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Women and the Household

The emergence of slavery1 in the city-state on a large scale gave women new and bigger responsibilities for the household (oikos, oikia), especially rich women, whose lives were especially circumscribed by the responsibility of managing their large households. As partners in the maintenance of the family with their husbands2, who spent their time outside farming, participating in politics, and meeting their male friends, wives were entrusted with the management of the household ( oikonomia 3, whence our word “economics”). They were expected to raise the children,4, supervise the preservation and preparation of food, keep the family's financial accounts, weave cloth to make clothing,5, direct the work of the household slaves, and nurse them when they were ill. Households thus depended on women, whose work permitted the family to be economically self-reliant and the male citizens to participate in the public life of the polis .

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