August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman in the Past

Conflict between Matriarchate and Patriarchate.

1. – Rise of the Patriarchate.

With the increase in population a number of sister gentes arose that again brought forth several daughter gentes. The mother gens was distinguished from these as the phratry. A number of phratries constituted the tribe. So strong was this social organization that it still constituted the unit of military organization in the states of antiquity, when the old gentile constitution had already been abandoned. The tribe was subdivided into several branches, all having a common constitution and in each of which the old gens could be recognized. But as the gentile constitution prohibited intermarriage among remote relatives even on the mother’s side, it undermined its own existence. A social and economic development made the relation of the various gentes to one another more and more complicated, the interdict of marriage between certain groups became untenable and ceased to be observed. While production of the necessities of life was at its lowest stage of development, and destined to satisfy only the simplest demands, the activities of men and women were essentially the same. But with increasing division of labor there resulted not only a diversity of occupations, but a diversity of possessions as well. Fishing, hunting, cattle-breeding and agriculture, and the manufacture of tools and implements, necessitated special knowledge, and these became the special province of the men. Man took the lead along these lines of development and accordingly became master and owner of these new sources of wealth.

Increasing population and the desire for an extensive ownership of land for agricultural and pastoral purposes, led to struggles and battles over the possession of such land; it also led to a demand for labor-power. An increase in labor-power meant greater wealth in produce and flock. To procure such labor-power the rape of women was at first resorted to, and then the enslavement of vanquished men, who had formerly been killed. Thus two new elements were introduced into the old gentile constitution that were incompatible with its very nature.

Still another factor came into play. The division of labor and the growing demand for tools, implements, weapons, etc., led to a development of handicraft along distinct lines apart from agriculture. A special class of craftsmen arose, whose interests in regard to the ownership and inheritance of property diverged considerably from those of the agricultural class.

As long as descent was traced from female lineage, members of the gens, became heirs to their deceased relatives on the mother’s side. All property remained within the gens. Under the changed conditions the father had become owner of flocks and slaves, weapons and produce, but being a member of his mother’s gens he could not will his property to his children, but had to leave same to his brothers and sisters or to his sisters’ children. His own children were disinherited. A strong desire for changing this state of affairs therefore began to manifest itself, and it was changed accordingly. Polygamy and polyandry gave way to the pairing family. A certain man lived with a certain woman, and the children born from this relation were their children. These pairing families developed gradually, being hampered by the marriage interdicts of the gentile constitution, but favored by the above enumerated economic causes. The old household communities were not in keeping with the idea of private property. Class and occupation became determining factors in the choice of a place of residence. An increased production of commodities gave rise to commerce among neighboring and more widely separated nations and necessitated the development of finance. Man was the one to conduct and control this development. His private interests, therefore, were no longer harmonious to the old gentile organization; on the contrary, they were frequently diametrically opposed to it. Therefore this organization became of less and less importance, and finally all that remained of the gens was the conducting of a number of religious rites within the family group. The economic significance was lost and the final dissolution of the gentile constitution only remained a question of time.

With the breaking up of the old gentile organization the power and influence of woman rapidly declined. The matriarchate disappeared and the patriarchate took its place. Man, being an owner of private property, had an interest in having legitimate children to whom he could will his property, and he, therefore, forced upon woman the prohibition of intercourse with other men.

But for himself he reserved the right of maintaining as many concubines as his means would permit beside his legitimate wife or wives, and their offspring were regarded as legitimate children. The Bible furnishes important evidence on this subject in two instances. In the first book of Moses, 16, 1 and 2, it says: “Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children; and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram: Behold now, the Lord bath restrained me from bearing; I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” The second noteworthy evidence is found in the first book of Moses, 30, 1; it reads as follows: “And when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said unto Jacob: Give me children or else I die. And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel and he said: Am I in God’s stead who has withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said: Behold my maid, Billah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Billah, her handmaid, to wife, and Jacob went in unto her.”

Thus Jacob was not only married to two sisters, the daughters of Laban, but both also gave him their handmaids to wives, a custom that was not immoral according to the moral conceptions of the time. His two chief wives he had married by purchase, having served their father Laban seven years for each of them. At that time it was the general custom among the Jews to purchase wives, but besides they carried on a widespread robbery of women from nations conquered by them. Thus, for instance, the Benjamites robbed the daughters of Shiloh. The captured woman became a slave, a concubine. But she could be raised to the position of a legitimate wife, upon fulfillment of the following command: She had to cut her hair and nails and exchange the garments in which she was captured with others given to her by her captors. Thereupon she had to mourn for her father and mother during an entire month, her mourning being destined to signify that her people were dead to her. These regulations having been complied with, she could enter into wedlock. The greatest number of women were owned by King Solomon, who, according to the first book of Kings, chapter 11, had no less than 700 wives and 300 concubines.

