by disorderly acts or insolent language. They were brought before the blood-judge, who dealt very severely with such evil-doers.

Like the Greeks the Romans venerated a divine guardian of family life. Her name was Vesta, "the domestic hearth-fire." The hearth, around which the members of the family assembled in the evening, was the place consecrated to her. Numa Pompilius is said to be the one who erected the first


temple to this goddess in Rome. Round in shape, its center contained an altar with a fire that was never allowed to be extinguished. To keep this sacred flame always burning and to offer daily sacrifices and prayers for the welfare of the state, two virgins of the noblest families were chosen by the Pontifex maximus or High-Priest. Afterwards the number of these "Vestal Virgins" was increased to four, and later to six. Their garments were of spotless white, with a veil and a fillet round the hair. Strict observance of the vow of chastity during the thirty years of their term of service was one of their chief obligations.

The privileges extended to these virgins were very remarkable. Free from any paternal control, except that of the Pontifex maximus, they could dispose by will of their own property. When appearing in a public procession they were preceded by a number of lictors, who carried with them the symbols of their judicial office, the fasces, a bundle of sticks, out of which an axe projected as a sign of sovereign power. Should it happen that in the street they met a criminal on his way to execution, they had the prerogative of pardoning him. In theatres, in the arena, and at other places of amusement the best seats were reserved for them. They also lived in great splendor; their home, the Atrium Vestæ, was not only very large, but of the best material and magnificently decorated. Like the emperors they shared the privilege of intramural burial.

With all this esteem, the Vestal Virgin was severely punished if found guilty of neglecting her duty or violating her vow of chastity. The latter crime caused the whole city to mourn. While innumerable sacrifices and prayers were offered up to appease the offended goddess, preparations were made to punish the priestess as well as her seducer horribly. The man was scourged to death on the public market; the unfortunate priestess was placed in a subterranean chamber on the criminals' field. After she had been provided with a bed, a lighted lamp, and some bread and water, the vault was closed, the earth thrown over it, and the priestess left to die.

While the "Vestal Virgins" enjoyed many privileges, the Roman women during the first time of the republic were completely dependent. A daughter, if unmarried, remained under the guardianship of her father during his life, and after his death, she came into the control of her agnates, that is, those of her kinsmen by blood or adoption who would have been under the power of the common ancestor had he lived. If married she and her property passed into the power of her husband. Whatever she acquired by her industry or otherwise while the marriage lasted fell to her husband as a matter of course. Marriage was a religious ceremony, conducted by the high priests in the presence of ten witnesses. Its effect was to dissociate the wife entirely from her father's house and to make her a member of her husband's, provided he himself had grown to manhood and started a household of his own. If this was not the case, his wife and their children, as they were born, fell likewise into the power of the "pater familias," the father-in-law of the wife, and the latter was entitled to exercise over his daughter-in-law and grand-children the same rights as he had over his sons and unmarried daughters.

Of the wife of the "pater-familias" the Romans spoke as the "mater-familias," the "housemother," or as the Domina, "the mistress of the house," and she was treated as her husband's equal. But in spite of the fact that her position in the family was one of dignity, she could not make a will or contract, nor could she be a witness or fill any civil or public office.

So the life of a Roman woman was one of perpetual servitude. For centuries she had no control over her own person, no choice in marriage, no right to her own property, and no recourse against cruelty. Any man could beat his wife, sell her, or give her to some one else, when he was tired of her. He could even put her to death, acting as accuser, judge, jury, and executioner.

The dependent position of the women changed considerably, when the Romans came in touch with the Greeks and other nations. Marriage was made easier. It became even possible, without the sanction of priests or civil authorities, to conclude an agreement to which men and women might live together on probation. If such union was kept up without interruption for one year, then it was considered a regular marriage with all its consequences. If, however, the two persons concerned wished to reserve for themselves the right of separation later on, it was only necessary that the wife should stay in the house of her parents for three nights before the end of the year.

There was also perfect freedom in divorce, as it was regarded improper to force persons to continue in the bonds of matrimony when conjugal affection no longer existed. In later times women secured full right to dispose over their own property. Either they might manage it personally or have it administered by a "Procurator."

The Greek conception that the presence of women lends charm and luster to festivals, was adopted by the Romans. As they were convinced that no entertainment was worth while without the presence of the ladies, festivals were developed to even a far greater extent than was the case in Greece.

