The presentation on this page requires Real Player. Click the button to download. Every day life in Byzantium Women in Byzantine society The marriage of David Silver dish, early 7th century, The Cyprus Museum, Nikosia A woman living in the age of Byzantium spent the greater part of her life in her home.
Although they were the minority, some women did manage to rise above the limitations imposed on them by the male-dominated culture and became hugely successful businesswomen, writers, philosophers and even empresses who ruled as regents or in their own right.
Byzantine Empress Irene SOURCES Unlike in many other medieval cultures, Byzantine history, as written by the people of the period themselves, almost exclusively focuses on the exaggerated deeds and misdemeanours of emperors along with a separate and equally problematic literature on saints and squabbles over religious doctrine.
Social history is almost entirely neglected and what remains for modern historians to study is, unfortunately, woefully insufficient to comprehensively reconstruct such features of Byzantine history as class relations, family life and economics. As the historian C. There is little hope that this meagre and haphazard body of material will ever be increased, nor can we remedy the near absence of inscriptions on stone, which for classical antiquity provide such a rich source of information for society, institutions, and religion.
Still, we must make the best of what we have and it is possible to make many useful observations on the role of women in Byzantine society by piecing together indirect references, colourful biographies of famous women, sometimes the literary works of women themselves, depictions in art, and so on.
One event which greatly affected the role of all women in Byzantine society, though, was the increasing prominence of Christianitythrough the centuries, as here summarised by the historian L. Christian values became more widely accepted and, with celibacy and virginity seen as an ideal lifestyle, women increasingly saw a life of chastity as an option.
Marriage was, however, to remain the norm, and the majority of women in Byzantium were expected to concentrate on family duties as wives and mothers. To better ensure a girl remained a virgin until marriage, some attempt at segregating boys and girls was made with the latter expected to largely remain in the confines of the family home and only come into direct contact with males who were close members of the family.
For more well-off families, there was even a segregated part of the home reserved only for the women of the household, the gynaikonitis, but this seems to have been a private space to keep men out rather than a restricted place from which women could not leave.
In practice, it is clear that women could and did enter the wider world. Women spent time in public places: Byzantine Jeweled Bracelet Aristocratic women in the Byzantine Empire, then, like in the earlier Western Roman Empire, were largely expected to marry, produce children and then look after them.
Women also cared for the family home - specifically its property and servants. Girls, if they received education at all, were educated in the family home.
They were taught spinning and weaving, and they studied the Bible and the lives of the saints. Reading was much more common than the skill of writing and, as the historian J. Studies of literacy based on later documents suggest that the ability to read, if not to write, was more widespread among women in Byzantium than in medieval Europe.
The involvement and consent of the parents was expected and, consequently, a betrothal was usually regarded as binding. Re-marriage was possible as long as a suitable period of mourning was observed by the widow but a third marriage was rare and only permitted under special circumstances which included being without children.
Divorce was difficult to achieve, although if a wife committed adultery she could be put aside. Following the reforms of Constantine I r. The laws of Justinian I r. The role and influence of the women of the higher classes are here summarised by the historian A.
Aristocratic women played an important role in politics and society.
They were the medium through which alliances between aristocratic families were made and since they had property of their own, in the form of both dowry and patrimonial property, they had considerable economic power. Names, lineage, property, and family connections were transmitted along the female as well as the male line; and aristocratic women were as acutely conscious and proud of their lineage as their male relatives.
Some of the known jobs which could be performed by women included those of the weavers, bakers, cooks, innkeepers, washerwomen, midwives, medical practitioners, money-lenders and bath keepers.
Many of these jobs and the knowledge connected to them would have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of the more unusual female professions were sorcerers and matchmakers.
There was nothing to prevent women from owning their own businesses such as inns and shops. Byzantine Hexagonal Jug The lowest class of women were the prostitutes and actresses, who were considered to be pretty much the same thing in Byzantine society, at least in the eyes of the upper classes.
Brothels were present, especially in the busy ports of the empire such as the capital and Ephesus. Actresses were usually expected to deliver pornographic singing and dancing routines in theatres or public arenas like the Hippodrome of Constantinople - hence their dubious reputation.
There was likely very little movement between classes in Byzantine society but there was one quick route that could be taken from the very bottom to the very top of the social ladder. This was the imperial bride show organised for an emperor to find himself an empress.
Naturally, a girl from an important family, even a foreign one, might have had an advantage as she provided a means to strengthen diplomatic relations at home or abroad but a common girl might just get chosen if she were pretty and bright enough. Empress Irene became one such case when she was plucked from the obscurity of a modest Athenian family and chosen to be the wife of Emperor Leo IV r.
A less ambitious target for mothers was to send their daughters to the imperial court where they might gain employment as ladies-in-waiting. A wife could not be separated from her dowry and daughters could inherit an equal portion of the family estate with their brothers if no specific will was made.In this time, they were renamed the Byzantine Empire.
The first real rise in Byzantine power, however, was in CE, when the emperor Justinian rose to power in Constantinople and started a conquest that would stretch across the Mediterranean, recapturing most of the formal Roman Empire.
Byzantine Empire Dress in the Eastern Empire, later to be called Byzantium by the West, (although properly called Romania at the time) was directly taken from the later Roman Empire.
Strictly speaking Byzantium/Romania was the late Roman Empire, although its capitol was Constantinople, and its religion predominantly Christian. Start studying Unit 1: Chapters (Practice Test).
Learn vocabulary, terms, and more with flashcards, games, and other study tools. The influence women had and their relations to art during the Byzantine Empire shown to be very important. It is through the influence of the empresses Pulcheria, Irene and Theodora that impacted artwork despite a judgmental and men-driven environment that shadowed their lives.
A woman living in the age of Byzantium spent the greater part of her life in her home. We read, for instance, in Kekavmenos' s "Strategikon": "Keep your daughters as prisoners, confined and inconspicuous".
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