As soon as the patriarchate, that is, paternal descent, was established in the gentile organization of the Jews, the daughters were excluded from inheritance. Later this rule was modified in cases when a father left no sons. This is shown in the fourth book of Moses, 27, 28. There it is told that when Zelophehad died without leaving sons, his daughters complained bitterly that they should be excluded from their father’s inheritance that was to pass to the tribe of Joseph. Moses decides that in this case the daughters should be heirs to their father. But when, according to an old custom, they decide to choose husbands from another tribe, the tribe of Joseph complain that thereby they are losing an heritage. There upon Moses decides that the heiresses may choose freely, but that they must make their choice from among the men in their father’s tribe. So it was in behalf of property that the old marriage laws were annulled. As a matter of fact, in the days of the old Testament, i. e., in historical times, the patriarchal system was prevalent among the Jews, and the clan and tribal organization were founded on descent in the male line, as was the case with the Romans. According to this system the daughters were excluded from inheritance. Thus we read in the first book of Moses, 31, 14 and 15, the complaint of Lea and Rachel, daughters of Laban: “Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not counted of him strangers? For he hath sold us and hath quite devoured also our money.”

Among the ancient Jews, as among all other nations where the matriarchate was succeeded by the patriarchate, women were utterly devoid of rights. Marriage was a purchase of the woman. Absolute chastity was demanded of her; but not so of the man, who moreover was entitled to have several wives. If the man had cause to believe that the woman had lost her virginity prior to marriage, he was not only entitled to cast her off she might also be stoned to death. The same punishment was meted out to the adulteress; but the man was subjected to the same punishment only then when he committed adultery with a Jewish matron, According to the first book of Moses, 24, 1–4, a man was entitled to cast off a woman he had just married if she found no favor in his eyes, even though his displeasure be only i whim. Then he might write her a bill of divorcement, give it in her hand and send her out of his house. A further proof of the degraded position of woman among the Jews may be gathered from the fact that to this day women attend services in the synagogue in a space separated from the men, and are not included in the prayer.[1] According to the Jewish conception, woman is not a member of the congregation; in religion and politics she is a mere cipher. When ten men are assembled they may hold services, but women are not permitted to do so, no matter how many of them are assembled.

In Athens, Solon decreed that a widow should marry her nearest relation on her father’s side, even if both belong to the same gens, although such marriages were forbidden by an earlier law. Solon likewise decreed that a person holding property need not will it to his gens but might, in case he were childless, will it to whomsoever he pleased. We see, then, that man, instead of ruling his property, is being ruled by it.

With the established rule of private property the subjugation of woman by man was accomplished. As a result of this subjugation woman came to be regarded as an inferior being and to be despised. The matriarchate implied communism and equality of all. The rise of the patriarchate implied the rule of private property and the subjugation and enslavement of woman. The conservative Aristophanes recognized this truth in his comedy, “The Popular Assembly of Women,” for he has the women introduce communism as soon as they have gained control of the state, and then proceeds to caricature communism grossly in order to discredit the women.

It is difficult to show how the details of this great transformation were accomplished. This first great revolution that took place in human society was not accomplished simultaneously among all the civilized nations of antiquity, and has probably not developed everywhere along the same lines. Among the tribes of Greece, the new order of things attained validity primarily in Athens.

Frederick Engels holds the opinion that this great transformation was brought about peaceably, and that, all preliminary conditions making such a change desirable being given, a mere vote on the matter in the gentes sufficed to put the patriarchal system in place of the matriarchal system. Backofen, on the other hand, believes – his opinion founded on ancient writers – that the women vehemently opposed this social transformation. He considers many myths of the Amazon kingdoms that are met with in the histories of Oriental countries, in South America and China, proofs of the struggle and (Opposition of women against the new order.

With the rise of male supremacy the women were deprived of their former position in the community. They were excluded from the council and lost their determining influence. Men compelled women to be faithful in marriage without recognizing a similar duty on their part. When a woman is faithless, she commits the worst deception to which a citizen of the new order can fall a victim; she brings another man’s children into his house to become the heirs of his property. That is why among all the ancient peoples adultery, when committed by a woman, was punishable by death or slavery.

Traces of the Matriarchate in Greek Myths and Dramas.