This step for the better was due to the greater intelligence of the Roman women. Recognizing that the vast influence exerted by many courtesans over the prominent men of Hellas was not due solely to the beauty and grace of these women, but also to their refinement and knowledge of literature, music and art, the Roman ladies, to attach their husbands to their homes, eagerly endeavored to acquire similar merits. And so they devoted themselves to the culture of everything that makes life interesting and beautiful. We know the names of many Roman women, who in this way became real companions of their husbands. Hear, for instance, what Pliny, the famous naturalist, wrote about Kalpurnia, his wife, in one of his letters. Having praised her keen intellect, moderation and affection, he continues: "In addition to these virtues comes her deep interest in literature. My own books she not only possesses them, but reads them over and over again, until she knows them by heart. If I have to give a lecture, she sits close by behind a curtain, listening eagerly to the appreciation shown to me." In similar terms Plutarch speaks of the wives of Pompejus and Kato; Tacitus of the wife of Agricola, of Cornelia, the mother of the Graches, of Aurelia and Atia, the mothers of Cæsar and Augustus.

While such cultured women retained a strong sense of duty towards their home and family, the influence of Hellas, however, made itself felt also in other ways. Its universal corruption and immorality had made it easy for Rome to subjugate the whole country. But during the occupation of the country the Romans became acquainted with the luxurious life and lascivious debaucheries in which the rich Greeks indulged in full disregard of the dreadful distress of the lower classes. Many Roman officers, consuls and prefects, morally unfit to resist the allurements of such loose life, fell victims to all sorts of vices and crimes. And when, after several years, they returned to Italy, they generally took with them, besides enormous quantities of stolen valuables, numbers of courtesans and slaves.

With the expansion of the empire these evils increased accordingly. And so Rome became finally permeated with foreign elements, manners and vices.

Even religious life became demoralized. Not only the voluptuous worship of Aphrodite or Venus was transplanted to Roman cities, but also the obscene service of Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of the begetting agencies. The orgies, committed in the ostentatious temples of these deities, formed indeed a striking contrast against the chaste worship of Vesta.

By all these conditions the life of the Roman women became deeply affected. The works of contemporary writers abound with complaints about the growing emancipation of the female sex, the neglect of their duties, and the ever increasing love of amusement. Comparing the women of his time with those of former days, Kolumella remarks: "Now, our women are sunk so deeply in luxury and laziness, that they are not even pleased to superintend the spinning and weaving. Disdaining home-made goods, they always seek in their perverted mania to extort from their husbands more elaborate ones, for which often great sums and even fortunes must be paid. No wonder that they regard housekeeping as a burden and that they do not care to stay at their country seats even for a few days. Because the ways of the former Roman and Sabine housewives are considered old-fashioned, it is necessary to engage a housekeeper, who takes charge of the duties of the mistress."

Young girls liked to stroll through the shady colonnades of the temples and through the groves, that surrounded them. Here they met their beaus, who in the art of flirt were just as cunning as are the Lotharios of to-day. The ladies of the aristocrats or patricians enjoyed to be carried about in sedan-chairs, as in these comfortable means of transportation they had full chance to show themselves to the public richly dressed and in graceful positions. As these sedan-chairs were always provided with costly canopies and curtains, and shouldered by fine-looking Syrian slaves, clad in red and gold, such a sight could not fail to attract general attention and to become the talk of the town.

That this mode of shopping and paying calls became a real fashion may be concluded from a remark of Seneca, who grumbles that those husbands, who forbid their wives to be carried about and exhibit themselves in such manner are considered as unpolished and contemptible boors.

As appears from the works of Juvenal, Sueton, Plutarch, Martial and others the growing passion for emancipation, notoriety and excitement, combined with the rage for gossip was responsible for the production of many unwomanly characters. We hear the complaint that scores of women boldly intrude into the meetings of men and often compete with them, in their drinking bouts. These authors also condemn that such females eagerly mix with officers and soldiers, to discuss with them the details and events of the war, while others try to spy out all domestic secrets, only to blab them out again in the street.

Ovid too expresses his disappointment about the changes going on in the life of the fair sex. "Disdaining matronly seclusion, our ladies patronize circus, theatre and arena, eager to see and to be seen. Like an army of ants or like a swarm of bees they hurry in elaborate attires to the beloved plays, often in such crowds that I am utterly unable to guess their numbers."

