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Ancient Greek Women – Aspasia

This woman lived in Athens c.450 BC. She was a originally an inhabitant of the island of Miletos. Her early career was spent as a slave hetaira. Hetairai were women of slave status who worked in Athens as paid courtesans. Their nearest modern day equivalent would be escort girls who spend time with men in return for payment with the possibility of sex thrown in, though not always. In ancient Athens men and women spent most of their lives apart. Men usually married in their twenties to girls who were usually aged about twelve years. They probably did not know each other very well before the marriage because respectable women did not leave the house much and when they did they would be completely covered up and escorted by a close male relative. The lives of Athenian women by modern day standards were restricted with little education and interaction outside the home. Marriage produced children and the survival of the Oikos or household. Hetairai it could be said, filled the gap. It was customary for well off households to hold parties known as a symposium. The master of the house would invite his neighbours and professional associates to his house where they would get drunk and play party games. Symposia were important for the household because they ensured the status of the master (known as a kyrios) in the community. Hetairai were an essential element of any successful symposium. Hetairai were often well educated and taught at least a basic level of literacy and numeracy. They could be sophisticated conversationalists and could entertain their male customers by playing musical instruments and/or dancing. Obviously, sex could happen if the men present so wished, however it wasn’t the primary reason that hetairai worked. They were all round entertainers.

Aspasia worked as a hetaira for a number of years. During her work she would meet many influential and high ranking Athenian men. One of these men was the great Athenian politician Perikles. Perikles is best known for rebuilding the collection of temples on the Acropolis. The Çeşme Escort earlier temples had been burnt down by the Persians when they invaded Athens forty years earlier. When the Athenians returned, they decided to keep the Acropolis in its derelict state as a reminder of the barbarous Persian invasion. Perkles was a great speaker and managed to persuade the people of Athens that the Acropolis should be rebuilt to show how great Athens had become. It was rebuilt using money from the Delian league. This money had been paid to the neutral island of Delos by a number of Greek islands to ensure that Athens would come to their help if they were attacked by the Persians. The problem was that over time, the Persian threat diminished so some islands wanted to leave the Delian league and stop paying money into it. Athens had become strong, so when an island showed signs of wanting out of the Delian league an Athenian ship full of soldiers would be sent over to ‘persuade’ them not to stop paying the league money. Essentially Athens was now an empire with money.

It is known that hetairai could begin long lasting relationship with some of their customers and even have children with them. Aspasia was probably the most successful hetaira that ever existed. Perikles had a long lasting relationship with her with rumours that she even had a bastard child to him. Perikles finally divorced his wife and left his children. He married Aspasia instead. They had a son (Perikles the younger) who was recognised as an Athenian c.429. Until this time there had been a law that prevented Athenian citizenship to children not born to two Athenian parents. Aspasia’s marriage to Perikles would be a strong one that would last until Perkiles’ death from a plague that ravished Athens in 429 BC. Many other Athenians disliked the power that Aspasia had over Perikles. It was even said that she was the power behind the man, writing some of his most famous speeches. After the death of Perikles, Aspasia is reputed to have lived with another influential Athenian statesman called Lysikles. She had another son with him. It is not known for certain when she died, but it is believed that she may have died approximately 401 BC.