women and slaves in late Hellenistic Boeotian Thebes

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women and slaves in late Hellenistic Boeotian Thebes

Post by daivid » Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:32 pm

I have on and off been writing a novel set just a little before the outbreak of the 2nd Punic War. So far the main action has taken place in Phthiotic Thebes (the little one). For the social situation I have assumed it to be pretty similar to Athens and I have filled that picture out with what we know of the slave societies of the US south and the British Caribbean.
Women can only leave the house if in the company of a man or in large groups of women. Marriages are forced and wives often suffer abuse. Men if they are dissatisfied with a marriage will purchase a concubine while if the wife takes a lover and is discovered she faces murder. For an adulterous wife to be murdered would technically actually be murder but the chances of the perpetrators facing trial is zero. Slaves have zero protection and the abuse often is sexual.
There are marriages that are happy and slave owners who treat their slaves but that is simply a personal choice on their part and it would not occur to them to criticize friends who do not so act.

Several plot lines depend of this bleak picture so while feel free to criticize it can’t now be changed.

However one of the characters has moved to the other Thebes - the big one in Boeotia. I have taken as the interpretation of the re-founding of Thebes that the bulk of the returnees are the 30000 sold into slavery who were ransomed at the time. (That bit of history I broached in an earlier thread - for this thread lets assume it's a fact). Given that, I thought it would be interesting to make Boeotian Thebes a total contrast to Phthiotic Thebes. First off there is a genuine attempt to give slaves some protection which in practice doesn’t entirely work but slaves a vastly better off than in Phthiotic Thebes. In the past actual abolition was a serious issue but now after 90 years only a few seriously attempt to keep that flame alive. Those few still advocating abolition are regarded as a bit impractical. (By contrast, in Phthiotic Thebes openly advocating the abolition of slavery is good way to get lynched). Second the experience of abuse that many women would have suffered during the years of slavery has meant that the returnees had developed a horror of rape not as in Phthiotic Thebes simply a hubris suffered by the father or the husband of the woman but one suffered by the woman herself. The idea that the honor of the family is borne by the women would have been untenable when so many of Thebes women were subject to sexual assault under conditions where no effective resistance was possible. Hence honor killings are unknown. A father who discovered his daughter had committed adultery would doubtless disapprove of her actions but he wouldn’t feel the kind of shame that could only be wiped away by murdering her.

So does this sound plausible? I say plausible not probable. As far I know, as we don’t know anything about the internal social conditions of Boeotian Thebes so as this is fiction I feel free to make them up but not beyond the limits of what is possible.
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Re: women and slaves in late Hellenistic Boeotian Thebes

Post by Scribo » Tue Oct 31, 2017 3:39 pm

I'll try to help out where I can, though I'm a little addled, don't have access to my books right now and obviously have to take an Athenian perspective. I mean you're correct in that's what we in essence have to do (we do have a decent amount of legalistic inscriptions/papyri from other periods/places but not enough!), but that also means you can invent safely. I don't know, I'm not brave enough to attempt a novel. I'm awful at writing.

1. Women can only leave the house if in the company of a man or in large groups of women. Marriages are forced and wives often suffer abuse.

Well, it depends on class: Euripides mothe was accused of being a washer-woman or vegetable salesman or something (or was that Demosthenes?) and I think New Comedy has women being raped when getting water from the well or whatever. If you were wealthy, your slaves did that, if not...you did. Either alone or in groups.

Marriages weren't necessarily forced per se, but obviously the women had comparatively little agency. Grooms would have suffered too to some degree: In Athens marriage was essentially tactical for the better families.

2. Men if they are dissatisfied with a marriage will purchase a concubine while if the wife takes a lover and is discovered she faces murder. For an adulterous wife to be murdered would technically actually be murder but the chances of the perpetrators facing trial is zero. Slaves have zero protection and the abuse often is sexual.

That seems a little harsh to me. You may conflated this with the law discerned from Lysias I: a man could kill another caught in flagrante with his wife/sister/mother/concubine. Wives suffered differently. If seduced they had to be divorced and might also suffer religious penalties. If raped, the rapist might only actually have to pay a fine (100 Drachmas under Solon's law iirc).

If a man were to murder his wife, I doubt the chance of facing trial is zero. For one, there's the element of religious pollution. Otherwise, there's her wider kin who could bring a prosecution. Women didn't count as full individuals under the law, or property, they were tied into broader kinship networks and that meant both a loss of agency and other protections.

Poor slaves could be raped, but probably not murdered with impunity.

