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Representations of Women on Classical Athenian Grave Stelai


Aaron Puley
(Trent University)

        The setting up of stelai over a tomb or burial area had been a long-standing tradition throughout the history of Greek eschatology.  From the writings of Homer through the Mycenaean Bronze Age, into the Archaic and Classical periods, the stelai had become a focal point of the burial area and its association with the cult of the dead, and the subsequent worship of the deceased.  The cult of the dead was intimately connected with the tombstone in such a way that the dead were believed to inhabit the area and could, therefore, continue to receive libations and offerings even in death (Johansen 1951: 69).  This continued worship of a dead loved one, which involved the visitation and subsequent offerings, was both an act of piety and an expectation imposed upon the living survivors by social obligation. The responsibility of the proper treatment of the body, mourning and visitation was placed on the surviving women of the household and was an integral duty placed upon them as members of the oikos.  Artistic representations involving the employment of these duties are abundant and in evidence on geometric period vases (i.e., prothesis and ekphora), and white-ground lekythoi (i.e., bringing of offerings, visitation, and the presence of the deceased spirit [eidolon or psyche] at the grave).  The evolution of the grave stelai and its artistic programme continued without interruption until the reforms of Solon placed restrictions on the behavior of women in funerary contexts around the beginning of the sixth century BCE (Plut. Vit. Sol. 21.4-5).  This legislation put behavioral restrictions on the conduct of women in public displays of mourning but did not concern itself with monumental displays.  Sometime after Solon, a restriction was placed on the setting up of expensive monuments in the cemeteries of Athens (Cic. De Leg. 2.64).  For all intents and purposes grave stelai cease to exist in the archaeological record only to return three quarters of a century later with both a new form and a new artistic programme.

        Prior to the cessation of monumental funerary sculpture and stelai, women had been virtually absent apart from depictions of their duties in regards to the funeral itself and the subsequent worship of the dead. The new artistic programme following the return of the stelai features women prominently carved in relief on monumental naiskos, or aedicula, stelai.  The women of the oikos that had previously been relegated to those domestic duties of the household had now become very public in the domain of the Greek males, or had they?  The answer lies, not in a change of tradition in regards to a womanís social duties, but in a change of ideology in regards to the polis and the citizenship laws of Perikles.  An ideological shift had occurred as a result of those reforms and was integrated into the artistic programme in such a way that both political and social ideals could be reinforced and reinvented without sacrificing the tomb as an area of religious devotion and worship.  During the absence of the stelai, political and social changes had occurred, which can be discovered, although problematically, within the ideology of the stelai.  The grave stelai of Classical Athens represent markers of social reinvention and reinforcement, and are integral to the study of Athens during this period.

Problems of Interpretation
        The sculpted grave stelai of the Classical period represent an artistic transformation of expression, as well as both social and political attitudes in regards to the medium.  As a result, the interpretation of them is problematic due to the complexity of information that is inherent within their design.  Numerous scholars have attempted to interpret the scenes depicted on the stelai themselves and have produced as many theories as there are reports.  As K. Friis Johansen (1951) suggests, the problem in interpretation lies in the relative simplicity of the artistic programme.  There are no significant unfamiliar images or obtrusive symbolism that would appear to require in-depth analysis or scholarly leaps of faith.  They are serene and poignant depictions of everyday life and, ìthey bring before our eyes various types of men and everyday scenes from ancient Athens in such an intimate way that we seem to have come very close indeed to that far distant communityî (Johansen 1951: 11).  But, as Johansen continues (1951: 11), once one attempts to explain the apparent obviousness of the reliefs, the true problematic nature of them surfaces.  It becomes readily apparent that the reliefs cannot be attributed to the reality of Athenian society based on the face value of the reliefs alone.  The stelai should not be looked at as much as they should be read into as very real aspects of material culture from that ancient society.  As part of his contextual approach to archaeology, Ian Hodder warns against the interpretation of material culture as, ìmerely a reflection of ecological adaptation or sociopolitical organizationsî (Trigger 1997: 348).  By this theory, material culture should be regarded as, ìan active element in group relations that can be used to disguise as well as to reflect social relationsî (Trigger 1997: 348).  The entire cultural context must be assessed in order to fully come to terms with the artistic programme of the relief stelai of Classical Athens, and the representation of women that is so prominent in the series.