This inordinate greediness for enjoyments grew in time into a real intoxication of the senses. Nothing indicates this more than the concentration of all thoughts, of the patricians as well as of the plebeians, of the men as well as of the women, of the free as well as of the slaves on the questions which party would win in the public games, how many hundred gladiators would fight each other, or how many thousands of wild beasts would be set loose in the arena.

When we read that such public shows sometimes lasted for weeks and months, and that all regions of the known world were ransacked in order to secure some new and more cruel feature, that would set people wild with excitement, it will be clear that the susceptible mind of women must have suffered most. And indeed with the increasing degeneration of social life the female sex became more and more demoralized. As among the foreign slaves as well as among the freed and enfranchised were many fine-looking and accomplished persons, unfaithfulness and adultery increased. Especially among the ladies of the upper classes the "nicely curled procurator," who managed the property of such women, served only too often as a "Cicisbeo," in which role he figures in many satires and comedies. Men and women met in the public bath houses as well as in watering-places like Bajae, an ill-reputed resort, where libertinism and dissipation flourished, and from which it was said, that no virgin, who went there, ever returned as a virgin.

Bajae and Rome were also the places where the mysterious rites of the Bachanalia found the greatest number of devotees. Originally a festival in honor of Dionysos, the Greek god of spring and wine, it degenerated into wild orgies after its introduction to Rome. This is what Livy writes about it: "The mysterious rites were at first imparted to a few, but were afterwards communicated to great numbers, both men and women. To their religious performances were added the pleasures of wine and feasting, to allure a greater number of proselytes. When wine, lascivious discourse, night, and the mingling of the sexes had extinguished every sentiment of modesty, then debaucheries of every kind were practiced, as every person found at hand that sort of enjoyment to which he was disposed by the passion most prevalent in his nature. Nor were they confined to one species of vice, the promiscuous intercourse of free-born men and women. From this storehouse of villainy proceeded false witnesses, counterfeit seals, false evidences, and pretended discoveries. In the same place, too, were perpetrated secret murders and other unmentionable infamies. To consider nothing unlawful was the grand maxim of their religion."

It was in Bajae where Marcellus, the son-in-law of


Emperor Augustus, was poisoned by intriguing Livia; and here Agrippina, the mother of Nero, was clubbed to death after an attempt by her son to shipwreck and drown her during a cruise in a magnificent gondola had failed.

In time adultery, poisoning and murder prevailed among the Roman society to such an extent, that men became afraid to enter matrimony, and addicted themselves to illicit intercourse.

This period of moral degeneration was, however, distinguished by a most wonderful rise of literature, science and art. At no time before so many beautiful temples, basilicas, theatres, arenas, public buildings, palaces and country-seats were erected. And all these buildings were adorned with an abundance of mosaics, mural paintings and works of sculpture. There were also numbers of brilliant writers, poets, dramatists, orators, law-makers and men who made themselves famous as naturalists or philosophers.

Of the philosophers the so-called Stoics, among them Seneca, Lucan, Epictetus and Musonius Rufus formed a school, which exerted a wide and active influence upon the world at the busiest and most important time in ancient history. This school was remarkable for its anticipation of modern ethical conceptions, for the lofty morality of its exhortations to forgive injuries and overcome evil with good. It also preached the obligation to universal benevolence on the principle that all men are brethren. Regarding virtue as the sole end, to be gained mainly by habit and training, the Stoics furthermore succeeded in reforming matrimonial life as well as the conceptions about women, In these efforts they were aided later on by an ethical movement of still greater power, namely Christianity.



Before we consider woman's position in Christianity, we must take a glance at her status among another important branch of the Aryan race, the Germans.

As is familiar to every student of history, the Germans are indebted to an alien, the Roman Tacitus, for the best account of the character and manners of their ancestors. In his famous book "Germania" he describes them as a pure and unmixed race and gives many valuable particulars about their family life. He says: "Matrimony is the most respected of their institutions. They are almost the only barbarians who are content with one wife. Very few among them are exceptions to this rule and then they do so not for sensuality but for political considerations. The young men marry late, and their vigor is unimpaired. Nor are the maidens hurried into marriage. Well-matched and in full health they wed, and their offspring reproduce the strength of their parents. The wife does not bring a dowry to the man, but the husband to his bride. These presents are not trinkets to please female vanity or to serve for adornment, but on the contrary, they consist of cattle, a bridled horse, and a shield with sword and spear. While the wife is welcomed with such gifts, she too presents her husband with a piece of armor. All these things are held sacred as a mysterious symbol of matrimony. Lest the wife should think that she is shut out from heroic aspirations and from the perils of war, she is reminded by the ceremony which inaugurates marriage that now she is her husband's partner in his toil as well as in all danger, and destined to share with him in peace and in war alike. This is the meaning of the yoked oxen, the bridled horse and the weapons. And she must live and die with the feeling that the weapons she has received, have to be handed down untarnished and undepreciated to her sons, from whom they are to pass to her daughters-in-law, and again to the grand-children.