Although the women were thus deprived of their former influential position, the customs connected with the ancient cults continued to dominate the minds for centuries; only their deeper meaning was gradually lost, and it remained for the present time to investigate them. Thus it was customary in Greece that women appealed for advice and help to the goddesses only. The annual celebration of the Thermophoria clearly derived its origin from matriarchal times. Even in later days Greek women still celebrated this festival in honor of Demeter, which lasted for five days, and in which no man was allowed to participate. A festival of the same character was held annually in Rome in honor of Ceres. Demeter and Ceres were the goddesses of fecundity. In Germany, similar festivals were observed up to the Christian middle ages. These were consecrated to Frigga, the ancient German goddess of fecundity, and here also men were excluded from participation.

In Athens, the matriarchate had to make way to the patriarchate at an early period, but apparently not without strong opposition on the part of the women. The tragedy of the transformation is pathetically presented in the “Eumenides” by Aeschylus. The following is a synopsis of the story: Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, husband of Klytaemnestra, on his expedition to Troy, sacrifices his daughter Iphigeneia, in obedience to a command of the oracle. The mother is enraged over the sacrifice of her child that, in accordance with natural law, does not belong to her husband, and during Agamemnon’s absence she accepts Aeghistus as her husband, thereby not committing any objectionable act according to the ancient laws. When Agamemnon returns to Mycenae, after an absence of many years, he is murdered by Aeghistus, whom Klytaemnestra has incited to this deed. Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Klytaemnestra, upon a command from Apollo and Minerva, avenges his father’s death by killing his mother and Aeghistus. The Eumenides, representing the old maternal law, prosecute Orestes for the murder of his mother. Apollo and Minerva – the latter, according to the myth, not having been born by a mother, since she sprang from the head of Zeus in full armor – defend Orestes, for they represent the new paternal law. The case is brought before the areopagus and the following dialogue ensues in which the two conflicting views are expressed:

Eumenides: The prophet (Apollo) bade thee then become a matricide?
Orestes: Aye: and I never yet my destiny regretted.
Eumenides: When judgment will be given thou wilt not speak thus.
Orestes: Perhaps. But from his grave my father will send aid.
Eumenides: What hopest from the dead thou, who hast killed thy mother?
Orestes: She had been guilty of a double, bloody crime.
Eumenides: How so’ Explain unto the judges what you mean? Orestes: She killed her husband and she thereby killed my father. Eumenides: Her crime she expiated now, but you still live.
Orestes: Why did you fail to prosecute her while she lived?
Eumenides: She was no blood relation to the man she killed.
Orestes: But I, so you assert, am of my mother’s blood.
Eumenides: Did she., thou bloody one, not bear thee ‘neath her heart? Wouldst thou thy mother’s sacred blood deny?

The Eumenides accordingly do not recognize the right of the father and husband. They proclaim maternal law. That Kleytaemnestra caused the murder of her husband seems unimportant to them, for he was a stranger to her. But they demand punishment of the matricide, for by killing his mother, Orestes committed the most unpardonable crime that could be committed under the dominance of the gentile organization. Apollo, on the other hand, holds the opposite point of view. Upon a command from Zeus he has induced Orestes to murder his own mother to avenge the patricide, and before the judges he thus defends the deed:

Then say I, listen ye unto my word of justice:
The mother is not procreatrix to her child;
She only the awakened life doth keep and bear.
The father is the procreator; she but keeps
The forfeit for her friend, unless a god destroy it
I will submit a proof that cannot be denied.
For one can have a father, yet no mother have.
Minerva, daughter of the great Olympian Zeus,
Within the darkness of a mother’s womb ne’er rested,
And yet no goddess e’er gave birth to fairer offspring.

According to Apollo, then, procreation gives the father a superior right, while the view that had prevailed until then proclaimed the mother, who gives life to the child by her own blood, the child’s sole possessor, and deemed the child’s father a mere stranger to her. Therefore, the Euminedes reply to the views of Apollo:

Thou overthrowest forces of remotest days ....
Thou, the young god, wouldst its, the ancient ones, dethrone.

The judges prepare to pronounce their verdict; half of them favor the old law and the other half favor the new, giving an equal number of votes to both sides. There Minerva seizes a ballot from the altar and casting it into the urn she exclaims:

Mine is the right to utter final judgment here,
And for Orestes I cast in the urn this stone;
For unto me no mother was who gave me birth,
Therefore with all my heart all manly things I praise
Excepting marriage. For I am my father’s quite.
Less criminal I deem the murder of this woman,
Because her husband she has killed, the home’s maintainer.
Though even be the vote, Orestes is victorious.

