Women in Byzantine society
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Every day life in Byzantium

Byzantine society
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Women in Byzantine society
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The marriage of David
Silver dish with a scene from the marriage of David, early 7th century, The Cyprus Museum, Nikosia.

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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. We read, for instance, in Kekavmenos' s "Strategikon": "Keep your daughters as prisoners, confined and inconspicuous". A woman was invariably accompanied whenever she left her house to go to church, attend a festivity, visit the baths, or call on her relations -- the sole activities of a woman outside her own home that were socially acceptable.

Moreover, it was not proper for a woman to sit at table with men, unless they were close relatives, such as her father, husband, or brothers. Most often she would eat in a separate room, just as she would spend her days in rooms apart from the menfolk. She learnt all about household matters from a very early age; her education, in contrast, was usually limited to reading and writing. Very few women acquired a wider learning.

A girl could be married at 12 or 13 years of age. Her parents arranged the match, though they might be assisted in making their choice of a husband by matchmakers, who received a portion of the dowry as their fee. A married woman's lot was not a bad one. Christian principles, which determined how Byzantine society was to function, assured her a decent existence. Irrespective of her social class, she was mistress of the house, and bearing children gave her additional standing.

Women played but a small part in professional life. Those who belonged to the poorer levels of society laboured in the fields, or were employed in their family workshops. A few educated women were doctors who attended the female population. Others, the so-called 'koines' or prostitutes, lived in the cabarets and wine-shops.

Macedonian Heritage
Content courtesy Ekdotike Athenon S.A.