"So the wife lives under the protection of clean manners, uncorrupted by the allurements of voluptuous comedies or licentious festivals. Clandestine communication by letters is absolutely unknown. Adultery among this numerous people is exceedingly rare. Its punishment is left to the husband and quickly executed. In the presence of her relatives the guilty woman is kicked out of the house, naked and with her hair cut. And thus she is whipped through the whole village. Loss of chastity finds no excuse. Neither beauty nor youth nor wealth wins the culprit a husband, because no one indulges in vice or pardons seduction. Blessed the country where only virgins enter matrimony and where their vow to the husband is binding and final for all time. As they are born only once so are they married but once and they devote themselves to their husband as well as to the duties of matrimony. To limit the number of children or to kill one of them is regarded as a sacrilege. Thus good habits accomplish more here than good laws in other countries."

Tacitus as well as other Roman writers state likewise that the women frequently accompanied the men in times of war and encouraged them in battle by their cheers and actions. "They always stay near them, so that the warriors may hear the voices of their wives and the wailing of their children. Women's approval and praise is to the men of the highest value. To their mothers and wives they come with their wounds for relief, and the women do not hesitate to count the gashes, and dress the wounds. The women also encourage the men while they are fighting, and provide them with food and water. We have been told that wavering battle lines were made to stand fast by women, who with bare breasts mingled with the warriors and admonished them by their cries to new resistance." —

Many of the names given to members of the fair sex, indicate the men's great respect for women, and show that they were considered as able consorts even in battle. The names Daghilt, Sneburga, Swanhilt and Sunnihilt remind us of the purity of the daylight, the white of the snow and the swan, and the gold of the sunshine. And the qualities of


strength, agility and skill in everything connected with war and victory we find in names like Hildegund, "the protectoress of the home"; Hadewig, "the mistress of battle"; Gertrud, "the thrower of the spear"; Gudrun, "the expert in war"; Thusinhilde or Thusnelda, "the giant fighter"; Sieglind, "the shield of victory"; Brunhild, "she who is strong like a bear," and in many other names.

The many noble female personages who figure in German mythology also testify to the high conception the Germans had of womanhood. There was Frigg, the spouse of Odin, and the ideal personification of a German housewife. There was Freya, the goddess of spring, beauty and love; Gerda, the bright consort of Fro, the sun god; Sigune, the faithful; not to forget the Valkyries, those beautiful maidens who hovered over the field of battle, wakened the dead heroes with a kiss and carried them on their swift cloud horses to Valhalla, where they were welcomed and feasted by the gods and enjoyed all kinds of martial games.

The Germans saw in women also something that was sacred and prophetic. It was this belief that lent importance to Veleda, Alruna, and other prophetesses, who were looked up to as oracles, and played a conspicuous part during the time of the Roman invasion.



The same noble spirit that distinguished the German women, was likewise found among the females of Britain and Scandinavia. Tacitus in his "Annals" XIV gives an account of Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, a tribe that occupied the eastern coasts of Britain. To defend the independence of her country against the Romans, this queen succeeded in uniting some of the British tribes and drove the invaders from several fortified places. When Suetonius, on hearing of the revolt, hastened up with a strong army, he found himself opposed by large numbers of the aborigines, men as well as women. Among the fighters were many priestesses or Druids, who, clothed in black, with streaming hair and brandished torches, fought like furies. When they saw themselves far outnumbered and realized that all was lost, these women preferred death to slavery and perished among the flames, which destroyed their stronghold.

When the Roman legions met the main body of the Britons, they beheld Boadicea admonishing her warriors, to conquer or die in battle. In the fearful contest 70,000 Romans and 80,000 Britons were slain. But when the combat resulted in the complete defeat of the latter, Boadicea poisoned herself to avoid falling into the hands of the victor.