Another myth depicts the fall of the matriarchate in the following manner: During the rule of Cecrops, a double miracle occurred. Simultaneously an olive-tree sprang from the earth at one place, and a well at another. The frightened king sent a messenger to Delphi to question the oracle concerning the meaning of these miracles. The reply was: The olive-tree represents Minerva, the water represents Neptune, and the citizens may decide after whom of the two deities they choose to name their city. Cecrops summoned the popular assembly, in which both men and women were entitled to vote. The men voted for Neptune, and the women for Minerva, and since the women had a majority of one vote Minerva was, victorious. Thereupon Neptune became infuriated and let the sea flood the lands of the Athenians. To appease the fury of the god, the Athenians then inflicted threefold punishment upon their women. They were to be disfranchised, their children were no longer to bear their mother’s name, and they themselves should no longer be called Athenians.[2]

Thus the new order was established. The father became the head of the family. The patriarchate conquered the matriarchate.

Legitimate Wives and Courtesans in Athens.

Just as the transition from the matriarchate to the patriarchate was accomplished in Athens, it was accomplished elsewhere as soon as a similar degree of development had been attained. Woman was restricted to her home and isolated in special rooms, known as “gynaconus,” in which she dwelt. She even was excluded from social intercourse with the men who visited the house; in fact, this was the special object of her isolation. In the Odyssee we find this change in customs expressed. Thus Telemachus forbids his mother to be present among her suitors, and utters this command:

But go now to the home, and attend to thy household affairs;
To the spinning wheel and the loom, and bid thy maids be assiduous
At the task that to them were allotted, To speak is the privilege of men,
And mine is especially this privilege, for I am the lord of the house![3]

This was the prevailing conception in Greece at the ‘lime. Even widows were subjected to the rulership of their nearest male relatives, and were not even free to choose a husband. Weary of the long waiting imposed upon them by the clever Penelope, the suitors send to Telemachus their spokesman, Antonioos, who thus voices their demand:

See now, the suitors inform thee that thou in thy heart mayest know it
And that all the Achaeans may of the fact be informed.
Send thy mother hence, and command her to take as her husband
Whom she chooses to take, and whom her father selects.[4]

At this period woman’s freedom has come to an end. When she leaves the house she must veil her face – not to waken the desires of some other man. In the Oriental countries where sexual passions are stronger, as a result of the hot climate, this method of isolation is still carried to the extreme. Among the ancients, Athens served as a pattern of the new order. The woman shares the man’s bed, but not his table. She does not address him by his name, but calls him master; she is his servant. She was not allowed to appear in public anywhere, and when walking upon the streets was always veiled and plainly dressed. When she committed adultery she was, according to Solon’s law, condemned to pay for her sin either with her life, or with her liberty. Her husband was entitled to sell her as a slave.

The position of Greek women of those days is powerfully expressed in Medea’s lamentation:

“Of all creatures that have soul and life
We women are indeed the very poorest.
By our dowery we’re obliged to purchase
A husband – and what then is far worse still,
Henceforward our body is his own
Great is the danger; will his nature be
Evil or good? Divorce is to the woman
A deep disgrace. Yet she may not say nay.
Unto the man who was betrothed to her.
And when she comes to lands with unknown customs,
She has to learn – for no one teaches her —
To understand the nature of her husband.
And when we have succeeded in all this,
And our loved one gladly with us dwells,
Then our lot is fair. But otherwise
I’d rather far be dead. – Not so the man.
If in his home he is not satisfied,
He finds outside the home what pleases him,
With friends and with companions of his age;
But we must always seek to please but one.
They say that we in peace and safety dwell,
While they must go forth to the battlefield.
Mistaken thought! I rather thrice would fight,
Than only once give birth unto a child!”[5]

Very different was the man’s lot. While the man compelled the woman to abstain absolutely from relations with other men, for the purpose of insuring the legitimacy of his heirs, he was not inclined to abstain from relations with other women. Courtesanship developed. Women noted for their beauty and intellect, usually foreigners, preferred a free life in the most intimate association with men to the slavery of marriage. Nor was their life deemed a loathsome one. The name and the fame of these courtesans who associated with the foremost men of Greece and took part in their intellectual discussions and in their banquets, have come down to us through history, while the names of the legitimate wives are lost and forgotten. One of these was Aspasia, the friend of the famous Pericles, who later made her his wife. Phryne had intimate relations with Hyperides, and served Praxiteles, one of the foremost sculptors of Greece, as a model for his statue of Venus. Danae was the mistress of Epicure, Archaeanassa was Plato’s. Lais of Corynth, Gnethanea and others were equally famous courtesans. Every one of the famous Greeks had intercourse with these courtesans. It was part and parcel of their life. The great orator Demosthenes in his oration against Neaera thus characterized the sexual relations of Athenian men: “We marry women to have legitimate children and to have faithful guardians of our homes, we maintain concubines for our daily service and comfort, and courtesans for the enjoyment of love.” The wife was only destined to bear offspring and, like a faithful dog, to guard her master’s house. But the master himself lived to suit his pleasure. In many cases it is so still.