Brief Analysis of the Religious and Social Significance of Grave Stelai
        Grave stelai were of major importance in the Greek world as both a means to invoke the memory of a deceased member of society and as a marker of the area where the familial visitations could take place, and where offerings to the deceased could be made.

In the eyes of an Athenian, a stele was much more than a monument erected to preserve the memory of the dead.  Oiled, perfumed, decorated, crowned, and fed, it was a focus of devotion and an object of adoration (Garland 1985: 119).

Upon death, the body of the deceased appears to take on a dual existence.  One body, the one devoid of life, remained in the grave where consultations, respect, and laments were given.  The other went to the kingdom of the dead where a new, bodied existence occurred, and one in which the body could still be hurt (i.e., Sisyphos, Tantalos, etc.) (Vermeule 1979: 7).  Artistically rendered, the deceased appear to have inhabited the area of the tomb, and depictions on white-ground lekythoi often illustrate the spirit of the deceased in attendance at the grave during visitations, as if accepting the offerings that were being provided (Fig. 1a-d; cf. Johansen 1951: 69).  As in the Kerameikos (Fig. 2a-b), large vessels were placed near the tombstone in the cemeteries of Attica, into which the visitor could pour the required offering of a libation.  The tombstone was anointed, wreathed with garlands and bound with sacred taeniae (Fig. 3; Johansen 1951: 69).  The visitations of the grave and the associated cult of the dead were, therefore, inextricably linked to the tombstone from very early on.

            The evolution of the grave stelai continued until the sixth century BCE with visual representations that tended to heroize the deceased as individuals who now inhabited the realm of Hades and were, therefore, deserving of worship as superhuman, chthonic spirits worthy of proper devotion (Johansen 1951: 111).  The Archaic stelai depicted mainly males as individuals who were heroically deified at death and served to invoke a memory from those who knew him while alive, and even those strangers who could appreciate the virtues of a deceased member of that society (Humphreys 1980: 114).  Women were rarely depicted on stelai of this period, but were linked to them nonetheless by means of the worship that took place there.

Women in Athens and the Legislation of Solon
            Although visually absent from the public world via the artistic programme of the stelai, women were far from silent in regards to the ritual of death, and are in evidence on vases and lekythoi in this capacity going as far back as the Geometric Period (Fig. 4).  Womenís duties in the prothesis (laying out of the corpse) and the ekphora (the procession to the grave) are well attested on geometric pottery of the eighth century BCE, and visits to the tomb and funerary ritual are most common in the sixth century BCE in the black-figure style (Fig. 5a-b; Stears 1998: 114).  Women may have been seen as ideal to look after the matters of death due to their perceived connection, through giving birth, to miasma, or ritual pollution. Death, like birth, was regarded as a source of miasma.  Women were, therefore, seen as both polluted and polluting and, as a result, it was their duty to deal with the pollution of death (Stears 1998: 117; cf. Shapiro 1991: 635).  Women were also typically associated with a lack of self control and were required to wail and lament openly, which would, in essence, highlight and solidify their socially understood emotional nature (Fantham et. al. 1994: 46ff, 76ff; cf. Stears 1998: 126).  Men, on the other hand, were seen as capable of control and restraint and were therefore well suited to the public arena.  Due to their absence in the public arena, the plight of women has often been described as repressed and destined to an unhappy existence (Stears 1998: 113).  Stears (1998: 126) suggests that womenís participation in the funeral actually embued them with a certain power in that they perpetuated the healthy existence of the oikos and, as a consequent result, the polis.  Women were required to publicly lament the dead and, in so doing, their attention to this duty would indicate that the family of the deceased was fulfilling their duty to care for and properly lament the dead.  The deceased spirits would thereby be appeased and the polis would maintain its health by the prevention of the unhappy dead.  The ritual practice may have served to reinforce the ideal of the inferiority of women as a sex, but it also may have served to indicate them as active participants within a kin-group.