The Edda and many other sagas of the Scandinavians contain likewise accounts about heroic women such as they were in those days of the past: strong in body as in mind, and equal to any emergency. Brave alike in heart and in character, independent, open and frank, they were loyal to their husbands and their duty when fitly matched. Fearlessly they joined in the daring expeditions of their sea-kings, who packed their "dragon-ships" to full capacity with warriors and made raids on all the coasts of Europe, even on the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

From several interesting relics of old Icelandic literature we also know that as early as in 986 A. D. Norse women went with Eric the Red to Greenland. Here they helped in establishing a settlement, Brattahlid. And when in 1007 Thorfin Karlsefne sailed from this place to Vinland, some newly discovered country in the far Southwest, he too was accompanied by several women, among them his wife Gudrid. Some time after her arrival she gave birth to a son, Snorre, the first child of white parentage born on American soil.

Another of these fearless women, Froejdisa, took active part in a hot skirmish with the aborigines of Vinland. When the Norsemen were about to yield to the overwhelming numbers of these "Skraelings," it was she who encouraged the men to stubborn resistance. Several years later, in 1012, this same resolute woman, in company with two men, fitted out an expedition of her own to Vinland. After an absence of one year she returned to Brattahlid with a large cargo of valuable lumber, furs, and other goods, but also suspected of having killed her partners as well as their men with her own hands.

christians of the third century.


Just at the time, when the capitals of Hellas and Rome were reservoirs for all the streams of wickedness and infamy, there originated in Palestine a religious sect destined to exercise an enormous influence upon the moral and political life of the world. Its adherents called themselves Christians, "the Anointed," and followed the doctrines of Jesus, who, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, was condemned for his teachings by Pilate, the Roman governor of Judæa, and crucified.

As Jesus left no records or gospels written by himself, we do not know his personal views about woman, home, marriage, and maternity. We must rely on the accounts which were written by his followers many years after his death, and now are called the New Testament. After the death of Jesus some of his followers drifted from Palestine to Syria, Greece and Rome, where for their pure and austere morals they attracted the attention of numerous persons who stood aghast in views of the vices that surrounded them.

For the spread of a new religion such as Christianity, the Roman world was wonderfully ripe. As it had been the politics of Rome not to interfere with the religions of the peoples subdued by her armies, there had been added to the already overcrowded pantheon of Rome many of the principal deities of the conquered nations. But there existed also a longing for some religion, which would have more individuality and personal power in it then were supplied by the thoughts of a supreme spiritual fate, or by the mere materialistic conception of the genius of Rome. There was a decided thirst for information about sacred things. Men discussed the claims of the various conflicting religions philosophically, and amid all the gross materialism of the time there were longings for some deeper, truer religion than any they had known.

This longing was satisfied by the simple but sublime conceptions of God held by the Christians, and also by the noble purity of their life. These Christians had no settled form of doctrine, no settled rule of discipline, no body of magistrates. They were merely an association of believers in a common faith, with common sentiments, feelings, emotions and convictions. To women this new religion was particularly appealing, as it preached many important reforms. First of all, it granted to woman the full right of disposing of herself. By making her consent necessary for marriage, woman remained no longer a piece of property, which might be sold or disposed of at will by the father, brother, husband or other relatives. She also was not compelled any more to accommodate, with her own body, some visiting strangers. There was no hierarchical prostitution, either, but matrimony was elevated to a sacred ceremony, of which the benediction of a priest formed a necessary part. Chastity was regarded a supreme law, which governed the whole family life.

The majority of these Christians consisted of poor illiterate people, who tried to lead a clean and honest life. Their simple manners and frugal habits contrasted strongly with the luxury of those Greek and Roman patricians among whom they dwelt. They regarded such extravagance with contempt, and the unlimited emancipation and licentiousness of the rich women filled them with horror.

Accordingly they applied to themselves strict rules which would protect them against any temptation. For this reason their women never adorned themselves with jewelry or gaudy dresses of dyed cloth, silk, and embroideries; they never wore false or colored hair. If married, they took care of the house, attended to the children, and were devoted to their husbands, whom they respected as the head of the family. The only occasion for their going out was when they went to church, or to visit some poor or sick neighbor.

