Category: Weird Articles
Published on Wednesday, 24 May 2017 00:00
Written by Cheryl Teo Kai Lin
You have probably watched 300 and the badassery that King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan warriors unleashed upon the invading Persian army, but behind these fearless men are strong, independent women pulling the strings who were as equally, if not more, badass. Sparta fiercely embraced feminism even before it was cool.
The short brief of the movie, 300, circumnavigates around King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler) who leads 300 incredibly ripped Spartans with eye-popping abs into battle against the Persian "god-King" Xerxes (played by Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. The Spartans were obviously fighting a lost cause but they persisted for honor and glory.
Throughout the movie, observant viewers may note that King Leonidas always turned towards his wife, Queen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey) for permission and approval, it is only with her subtle consent that he goes ahead in carrying out his intended move.
While 300 may be an inaccurate representation of the war that raged between Sparta and Persia, the part that the movie got right was indeed the Spartans’ unyielding loyalty and how the women of Sparta lorded over their men.
It is not a widely known fact, but Spartan women were famous in ancient Greece for being able to do anything they desired. They were open with their sexuality, were unapologetically promiscuous and ruled over their husbands with iron fists.
King Leonidas' monument in Greece where the 300 fell nearby
The laws of Sparta decreed that women are offered plenty of freedom in order to ensure that the Spartan society progressed as disciplined, powerful, threatening and intimidating, a deterrence to invasion. Spartan women were painted out to be so badass and awe-inspiring that they were seen as the pinnacle of Sparta’s advancement.
Spartan women were forbidden from wearing any kind of makeup of enhancements and rocked their natural beauty, taught to love themselves for who they are. They were also afforded a public education as well, sometime unheard of in the ancient Greek world among girls. There were some limitations though. They could not use their education to pursue careers or make a living out of it. Their income was largely derived from land holdings that either they or their families were given through a public land distribution program. Yes, women in Sparta were allowed to own land back in 750 BC.
Part of a Spartan girl’s education involved her exercising outdoors, unclothed, just like the Spartan boys, which was something punishable by death in the rest of the Greek world. In Sparta, men and women would have been going about their daily routine in public completely stark naked where as in other Greek societies, women were usually refrained from even setting foot out of the house other than to collect water from the well! Spartan women not only rigorously exercised, they also participated in athletic games, competing in events like foot-races, wrestling, discus throwing, javelin and equestrian sports, so you know they were fit af. They were also skilled in combat.
The rest of the Greek world hugely disapproved of Sparta’s unusual training of women athletes, particularly Athens, but Sparta couldn’t give a shit about what the rest thought and persisted with their own methods. Sparta believed that strong and fit Spartan women would be ideal for giving birth to the perfect warriors, as compared to other Greek women who sat on their asses all day and were extremely unhealthy.
In Sparta, men and women freely fraternized in public. Along with exercising with the opposite sex came the ability to trade conversation and political debates. Spartan women were notorious for their razor-sharp wit and outspoken natures who would frequently put the men down without hesitation if they disagreed with their words. The men generally listened to the women because not only were they beautiful, they were lauded as wise and cunning.
The actual Queen Gorgo was one of the most notable female characters in ancient Greece. It was recorded that when she was just eight years old, she advised her father Cleomenes not to trust Aristagoras of Miletus, a foreign diplomat trying to induce Cleomenes to support an Ionian revolt against Persians. "Father, you had better have this man go away, or the stranger will corrupt you". Cleomenes followed her advice.
Gorgo's most significant role occurred prior to the Persian invasion of 480 BC. A warning was sent to Sparta about Xerxes's pending invasion. In order to prevent the message from being intercepted by the Persians or their vassal states, the message was written on a wooden tablet and then covered with wax. The Spartans looked upon the seemingly blank wax tablet, completely confused, until Queen Gorgo advised them to clear the wax off the tablet and the message was revealed.
There are also many occurences where Queen Gorgo attended the court or the council and gave advice to the kind or the elders.
When questioned by a woman from Athens as to why Spartan women were the only women in the world allowed to rule over men, Queen Gorgo (quoted by Plutarch) plainly stated “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men.” *Mic drop*
It was forbidden in Sparta to inscribe the names of the dead on the gravestones with the exception of men who perished in war and women who died in childbirth. The Spartans actually viewed dying in childbirth as equally honorable as dying in battle!
Take note that this occurred exactly 2,767 years ago, so it was a pretty big deal especially considering how in modern society, many women are still being oppressed and discriminated against. Sparta rocked women’s rights until its fall in 192 BC. Nonetheless, society should take a page out of this legendary empire and restore feminism to its full glory.