           Following the legislation of Solon in the early sixth century BCE, which placed restrictions on elaborate funerary displays and the behavior of women in this regard, it would appear that women were further handicapped to a level of silence.  Their traditional funerary duties, at least publicly, were repressed and, shortly thereafter, further restrictions were placed on the setting up of elaborate grave monuments.  The exact date of these restrictions is controversial and debated.  All that Cicero provides is that restrictions were issued ìsometime after Solonî (Cic. De Leg. 2.64; Humphreys 1980: 99).  Regardless of the date of the legislation referred to by Cicero, sculpted grave monuments disappear from Attic cemeteries (Osborne 1994: 94;cf. Clairmont 1970: 41).  The impact that these legislations had on the religious worship of the dead must have imposed a great dilemma on the people of Athens and the women who were traditionally required to perpetuate the oikos (and thereby the polis) through the ritual care of the dead and associated burial areas.  If, as Johansen has suggested (1951: 69), the cult of the dead and the tombstone were inseparably linked, the removal of the stelai would have disrupted the reciprocal exchange of the dead with the living.  In this regard, Clairmont (1970: 41) suggests that it is not credible to say that Athens ceased to erect markers from the latest Archaic examples to those of the Classical period.  He goes on to propose that during this ëdark periodí grave markers were made of wood, inscribed marble slabs or some other perishable or reusable material that has not been preserved archaeologically (Clairmont 1970: 41).  In an attempt to compensate, the Athenians appear to have focused their energy into the production of white-ground lekythoi (Fig. 1a-d), which became increasingly popular and primarily funerary during this period.  Conspicuously, white-ground lekythoi cease to be a popular grave gift circa 410 BCE, which roughly coincides with the return of sculpted grave stelai to Attica.  The date for the resurgence of grave stelai and the beginning of the Classical series is itself controversial, but it should suffice to place the reintroduction to sometime during the Peloponnesian War, approximately 430 BCE (Clairmont 1970: 43).  Clairmont places the period of reintroduction in agreement with Fuchs (1957), based on the theory that the abolition of the decree of Themistokles could have only taken place during this time.  In addition to the dead Athenians who can be attributed to the war, surely within itself demanding proper memorialization, Humphreys refers to a possible upsurge of piety towards the dead following the plague of 429/8 BCE (Humphreys 1980: 112).  During this time, a disregard of normal burial practices was imposed upon the city due to the mass of diseased dead created by the emergency.  Regardless of the reasons surrounding the reintroduction of grave stelai, the series was indeed reinitiated and was conspicuous by its new metamorphosis of character in both form and artistic style; a style that was destined to be abolished a mere one hundred years later by Demetrios of Phaleron, ca. 317 BCE.

The Relationship of Oikos and Polis
            The sculpted stelai of the Archaic period cease to exist sometime in the beginning of the fifth century and do not reappear in the archaeological record until approximately 430-420 BCE.  The literature of the period offers no explanation for the reintroduction and the interpretational theories of scholars have been many.  The literary sources do no attest to a relaxation or repeal of the restrictive legislation, which placed a ban on the erection of stelai.  The archaeological record, however, reveals a reappearance of stone funerary sculpture, and it is this evidence that must now be explored (Leader 1997: 684; cf.Clairmont 1970: 43). The Athenians had been through much turmoil by the date of reintroduction.  During this ëdark periodí of private funerary sculpture, and as a result of the Peloponnesian War, the expulsion of the Thirty, and the rise of democracy, the state began to import the war dead home for public honors and memorial (Meyer 1993: 117-8).  The bringing home of the war dead and the subsequent ideology surrounding it (Patrios Nomos), are themselves extensively controversial and much debated (Jacoby 1944: 37-66; cf. Clairmont 1983).  Following the expulsion of the tyrants, however, a new emphasis was placed on heroizing the war dead as liberators of Athens.  This public intervention into burial practices, which had traditionally been the responsibility of the oikos, must have put a significant strain on the individual households and in the relationship between polis and oikos, the public and the private.  The public nature of honoring the war dead effectively removed those individuals from ties to their respective oikos, highlighting instead the connection of those individuals to Athens, as members of that polis.