To satisfy the demand for mercenary women, especially among the younger men, prostitution developed, an institution that had not been known during the dominance of the matriarchate. Prostitution differs from free sexual intercourse by the fact that the woman yields her body in return for material gain, be it to one man or to a number of men. Prostitution exists wherever a woman makes the selling of her charms a trade. Solon, who formulated the new laws for Athens and is famed as the founder of these laws, introduced the public brothel, the “deikterion.” He decreed that the price should be the same to all visitors. According to Philemon this was one obolus, about 6 cents in American money. The “deikterion” was a place of absolute safety, Pike the temples in Greece and Rome and the Christian churches in the middle ages. It was under the immediate protection of the public authorities. Until about 150 B. C. the temple in Jerusalem was the general rallying-point of the prostitutes.

For the boon bestowed upon Athenian men fly his founding of the “deikterion,” one of Solon’s contemporaries thus sings his praise: “Solon, be praised! For thou didst purchase public women for the welfare of the city, to preserve the morals of the city that is full of strong, young men, who, without thy wise institution, would indulge in the annoying pursuit of the better class women.” We will see that in our own day exactly the same arguments are being advanced to justify the existence of prostitution and its maintenance as an institution sanctioned by the state. Thus the state laws approved of deeds committed by men as being their natural right, while the same deeds were branded as criminal and despicable when committed by women. It is a well-known fact that even to-day there are a great many men who prefer the company of a pretty offendress to the company of their wife and who, nevertheless, enjoy the reputation of being “pillars of society” and guardians or those sacred institutions, the family and the home. To be sure, the Greek women frequently seem to have taken vengeance upon their husbands for their oppression. If prostitution is the complement of monogamic marriage on the one hand, adultery of wives and cuckoldom of husbands are its complements on the other. Among the Greek dramatists, Euripides seems to have been the most pronounced woman-hater, since in his dramas he preferably holds up the women to ridicule and scorn. What accusations he hurls at them can best be seen from a passage in “The Thesmophoria” by Aristophanes, where a Greek woman assails him in the following manner:

With what calumny doth lie (Euripides) not vilify us women?
When e’er hath silent been the slanderer’s tongue?
Where there’s an audience, tragedy and chorus,
We are described as man-mad trailoresses.
Fond of the cup, deceitful, talkative.
We’re wholly bad, to men a tribulation.
Therefore, when from the play our husbands come,[6]
They look distrustfully at us and search about
If somewhere not a lover is concealed,
And henceforth we no longer are permitted
To do what harmlessly we did before.
Such wicked things he tells the men about us,
That when a woman only makes a garland,
They think she is in love; or when at home
She works about and dropping something, breaks it,
The husband promptly asks: “For whom this broken glass?
Quite evidently for the guest from Corinth.”

It is not surprising that the eloquent Greek woman thus serves the defamer of her sex. But Euripides could hardly have made such accusations nor would they have found belief among the men, had it not been well known that they were justified. Judging by the final sentences of the above quoted harangue it seems that the custom, well known in Germany and other countries, whereby the master of the house honors his guest by placing his own wife or daughter at the guest’s disposal, did not prevail in Greece. Of this custom, that was still observed in Holland in the fifteenth century, Murner says: “It is the custom in the Netherlands that whosoever hath a dear guest, unto him he giveth his wife in good faith.”[7]

The increasing class struggle in the Greek states and the deplorable conditions that existed in many of these small communities led Plato to an investigation of the best constitution of the state and its institutions. In his “State,” that he conceives as an ideal one, he demands that among the highest class of citizens, the guardians, women should hold a position of absolute equality. Like the men, they should take part in military exercises and should perform all civic duties, only should the lighter tasks be alloted to them on account of the weakness of their sex. He holds that the natural abilities are the same with both sexes, that woman is only weaker than man. He further demands that the women should belong to all the men in common as should also the children, so that no father might know his child nor a child its father.[8]

The views of Aristoteles are more in keeping with the bourgeois conceptions. According to his “Politics,” every woman should have the right of freely choosing her husband. She should be subservient to him, yet she should have the privilege of giving him good advice. Thucydides expresses a view that meets with the approval of all Philistines. He says: “To that wife is due the highest praise of whom one speaks neither well nor ill outside of her home.”

