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Reproduction at Sparta

The freedom of Spartan women from some of the restrictions imposed on them in other Greek city-states had the same purpose as the men's common messes1: the production of manpower for the Spartan army. By the Classical Age, the ongoing problem of producing enough children to keep the Spartan citizen population from shrinking had grown acute.2 Men were legally required to get married3, with bachelors subjected to fines and public ridicule. Women who died in childbirth were apparently the only Spartans allowed to have their names placed on their tombstones, a mark of honor for their sacrifice to the state.

With their husbands so rarely at home, women directed the households, which included servants, daughters, and sons until they left for their communal training. As a result, Spartan women exercised more power in the household than did women elsewhere in Greece. Until he was thirty, a Spartan husband was not allowed to live with his family, and even newly-wed men were expected to pay only short visits to their brides by sneaking into their own houses at night. This tradition was only one of the Spartan customs of heterosexual behavior that other Greeks found bizarre. If all parties agreed, a woman could have children by a man other than her husband, so pressing was the need to reproduce in this strictly ordered society.

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