            The most prominent burial area in Athens was the Kerameikos, or Potterís Quarter, which stretched from the northwestern slope of the Acropolis across the Agora into a rustic suburb outside the great double gate, the Dipylon.  Three roads converged in the area, one leading to Piraeus, the other to Eleusis, and the third to the Academy (Karo 1943: 5).  The area was highly visible and very public in nature, thereby lending itself perfectly to the ideological notions of honoring the dead.  The war dead interred in the Kerameikos during this period were commemorated on casualty lists as,

single names by tribe, under the general heading of Athenaioi, separate from them but also listed were others (foreigners, isoteleis, or metics) who had fought on behalf of Athens.  Thus before the end of the fifth century, the deceased was marked as an individual by his or her name, but the name was then consistently placed within a wider context, in the group of those who embodied the same aristocratic values (Meyers 1993: 109).

These individuals, therefore, were placed in relationship to the polis and not as members of an oikos within that polis.  All of that would change, along with the character of the Kerameikos, following the citizenship law of Perikles, ca. 451/0 BCE, and the reintroduction of sculpted funerary stelai, and women into its context, ca. 430-420 BCE.

Classical Grave Stelai, ca. 430 BCE - 317 BCE
            Whereas Archaic grave stelai highlighted an essential male ethos surrounding death, those of the Classical Period are very domestic in nature, featuring the depiction of women and small children.  A major change had occurred by the time of reintroduction in that women take a prominent role in the artistic programme of the stelai.  Based on the catalogue of Classical Attic sculpted funerary monuments published by Conze (1893-1922), and later expanded by Clairmont (CAT 1993), Karen Stears (1995: 113) suggests, ìa near equality in the number of monuments displaying adult males and females: 176 for women alone, 168 for men alone, 252 for both sexesî.  This high profile of women in Athenian funerary iconography continued until Demetrios of Phaleron enacted a further legislation, ca. 317 BCE, which put an end to sumptuous Attic funerary monuments and replaced it, predominantly, with the ubiquitous Hellenistic kioniskos or small column (Stears 1995: 113).  The sheer numbers of representations involving women is remarkable considering their relative absence only three quarters of a century earlier.  Interpretational analysis hereby becomes problematic, and the material culture of the archaeological record becomes vital.

            Pausanias describes the highly visible involvement of the polis in the Athenian Kerameikos and makes little to no mention of the individual memorials that existed there as is in evidence by the remains.  Meyer attributes this to the fact that private burials and family tombs (periboloi) became crowded around the public monuments that had previously been set up by the state (Meyer 1993: 199).  Pausanias wrote that the stelai of the Athenian war dead bore the ìnames and deme of eachî (1.29.4).  In this regard, Pausanias was grossly mistaken.  According to Meyer, ìcasualty lists never carry patronymics or demotics, but individual monuments of course frequently do in the fourth century and after, and may have crowded the public monuments enough to cause confusionî (Meyer 1993: 119).

