This presentation offers an analysis of some of the most relevant economic dynamics concerning women in classical Athens. In particular, the study focuses on two main fundamental categories: free-born women who grew up to be legal wives (and as such were completely dependent upon the authority of their male guardians), and prostitutes who, on the contrary, most often did not have a citizenship status, but could enjoy a larger personal and financial freedom.
In classical Athens, a typical household (oikos) functioned as one economic unit, over which the oldest male, known as the kyrios, had complete control. With women and minors prohibited from making transactions valued at more than a week’s worth of barley, adult males would supervise the buying and selling of property and other valuables. While it was common for a girl’s guardian to give her new husband a dowry, which held enough value to financially support the bride through her life, she herself could not dispose of the property.
At the other end of the spectrum, some women never married, and may not have had male guardians to support them. Elite female prostitutes, for example, had to earn their own income and could likely own property. Unlike the wives who could use their household belongings but did not truly own them, these courtesans received very valuable gifts from their clients and had full control over them. Although classical authors wrote about high-class wives who did not work outside of the home as the ideal women, one must consider the economic status of the many women who were not born into wealth in order to gain a full understanding of the economic rights of women in classical Athens.