3. Plausible or probable?

I think so, it's well within the scope of how humans feel surely? Everything I've said is from an Athenian perspective and inexorably classical. While the law could be conservative (the ancient believed they had inherited the laws on homicide from Drakon, we're - afaik - inclined to believe them), obviously things changed there too.
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Re: women and slaves in late Hellenistic Boeotian Thebes

Post by daivid » Fri Nov 03, 2017 1:16 pm

Yes, I see that religious pollution means that to murder anyone of whatever status was taboo. But in the case of a slave who would prosecute? In the case of a woman, if the husband claimed his wife died of fever, who would contradict him?

I also have in mind today's middle east where it is often the father who is the perpetrator. The main cause of modern "honor" killings is the idea that a woman's conduct can bring shame on the family and that murder is the only solution.

The one case I know of of someone being persecuted for the murder of their wife was that of Regilla who was probably killed by Herodes Atticus. He got off. The prosecution was brought by Regella's brother. There are several stories about how women value their brothers above all others (eg the woman who was told to choose between sparing her husband or her brother who Herodotus says chose to save the life of her brother). That makes sense if it would be her brother who was the deterrent against violence.
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Re: women and slaves in late Hellenistic Boeotian Thebes

Post by Scribo » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:16 pm

daivid wrote:Yes, I see that religious pollution means that to murder anyone of whatever status was taboo. But in the case of a slave who would prosecute? In the case of a woman, if the husband claimed his wife died of fever, who would contradict him?
Well I certainly wouldn't discount religion as a motivation. For the ancients, it was as real and observable as natural phenomena. On the other hand, while we're reasonably certain of our reconstruction of Athenian murder law, and its provenance, we know there must have been an appreciable variety of versions throughout the greek world.

Who would prosecute for a slave? No relative, sure, but there were cases were someone might bring a public suit (a dikE) against someone for other reasons, e.g trying to string up a political opponent/business rival etc.
The one case I know of of someone being persecuted for the murder of their wife was that of Regilla who was probably killed by Herodes Atticus. He got off. The prosecution was brought by Regella's brother. There are several stories about how women value their brothers above all others (eg the woman who was told to choose between sparing her husband or her brother who Herodotus says chose to save the life of her brother). That makes sense if it would be her brother who was the deterrent against violence.
Yes, but I want to expand on this reading. I think this, along with other instances in Herodotus (Gyges' wife, the Amazons) point to something of anxiety about women. They were ever present but essentially unknowable. In the instance of the wife choosing a brother this may stand as a warning not to put too much faith in your wife. I know modern feminist (for lack of a better word) scholarship would highlight this as misogyny but we can be a bit more charitable.

A brother might stand against death and violence against his sister, but she's also of potential use to him. E.g if he is unable to produce heirs, her own children could stand to inherit.
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Re: women and slaves in late Hellenistic Boeotian Thebes

Post by daivid » Mon Dec 25, 2017 5:39 pm

Scribo wrote: Well I certainly wouldn't discount religion as a motivation. For the ancients, it was as real and observable as natural phenomena. On the other hand, while we're reasonably certain of our reconstruction of Athenian murder law, and its provenance, we know there must have been an appreciable variety of versions throughout the greek world.

Who would prosecute for a slave? No relative, sure, but there were cases were someone might bring a public suit (a dikE) against someone for other reasons, e.g trying to string up a political opponent/business rival etc.
As far as I know, we do not have in the extant sources of someone being prosecuted for killing their own slave. What we do have is cases where someone killed someone else's slave - that is to say they destroyed a citizens property.
If we look at better documented times, the first case of a slave owner being executed for the murder of their own slave in the British Caribbean was in 1811. Arthur Hodge, however, was foolish enough to commit murder in front of white witnesses and even then it took three years and the appointment of an abolitionist governor for him to be indited. I doubt that this ever occurred in ancient Greece.

But I do see that the fear of religious pollution may well have acted as a restraint on slave holders even if they had no reason to fear from the law.
Scribo wrote: Yes, but I want to expand on this reading. I think this, along with other instances in Herodotus (Gyges' wife, the Amazons) point to something of anxiety about women. They were ever present but essentially unknowable. In the instance of the wife choosing a brother this may stand as a warning not to put too much faith in your wife. I know modern feminist (for lack of a better word) scholarship would highlight this as misogyny but we can be a bit more charitable.

A brother might stand against death and violence against his sister, but she's also of potential use to him. E.g if he is unable to produce heirs, her own children could stand to inherit.
I was going to add the example of Althaea who avenged her brother by killing her son but when I looked her up ( I had forgotten her name though I remembered the story I also discovered an example of a mother killing her brother to avenge her son so misogyny and the the fears of Ancient Greek men that women may unpredictably kill may be a better explanation.
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