            A further element of confusion comes from the iconography of the stelai themselves.  The scenes are commonly referred to as depicting scenes of ëeveryday lifeí, and as narratives of the family and social values of Classical Athens (Humphreys 1980: 113; cf. Leader 1997: 686).  The present-day viewer must be careful of literal interpretations, for the iconography may reveal more complex analyses, which focus on the dominant ideology of social values and stereotypes prevalent in Athens during the period of study.  The Classical Athenian grave reliefs exhibit a high level of repetitive, standard iconography and appear to illustrate continual reiteration of a socially dominant ideology (Stears 1995: 111).  As outlined by Hodder (Trigger 1997: 348), the cultural situation of the time must be examined in relation to the stelai and not apart from it.  Without taking into account the cultural context of the time, the present-day viewer may be tempted to focus on the abundant appearance of women on funeral stelai and wrongfully attribute a change in social status to their position.  Before continuing, it is of further importance to stress that these images of women were produced by male craftsmen and intended largely for male consumers.  These consumers and craftsmen would have been bound to dominant and social ideologies and ìone may expect, therefore, to find elements of these ideologies reflected in their workî (Stears 1995: 110).

            The correlation of relief to epigram causes a further interpretational dilemma.  The stele of Ampharete (Fig. 7), on display in the Kerameikos Museum, is a case and point.  The portrayal of a woman and a child on this stele has been commonly referred to as ëmother and childí (Stears 1995: 110).  The epigram, however, clearly states that the illustration is that of grandmother and grandchild:

Here I hold my daughterís child, the beloved one, which I used to hold on my knees when, living, we beheld the rays of the sun, and now, dead, I hold the dead child (Johansen 1951: 17).

The accompanying epigram is the key to understanding this stele, for attention to individualized features of the deceased was not emphasized in the Classical Period.  Ampharete appears young on the stele and is, therefore, an idealized visualization of the dead, ìas they were when still alive, engaged in their customary pursuitsî (Johansen 1951: 16).  The scene is clearly domestic in nature, as Ampharete sits with her grandchild within the confines of the household, which is indicated by the shape of the naiskos style stele.  Garland, following yet another recurrent interpretation, suggests that, ìthere can be no doubt at all that the action is conceived of as taking place in Hadesî (Garland 1985: 68).  Following Clairmontís view, however, this analysis cannot tell the entire story, as no reference to Hades is clear, and cannot account for why this particular iconography was acceptable in Classical Athenian ideology (Clairmont 1993: vol. 1, 405-6).

The Stelai and the Iconography of Citizenship
            The stele of Ampharete, described above, is just one of many examples of women being depicted with children. A fragmentary memorial (Fig. 8), also displayed in the Kerameikos Museum, illustrates a female figure seated in ¾ view on a chair.  She wears the customary sleeved chiton and holds an infant on her lap, wrapped in a cloth.  Just visible at the break is a hand overlapping the right hand of the seated woman.  A possible suggestion here is that the servant-maid, or a close relative, is about to take the infant away from its mother (Clairmont 1993: 661).  As with the Ampharete stele, the sex of the infant is indeterminable and what is depicted here could very well be a mother that died in childbirth (cf. CAT 2.780; 2.780a; 2.786).  Yet another stele depicts a seated woman, right hand on her chin, in quiet deliberation as she looks at a swaddled babe in the arms of a female maidservant (Fig. 9).  The loss of a mother and/or her child is a major theme in the iconography of Classical Athenian stelai.

