Founded by Lacedaemon, the son of Zeus, Sparta is named after Lacedaemon's wife, the daughter of Eurotas. Such a small detail may seem in fact seem insignificant, but as the naming of the city-state indicates the devotion of Lacedaemon to Sparta and the elevation of his wife's worth, it seems almost symbolic that Sparta is a city-state that is completely unique as compared to other city-states in Ancient Greece. Ancient Sparta is unique in the sense that Spartan women and men shared equal rights and opportunities, a stark contrast to the balance between men and women in other Greek city-states.
Sparta, the capital of Laconia, was located in the valley of Eurotas river. Divided by class lines, there is little or perhaps even no gender discrimination of the females. In the Messenean war, Sparta annexed its neighbour, Messenia and collected its people as slaves, inferior to the Spartans. This caused major discontent and the Messenians organised a revolt in 640 B.C. This is the large part of the reason why Sparta is ideologically almost opposite to Athens, its largest rival in Greece. With the city almost destroyed and its population numbers dwindling, Sparta invented a new political system that took on a militaristic form.
At birth, both male and female babies were bathed in wine to test their strength. Those who failed were abandoned. Boys were enrolled in military school at the age of seven and were taught self-discipline and endurance of pain. These boys grew up to be men full of pride for Sparta and able to handle tough situations, sleeping in barracks and walking around barefoot, much unlike the luxurious aristocratic lifestyles of other Greek cities. This ensured the stability of the city-state.
While the men underwent physical training, the women of Sparta had equal rights to education at the same time. The Spartans were the only Greeks who included the education of women as a state policy. This education however, was also aligned to the Spartan mission, physically training the women such that they are fit and able-bodied. Taught gymnastics, javelin, foot races and staged battles, the women were not taught domestic-related tasks in school. The physical training also meant that the women would then have the strength for childbirth. In the sensational movie 300, the wife of King Leonidas is depicted to have expressed 'only Spartan women give birth to real men'.
The women did not stay at home like other Greek women and were free to move about in the city. While the men were away at battles, the women were also the ones who controlled the property of Sparta, guarding it from invaders. One of the most amazing aspect of the women's freedom in Sparta included the fact that if the woman's husband was away at war for too long a period of time, the woman could take another husband.
The amazing amount of freedom the women enjoyed in Sparta resulted in the women seeing themselves as equals of the men, something which is almost unheard of in civilisations of that period. Women often voiced their opinions, while the men listened to their wives as well. 'Spartan women were seen as the vehicle by which Sparta constantly advanced.' Robin Fowler states in his article The Women of Sparta: Athletic, Educated and Outspoken Radicals of the Greek World. The women also possessed economic power, controlling property and the family wealth, therefore running the economy while the men were at war. Athenian women, in contrast, could not inherit property.
The freedom of the Spartan women could also be represented in the way she dresses. While in other Greek city-states like Athens, the women wore heavy clothing that covered their bodies, the Spartan women wore short dresses that revealed their legs. In fact, it is not unheard of for the women to appear nude publicly, joining the men in festivals and sports. Some sources state that women were even allowed to have sex openly and publicly with men.
Although the rights accorded to women were not seen as freedom in Sparta, but prerequisites for women to give birth to strong babies, the fact is that women were allowed to speak up and controlled the economy of Sparta. This displays that Spartan society is, although heavily controlled by the state and divided along class lines, an advanced community that held respect for women, which some societies even today do not have. Sparta is indeed the epitome of gender equality that has amazed civilisation, the men and women having struck an appeared balance that satisfies both sexes and creates a harmonious society.