While such views prevailed women were bound to sink lower and lower in the esteem of men. A fear of excess of population even led men to avoid intimate intercourse with women. An unnatural satisfaction of sexual desires was the result. The Greek states consisted mainly of cities having very limited landed property, and it therefore was impossible to maintain the population at their accustomed nourishment beyond a given number. This fear of excess of population caused Aristotle to advice the men to shun their wives and to indulge in sodomy instead. Before him Socrates had already extolled sodomy as a mark of superior culture. Finally the foremost men of Greece indulged in this unnatural passion. The esteem of woman sank to its lowest level. Bawdy houses containing male prostitutes were maintained, beside those containing female prostitutes. It was in such a social atmosphere that Thucydides could say of woman that she was worse than the sea raging in storm, worse than the fire’s fierce glow and the mountain torrent’s rushing stream. “If it is a god who invented woman, whoever he be, let him know that he is the nefarious originator of the greatest evil.”

While the men of Greece practiced sodomy, the women drifted into the opposite extreme, indulging in the love of their own sex. This was especially the case among the inhabitants of the island of Lesbos, wherefore this aberration was called Lesbian love and is still called so, since it is by no means extinct but continues to exist among us. The chief representative of this “love” was the celebrated poetess Sapho, “the Lesbian nightinggale,” who lived about 600 B. C. Her passion is fervently expressed in her Ode to Venus

“Thou who rulest all, upon flowers enthroned,
Daughter of Zeus born of foam, o thou artful one,
Hark to my call!
Not in anguish and bitter suffering, O goddess,
Let me Perish! —“

Still more passionate is the sensuality expressed in the ode to the beautiful Athis.

While in Athens and other Greek states the patriarchal system prevailed, in Sparta, Athen’s greatest rival, we still find the matriarchate, a condition which had become entirely foreign to most Greeks. Tradition has it that one day a Greek asked a Spartan how the crime of adultery was punished in Sparta; whereupon the Spartan replied: “Stranger, there are no adulterers in our midst.” “But if there should be one?” quoth the stranger. “Then,” said the Spartan mockingly, “his penalty would be to give an ox, so tall that he could stretch his neck across the Taygetus and drink from the Eurotas.” Upon the astonished query of the stranger how an ox could be so tall, the Spartan laughingly replied: “How can there be an adulterer in Sparta?” The dignified self-consciousness of the Spartan women finds expression in the reply given to a stranger by the wife of Leonidas. The stranger said to her: “You Lacedemonian women are the only ones who rule over men.” To this she replied: “And we are the only women who bring forth men.”

The freedom enjoyed by women during the matriarchate heightened their beauty and increased their pride, their dignity and their self-reliance. There is a uniformity of opinion among ancient writers that these attributes were highly developed in women during the matriarchal period. The condition of servitude that followed naturally had a deteriorating influence. The change is manifested even in the difference of dress that marks the two periods. The dress of the Doric woman hung loosely from her shoulders, leaving her arms and the lower part of her legs uncovered. It is the dress worn by Diana as she is represented in our museums, a free and daring figure. But the Ionic dress covers the figure completely and restrains the motions. The manner in which women dress was and is to this day a proof of their dependence and a cause of their helplessness to a far greater extent than is generally assumed. The style of dress worn by women to this day makes them clumsy and gives them a feeling of weakness that is expressed in their carriage and their character. The Spartan custom of permitting girls to go about naked until maturity – a custom that was made possible by the climate of the country – had the effect, so an ancient writer tells us, of teaching them simplicity of taste and regard for the care of their bodies. According to the views of the time, this custom did not shock the sense of decency or arouse physical passions. The girls also took part in all physical exercises just like the boys. Thus a strong, self-respecting race was reared, conscious of their worth, as is shown in the reply given to the stranger by the wife of Leonidas.

4. – Remnants of the Matriarchate in the Customs of Various Nations.

Certain customs are closely linked with the vanished matriarchate that modern writers have erroneously termed “prostitution.” In Babylon, for instance, it was a religious duty for young girls upon reaching maturity to go to the temple of Mylitta and there yield to some male, making a sacrifice of their virginity. Similar customs were observed in the Serapis of Memphis, in honor of the goddess Anaitis in Armenia, in Tyrus and Sydon in honor of Astarte or Venus. The Egyptian festivals of Isis were accompanied by the same religious rites. This sacrifice of virginity was deemed an atonement to the goddess for the exclusiveness of surrender to one man in marriage. “For woman is not endowed with all the beauties nature has bestowed upon her, to fade in the arms of a single man. The law of substance condemns all restrictions, hates all fetters, and considers exclusive ness a crime against its divinity."[9] The continued good will of the goddess must be purchased by this sacrifice of virginity to a stranger. In conformity with this conception the Libyan maidens earned their dowery by their According to the matriarchate they enjoyed sexual liberty before marriage, and the men, far from taking offense at this pursuit, in choosing a wife gave preference to the girl who had been most desired. The same condition existed among the Thracians at the time of Herodotus. “They do not guard the maidens, but give them complete freedom to have relations with whomever they choose. But the married women are closely guarded. They buy them from their parents for a large portion.” The Hierodules in the temple of Venus in Corynth were far famed. There more than a thousand girls were assembled, constituting the chief attraction for Greek men. Of the daughter of King Cheops of Egypt the legend relates, that she had a pyramid built from the proceeds obtained by the abandonment of her charms.