            Another dominant theme is represented by the stele of Hegeso (Fig. 10a; cf. Figs. 10b (with child), 10c-e), found in 1870 in the Dipylon cemetery of the Kerameikos, and now on display in the National Museum of Athens.  Illustrated on this naiskos stele is the daughter of Proxenos (by inscription), Hegeso, who sits on a chair in profile.  She is depicted as a woman of status by her high-backed chair, sleeved chiton, himation, hair adornment and a veil, which falls over her neck.  A servant-girl stands holding an open box; she has her head lowered as she gazes intently at Hegesoís raised right hand.  The object in Hegesoís hand is no longer extant and is commonly believed to have been rendered in paint,  long since dissolved (Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 96).  Based on prior assumptions revolving around imagery of the dead, Hegeso has been interpreted as a bride preparing to meet the god of the underworld (Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 97).  Clairmont dismisses this ideology, mentioning that women were usually married unless portrayed as otherwise on those individual monuments (Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 102-3).  This type of iconography was usually accompanied by the representation of a loutrophoros (Fig. 11a-b), an amphora commonly associated with marriage and converted to funerary iconography to indicate individuals who died before marriage (Clairmont 1970: 48; Garland 1985: 72).  Rather than interpreting the Hegeso stele as representative of a preparation for Hades, the god of the underworld, Leader prefers to interpret the illustration as a retrospective, rather than a prospective, mode of commemoration (Leader 1997: 689).  Hegeso sits in a high-backed chair, which is characteristic of interior space (oikos) - a space that is ideally feminine in nature.  Leader points to Hegesoís elevated status as a free Athenian woman, indicated by the slave-woman and the object (jewelry) she holds in her hand.  This theme is common and recurrent, and ìbelie(s) the assertion of individual identity, which their inscriptions proclaimî (Leader 1997: 690).  The jewelry does not carry the association with industry that had been the norm in Archaic representations of women.  The theory proposed by Leader is that the jewelry is representative of the womanís dowry, which was a significant economic contribution to her husbandís household (Leader 1997: 692).  In this way, the woman is connected to her husband and her father (who would provide the dowry), and would therefore be covertly connected to the male dominance of which she was a part.  Symbolically, she is portrayed as a passive and secluded Athenian woman, thereby fulfilling the male ideal of a womanís social status in Athens, while at the same time expressing her importance within the realm of the polis.  Her role within the oikos is, therefore, publicly announced and reaffirmed to the polis, an arena from which she was mortally excluded.  The role of the woman is reestablished and reinvented to all those who are subjected to its iconographic ideology.

            The stelai commonly referred to as ëthe family typeí includes the male members of the household with their female counterparts.  Up until this point, the stelai discussed have placed women in the public area within the boundaries of a private setting.  This series of stelai places men, most commonly associated with the polis, within the confines of the oikos.  As the Hegeso stele, and those like it in nature, hints at the relationship of women to men within their fatherís and husbandís family, the representation of that relationship is here made explicit.  In the stele of ìSostrateî (Fig. 12), a father is seen flanked by his two daughters, with a possible granddaughter illustrated in typical classical style (Leader 1997: 696).  The stele lacks a pediment and was associated with one found near it, which carried the name of Sostrate.  According to Leader (1997: 696, n. 72), ìthis was later found not to fit the relief, and it has been suggested that another pediment from the same cemetery, now lost, with the names of Malthake, Demoteles, and Demokrateia belonged to the reliefî.  This stele is now thought to have borne the names: ìMalthake, daughter of Demoteles, Demoteles, son of Thymokles, of the deme of Prasias, Demokrateia, daughter
of Demotelesî (Leader 1997: 696; cf. Clairmont 1993: vol. 3, 475-476).  The inclusion now of a patronymic and a demotic is common in fourth century inscriptions and bears directly on the concept of citizenship and the essential connection of the oikos to the polis in this regard (Meyer 1993: 119).  Although depicted in a domestic setting, the seated male is connected to the public sphere by the staff he holds in his right hand.  The staff in the hand of the man in the stele of Sostrate, like that in the stele of Sosinous (Fig. 13), and the strigil visible in the left hand of the man in the stele of Damasistrate (Fig. 14), refer to the public activity of the male and his ability to cross between the public and private boundaries, further reinforcing that the women cannot (Leader 1997: 698).

            Another series, which is essential to the argument of this paper, are those stelai that depict a handshake (dexiosis) between the male and female members of the household (Figs. 15a-b, 14; cf. CAT 2.190; 2.193; 2.214; 2.270a; 2.268a).  This iconography has been interpreted as the welcoming of a newly deceased member to Hades, or as a farewell from the land of the living (Garland 1985: 67-8; cf. Johansen 1951; Humphreys 1980).  Reunion has been interpreted as the primary meaning behind the handshake and perhaps the main reason for the tradition of joint burial in the periboloi.  The survivor is thereby depicted as shaking hands with the deceased, the two being ìfirmly united across the boundary of the graveî (Johansen 1951: 139).  Humphreys suggests that, ìverse epitaphs and reliefs do not emphasize the continuity of a lineage over time; they portray the intimate relationships of the nuclear family in an idealized, timeless presentî (Humphreys 1980: 114).  The dexiosis, however, can be explained as essential to the ideology of the continuation of lineage, especially in regards to the emphasis placed on citizenship by Perikles in 451/0 BCE.