Depending on one another, husband and wife endeavored to form that union recommended by the scriptures as the goal of married life. Such happy nuptial ties inspired Tertullian, a Carthaginian, who came in contact with Christians in Rome, to the following lines: "Whence are we to find language adequate to describe the happiness of that marriage which the church cements and the oblation confirms, and the benediction signs and seals, which angels report and the Father holds as ratified? Together they pray, together prostrate themselves together they perform their fasts, mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining."

Commemorations of conjugal happiness, and commendations of such female virtues as modesty, chastity, prudence and diligence, we also frequently find in many sepulchral inscriptions of the Catacombs, those famous subterranean cemeteries excavated by the early Christians of Rome for the express and sole purpose of burying their dead. There are inscriptions as for instance: "Our well deserving father and mother, who lived together (for 20, 30, 50 or even 60 years) without any complaint or quarrel, without taking or giving offense."

During the first centuries of Christianity women took a prominent part in all affairs of the church and they were allowed to be active wherever there was a chance to spread the Gospel. In particular, they taught the children, took charge of the orphans, and acted as door-keepers in the assembly rooms, directing the worshipers to their places, and seeing that all behaved quietly and reverently.

The new sect, which in every respect contrasted so strongly with Roman customs and conceptions, could not fail to attract the attention and inquisitiveness of the people as well as of the Government. But also suspicion and hostility were aroused. As the Christians met secretly in private houses, people suspected that they were conspirators banded together for criminal purposes, that they occasionally slaughtered infants, poured their blood into a cup, and that passing this cup around they all drank of it. Their insistence in only one God, that of the despised Jews, and their aim to discredit and overthrow all other creeds of the world in order to fuse all mankind in their own faith, were decried as contempt of those deities, under which Rome had become great and prosperous. Naturally, their enmity against these deities was regarded as enmity against the State, which stood under the protection of these deities. Accused of being apostates and revolutionists, the Christians soon enough became the objects of much bitter persecution; such as has been described by Sienkiewicz in his famous book "Quo Vadis."

During these persecutions the Christian women shared with their husbands, children and brothers all the horrible cruelties Roman ingenuity could invent. In the arena they were thrown before lions, tigers, bears and other savage beasts. They were crucified, or besmeared with pitch and publicly burned. Worst of all, many of those women who regarded chastity as their highest virtue, were handed over to the keepers of brothels and made victims to the voluptuous passions of the lowest class of people.

But in time the pure and noble ideals which inspired the hearts of those first Christians, began to appeal to the masses of the people. The scriptures of the great apologists Tertullian, Justin, Origenes and others were read and studied with growing interest. And when later on Emperor Constantine, surnamed the Great, for motives of political expediency, favored and adopted the new faith, the triumph of Christianity was secured.

arabic women in ancient times.


While thus the followers of Christ reformed the position of woman in the Roman empire, Mohammed, the founder of Islam or Mohammedanism, at the same time endeavored to better the condition of woman in the Orient. Born about the year 570 A. D. in Arabia he recognized, that the domestic life of the Arabs was marked by many embarrassing improprieties. Polygamy was customary everywhere, and while among the rich people the wife was nothing but a toy, for no other purpose but to satisfy passion, among the poorer classes she was merely a suppressed slave, who could be sent away, when she was no longer young, or had lost her good looks, or had become unable to work. Concubinage and prostitution prevailed among the population of the cities as well as among the Bedouins, who led the same nomadic life as had the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob several thousand years ago.

To improve the position of woman, Mohammed inserted in the Koran, his great moral codex, a number of instructions, which shine forth like gold threads in the fabric of a beautiful curtain. He ordered the men to treat their wives with forbearance and respect, as was becoming in the stronger toward the weaker sex. Children were impressed to give love and comfort to their parents to the end of their days and show them the highest reverence.

To diminish polygamy and to give women a secure legal standing, Mohammed also reduced the number of lawful wives to four, and allowed this number to such men only as were wealthy enough to provide for certain comforts. Furthermore, he placed the men under the obligation, to be faithful to their wives and treat all with equal kindness.


To protect women from the many temptations of too close a social intercourse with men, Mohammed took pains to exclude women as much as possible from contact with the outer world. Therefore he insisted on the strict observance of the ancient Oriental custom that women must not appear in the streets or in presence of other men than their husbands except with their faces heavily veiled. This order has been observed in all Mohammedan countries up to the present day. Only slaves and peasant women are allowed to go unveiled, as the veil would hinder them at work. Therefore, outsiders can study the features of Mohammedan women only from members of the lower classes. To find out who is who among the veiled females seen in the streets of oriental cities is impossible even for their own husbands.