We still find similar conditions in existence in the Marquesas Islands, in the Philippines and Polynesia, and, according to Waitz, among various African tribes. Another custom, which was maintained on the Balearic Islands up to recent times and that expressed the right of all men to every woman, was that in the bridal night all the men related to the bride, were admitted to her successively in accordance with their ages. The groom came last. Among other peoples this custom has been changed to that effect, that one man representing the others, the high priest or chieftain of the tribe, exercises this privilege with the bride. The Claimars in Malabar engage putamares (priests) to deflour their wives. It is the duty of the chief priest (namburi) to render this service to the king (zamorin) upon his marriage, and the king pays for it with fifty pieces of gold.[10] In India and on various islands of the Pacific either the priests or the tribal chiefs (kings) perform this office.[11] It is the same in Senegambia, where the tribal chief practices the defloration of virgins as one of his official duties and receives presents in return. Among other peoples the defloration of the virgin – sometimes even of female babies – is accomplished by idols constructed for this purpose. We may assume that the “jus primae noctis” (right of the first night), which was in practice in Europe until far into the middle ages, derived its origin from the same tradition. The landlord, considering himself master over his serfs, practiced the right of the tribal chief that had come down to him. We will return to this subject later on.

Remnants of the matriarchate are also seen in a peculiar custom of South American tribes, that has likewise been met with among the Basques, a people that have preserved many ancient customs and practices. Here the father takes to his bed, instead of the mother, after the birth of a child, feigns being in labor-pain, and lets the woman care for him. The custom designates that the father recognizes the newly born child as his own. The same custom is said to exist among several tribes of mountaineers in China, and it existed until a recent date in Corsica.

In the records of German colonies submitted to parliament (during its session 1904–05) there is a report of the South-West-African region that contains the following passage: “The tribal chief in a Herero village cannot decide upon the slightest matter without the advice of his council, and not only the men but generally the women also give their advice.” In the report of the Marshall Islands it says: Rulership over all the islands of the Marshall groups was never concentrated upon a single chief ... but as there is no female member of this class (The Irody) living, and the child inherits nobility and station from the mother only, The Irodies will be come extinct with the death of their chiefs.” The manner of expression and description used by the informants shows how utterly foreign the conditions they describe are to them and that they fail to understand them.[12]

Dr. Henry Weislocky, who for many years lived among the Gypsies of Transylvania and finally was adopted into one of their tribes, reports,[13] that two of the four tribes in whose midst he lived, the Ashani and the Ishale, observed maternal law. If the migratory Gipsy marries, he enters the clan of his wife, and to her belong all the furnishings of the Gipsy household. Whatever wealth she has belongs to her and to her clan, the man is a stranger. In accordance with maternal law the children also remain in their mother’s clan. Even in modern Germany remnants of the matriarchate survive. The “Westdeutsche Rundschau” (published in Westphalia) reports in the issue of June 10, 1902, that in the parish of Haltern the laws of inheritance were still subject to the old maternal law of the gentes. The children inherit from their mother. Until now all attempts at reforming this antiquated custom had failed.

How little the present family form and monogamic marriage can be regarded as eternal or exceedingly ancient, can furthermore be gathered from the wide-spread existence of marriage by purchase, marriage by rape, polygamy and polyandry. In Greece, too, woman became an article of purchase. As soon as she entered the house of her lord and master she ceased to exist for her family. This was symbolically expressed by burning before her husband's house the gaily decorated carriage that had brought her there. Among the Ostiaks in Siberia the father still sells his daughter and bargains with the envoys of the groom over the sum that is to be paid. Among several African tribes the custom still exists – as in Jacob's day – that a man wooing a maiden enters the service of his prospective mother-in-law. Marriage by purchase still exists in our very midst, in fact, in bourgeois society it is more generally established than at any other time. The money marriages, so prevalent among our propertied classes, are nothing more than marriage by purchase. As a symbol of the purchase whereby the woman becomes the man's property, the bridal gift, which it is customary for the man to give his fiancee, may also be regarded.