The Importance of Women and Citizenship after 451/0 BCE
            It was the duty of the Athenian citizen family to produce new citizens for the polis.  Producing children was seen as the primary concern of marriage, and is made clear by the often-quoted words, ìI give this woman for the ploughing of legitimate childrenî (Roy 1999: 4).  Following the decree of Perikles in 451/0 BCE, a citizen father was no longer sufficient to produce legitimate citizen children.  Two citizen parents were thereby required, a citizen father and a citizen mother.  Athenian men could no longer marry foreign women to produce citizen children, at least not those that would be recognized by the polis.  Perikles reiterates this point in Thucydidesí account of the formerís funeral oration, where he calls for the parents of the dead to contribute to the polis by having more children (2.44.3).  Society had changed following the reign of the Thirty, the war, and the plague.  Prior to these happenings, women were essentially the symbols of wealth and alliances between aristocratic families:

As a daughter offered in marriage to a foreign genes, she fulfills the role of wealth put into circulation, weaving a network of alliances between different groups, just as do the agalmata exchanged at the wedding, or the herds that, in order to win his wife, the husband must present to her father. But as a mother who bears a man children that are truly his own and that directly continue his line, she is identified with the cultivated land owned by her husband, and the marriage has the significance of an exercise of ploughing, with the woman as the furrow (Osborne 1994: 94; my italics).

The emphasis of the woman under Perikles was on her ability to produce children for the polis, and served to further establish her as vital to the health and continuation of the household.  She may have still been regarded as a possession, an object of wealth and as subject to social constraints (Leader 1997: 689), but, regardless of the original intention, ìthe law may well . . . have given the wife a greater importance within the householdî (Roy 1999: 5).  Women may have achieved even higher status and great glory by becoming widows of the war dead or as the survivors of sons who had died in war for the polis (Roy 1999: 6; Thuc. 2.45.2).  Women were, therefore, a vital component of the oikos and, as a result, of the polis.  Women held little significance in the construction of public face or the agnatic kin grouping within the polis and were therefore exempt from the written word in the cemetery as far as patronymics were concerned.  Women did, however, become of profound importance in the realm of death-ritual (a position they had traditionally always held), inheritance and as members of the cognatic kin-group.  This importance did not warrant explicit record of them in regards to the political, agnatic kin-group, but may well have warranted permanent funerary memorial in the iconography of the sculpted funerary programme (Stears 1995: 114).

            The transmission of property and inheritances did not specifically fall to the women as far as legal rights were concerned, but her position as epikleros held special significance.  An epikleros is a female descendant of quite special significance in the transmission of family property.  It is only through her that the male line can continue and the oikos not become technically ëemptyí (Gould 1980: 42).  Women may not have held any significant civic identity or political power, but their importance within the household and, subsequently, the polis (although covertly), warranted commentary to the polis through the iconography of the stelai.  Crafted by men, working within the dominant ideology of the polis, the depictions of women declare this importance while staying within the realm of social acceptance.  They are depicted within the private sphere of the oikos, fulfilling their social duties and maintaining their status while at the same time proclaiming their importance as silent, yet vital, members of the polis.  Stears writes that,

Womenís tombs were important to the familial group in term of claiming inheritance and demonstrating or countering refutations of oneís legitimacy. This would especially be the case following the stipulations of the Periklean citizenship law and its re-enactment at the close of the fifth century (403/2 BCE; cf. Roy 1999: 4). This law might not only, to some extent, account for the reappearance of sculpted monuments from the mid-fifth century on but might also help to explain the new prominence of women in the memorial iconography (Stears 1995: 115 ; cf. Stears 1993).