About the domestic life of Mohammedan women during former centuries we know practically nothing, as reliable reports by disinterested observers are wanting. But the fact that Mohammedan homes and family life were always secluded from the external world and inaccessible to Christian explorers travelling through oriental countries, rendered the subject peculiarly liable to highly exaggerated and sensational reports. Especially the life in the "Harem," the women's quarter, has been pictured innumerable times as a combination of boundless luxuriance, lascivity, frivolity, laziness and intrigues. In contradiction several ladies, who had a chance to study Mohammedan life during the last century, have asserted, that these reports do not, by any means, correspond with the truth. There is for instance an essay of Else Marquardsen about the manners of the Turks, in which she discusses polygamy. She says: "Throughout the course of many years I was allowed to visit the homes of many prominent people as well as of the poorer classes, but I remember only one case, where a man, a high official, had more than one wife. As a rule I found in all families a spirit of quiet faithfulness to duty, such as it is not always the case among us. The women, often compelled to live together with the mother or other female relatives of their husbands, maintain a good-natured kindness toward each other, which is really solacing and knows no exception. The great devotion, shown to the mother by her son as well as by his wife, and which makes her the most respected member of the whole family, is an education in humility and self-control, the results of which fill one with admiration. As the life of the Mohammedan woman, of which her husband forms the center, is one of repose and seclusion, so she retains a child-like disposition of sentiment which is indeed touching. Unlike as it is with us, she is reared in full knowledge of the natural destination of woman. As soon as she has developed from childhood to womanhood, she is offered to a man, unknown to her, but whom she respects as the god-sent medium to impart the sacred mystery by which she may become a mother. As he gives her the crown of life, she honors him as her lord. But if it should be her fate to remain barren, then she does as Sarah, Leah and Rachel did several thousand years ago; she goes to find another woman, by whom her husband may have children."

The marriagable age for Mohammedan girls is about twelve, sometimes less and sometimes more, and the preliminaries are entirely a business matter conducted by the nearest relatives with much ceremony. After a definite contract is

a mohammedan woman of morocco.

made it is then that the bride is permitted to see and speak to her future husband.

According to an article by Broughton Brandenburg about the district of Biskra, the night before the wedding the bride's hands and feet are steeped in henna, with which are stained the nails of all women who make any pretense of keeping up appearances. When the day comes on which the bride is to go to the house of her husband she is arrayed in rich robes; on her arms and ankles are bracelets, and about her slender waist she wears a corded girdle holding in place a broad plate cf gold, silver and turquoise, usually an heirloom of great age and rare workmanship. The spangled bridal veil is cast over her head and she is led to the door by her parents and given over to a company of joyous friends, hired musicians and guests who parade through the streets beating the rawhide tambourines and cymbals, dancing and shouting. So the tumultuous pageant winds its way to the house of the groom, where the happy child takes off the girdle and plate, and hands them to her husband with a deep obeisance. After that, feasting and merry-making follow, and last as long as the bridegroom keeps his purse open." —

But the great restrictions to which, for her own protection, the Mohammedan woman was subjected by the Koran, also caused some great disadvantages. Neither Mohammed nor his successors had a proper appreciation of the dignity, the many possibilities and the real mission of woman. Regarding her chiefly as the medium for the propagation of the race, they neglected her intellectual life. In consequence she never had, in her strict seclusion, a chance to develop her mental qualities. Unable to read books and hearing nothing of the events of the outer world, she remained in the state of semislavery, never attaining the high position reached by many Christian women of to-day, namely that of being a real consort to the husband.

So the very best influence of woman was wanting. And as in time polygamy and concubinage increased again among many Mohammedan nations, the men became enervated and unable to resist hostile assaults.

The most striking example is that of the Moors. After having conquered large parts of Northern Africa as well as of Spain, they were expelled again from Europe during the 15th Century. The charming Alhambra at Granada, the Alcazars of Seville and Toledo, the magnificent mosque at Cordova still preach the past glory of their former empire. But while we wander through the elaborate rooms, that once were occupied by the women of the califs and sultans, we cannot resist the conviction that these splendid halls were but golden cages for beautiful creatures, whose wings had been clipped.

  1. Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Vol. II, p. 166.