Sport for women in Athens

P187Because Athenian girls were supposed to pass their days indoors, sport had no place in their lifes. Their games, such as juggling, had to be done calmly.

One of the few moments when Athenian girls did exercise, was during the initiation ritual at Brauron. Young girls ran naked or scantily clothed in honour of Artemis. The ritual was no regular running contest, but resembled a tag-game, in which the chasers acted as hunting bears. Girls from five to ten years old participated in this initiation ritual. In this, the ritual differs from the initiation rituals in Sparta, in which also older unmarried girls took part. Another difference is that the Spartan festivals were celebrated in the presence of the whole community, whereas in remote Brauron the ritual was mainly attended by priests and priestesses and a select group of young girls.

Plato, the famous Athenian philosopher, opposed the lack of exercise of the Athenian girls. In his ideal state girls as well as boys had to do sports, because if men and women received the same education, they would be capable of the same things. However, girls older than thirteen had to be properly dressed and should not exercise naked.

© KU Leuven, 2012