            In conclusion, a present-day viewer can now look upon the stelai of the Classical Period with a dynamic that, prior to the last decade, had been absent in the interpretational analysis.  Rather than a serene and moving slice of domestic life that provides a window to the private life of women in the confines of the oikos, the stelai can be read as a commentary of the cultural context in which they were created.  The stele of Ampharete, and others in the same iconographical series, can be seen as the loss of important children who would have held legitimate social status (especially if the child was male), and/or the loss of the mother that was essential to the continuation of the cognatic kin-group to which she belonged.  Likewise, the Hegeso relief furthers the loss of an important woman of the household, and her important connection to that household via her dowry and ties to concerns of inheritance.  The stele of Hegeso also provides evidence that ritual offerings continued to take place in the area of the stelai in the Kerameikos.  A circular bedding located in the base of the Hegeso relief has been interpreted by Schmaltz as an area to place lekythoi (Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 97).  The religious significance of the tombstone appears to have continued in spite of the prohibition that had been imposed prior to the period of reintroduction.  The unmarried woman depicted on the stele represented by loutrophoros imagery signals the loss of a woman who would have held familial status in retrospective fashion.  And, rather than being a welcoming or farewell scene in death or life respectively, the dexiosis could be representative of an idealized display of equality between the men and women of a household and the public solidification (by means of the stelai) of a cognatic connection between the surviving and deceased members of the household (Stears 1995: 126).

            One question left unanswered may be why this iconography was solely relegated to the funerary monuments of the Kerameikos, and the other cemeteries of Attica.  Apart from the highly visual public profile of the cemetery and the subsequent connection of the living with the dead, women had always held a public profile in the realm of the cemetery.  The ritual connection of women and death had been delegated to them via their perceived connection with miasma since ancient times.  Their presence in the cemetery was not only tolerated, but also expected.  The presence of women on the classical stelai of Athens permanently allocated them to that domain and, although covertly, may have allowed them a forum from which to speak, even if it was only of their expected roles in a male dominated society.

Figures and Illustrations

Fig. 1a:  Reeder et al. 1995: 222.        <Back>

Fig. 1b:  Reeder et al. 1995: 222.

Fig. 1c:  Reeder et al. 1995: 147.

Fig. 1d:  Reeder et al. 1995: 147.

Fig. 2a:  Kovacsovics 1990: pl. 2, no. 1.        <Back>

Fig. 2b Kovacsovics 1990: pl. 2, no. 2.

Fig. 3  Johansen 1951: 70.        <Back>

Fig. 4  Knigge 1988: 22.        <Back>

Fig. 5a Shapiro 1991: 638.        <Back>

Fig. 5b Fantham et al. 1994: 48.

Fig. 6  Garland 1995: 109.

Fig. 7  Clairmont 1993: vol. 1, 404-406, pl. 1.660.        <Back>

Fig. 8  Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 661, pl. 2.727.        <Back>

Fig. 9  Clairmont 1970: 128-9, pl. 24, no. 51.        <Back>

Fig. 10a Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 95-98, pl. 2.150.

Fig. 10b Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 708, pl. 2.820.

Fig. 10c Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 245-246, pl. 2.300.

Fig. 10d Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 310-11, pl. 2.335b.

Fig. 10e Clairmont 1993: vol. 3, 229-30, pl. 3.370.

Fig. 11a Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 102-3, pl. 2.154.        <Back>

Fig. 11b Clairmont 1993: vol. 2, 102-3, pl. 2.154.

Fig. 12 Clairmont 1993: vol. 3, 475-6, pl. 3.846.        <Back>

Fig. 13 Clairmont 1993: vol. 1, 258-260, pl. 1.202.        <Back>

Fig. 14 Clairmont 1993: vol. 4, 103-4, pl. 4.430.        <Back>

Fig. 15a Clairmont 1993: vol. 4, 90-92, pl. 4.415.        <Back>

Fig. 15b Clairmont 1993: vol. 3, 332-33, pl. 3.419.


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