Beside marriage by purchase we find marriage by rape. Robbery of women was practiced not only by the ancient Jews, but practically by all nations of antiquity. The best-known historical example is the rape of the Sabines, by the Romans. Robbery of women became the custom quite naturally wherever women were scarce or where polygamy existed, as everywhere in the Orient. There especially this custom was wide-spread during the duration of the Arabian realm from the seventh to the twelfth century before Christ.

In a symbolical way marriage by rape is still practised among the Araunanians in the southern part of Chile. While the would-be bridegroom's friends bargain with the girl's father, the man himself slinks about the house and tries to catch the girl. As soon as he has grasped her he lifts her on his horse and carries her away toward the forest. Thereupon men, women and children set up a loud clamor and try to prevent the flight. But as soon as the man has succeeded in reaching the shelter of the forest the woman is considered his wife. This is the case even if the robbery was perpetrated against the parents' will. Similar customs are met with among Australian tribes.

Among civilized nations the custom of wedding journeys still serves as a reminder of the ancient rape of women; the bride is abducted from her paternal hearth. In the same way the exchange of wedding rings is a symbol of the old submissiveness of woman and her being chained to the man. This custom originated in Rome. The bride received all iron ring from her husband to signify that she was chained to him. Later on th is ring was made of gold, and much later still the exchange of rings was introduced to signify the mutual bond.

Polygamy has existed and still exists among the Orientals; but owing to the limited number of women that are at a man’s disposal, and owing to the expense of their maintenance, it is at present practised only by the privileged and propertied classes. The counter-part of polygamy is polyandry. This is found especially among the mountaineers of Thibet, the Garras living at the boundary of India and China, the Baigas in Godwana, the Nairs in the southernmost part of India, and also among the Eskimos and Aleuts. Descent is determined on the mother’s side – as must needs be the case – and the children belong to her. The woman’s husbands usually are brothers. If an oldest brother marries, the other brothers thereby become husbands to his wife. But she has the right to take other husbands beside these. The, men also are entitled to several wives. From what conditions polyandry sprang is as yet unexplained. As the tribes practising polyandry without exception live either in mountainous regions of a high attitude or in the frigid zone, polyandry may perhaps be explained by a phenomenon that Tarnowsky has pointed out.[14] Tarnowsgy was told by reliable travelers that a lengthy sojourn on high altitudes greatly diminishes sexual desire, which reawakens with renewed vigor upon descending. This diminution of sexual desire, so Tarnowsky believes, might explain the slow increase in population in mountainous regions, and by becoming hereditary might be one of the symptoms of degeneration leading to perversity.

Continuous living in high altitudes or in frigid zones might in the same manner signify that polyandry did not make extraordinary demands on women. Women themselves are influenced accordingly by their nature, since among Eskimo girls menstruation, as a rule, does not set in until the nineteenth year, while in the torrid zone it sets in with the ninth or tenth year, and in the temperate zone between the fourteenth and sixteenth year. It is generally known that hot countries have a stimulating effect upon sexual desire; that is why polygamy is especially prevalent in hot countries. In the same way cold lands, and high altitudes having a similar climate, may have a restrictive influence. It is also a matter of experience that conception is less frequent when a woman has cohabitation with several men. The increase in population is, therefore, weak where polyandry exists, and is adapted to the difficulty of obtaining food in cold climes and high altitudes. This goes to show that even in regard to this strange custom of polyandry, the relations of the sexes are in the last instance determined by the methods of production. It still remains to be investigated whether the frequent killing of female infants is practised among the tribes living in mountainous regions or in the frigid zone, as has been reported of Mongolian tribes living in the mountainous regions of China.

5. – Rise of the State. – Dissolution of the Gens in Rome.

After the dissolution of the matriarchal gens, the patriarchal gens took its place with considerably diminished functions. The chief function of the patriarchal gens was the strict observation of common religious and funeral rites and mutual aid and protection. It entailed the right, and sometimes the duty, to marry within the gens; the latter being the case especially in regard to rich heiresses and orphans. The gens also controlled all the remaining common property.

With the rise of private property and the right of inheritance connected with it, class distinctions and class antagonism came into existence. In the course of time the propertied members made common cause against the propertyless ones. The former sought to gain control of the administrative positions and to make them hereditary. Finance had become a necessity and entailed conditions of indebtedness that had previously been unknown. Struggles against external enemies, internal conflicts of interest, and the varied interests and relations created by agriculture, industry and trade, necessitated a complicated system of laws and the formation of public bodies destined to keep the social machine in orderly motion and to settle disputes. The same was true concerning the relations of masters and slaves, debtors and creditors. Thus a power was needed to control all these relations, to conduct, regulate, arbitrate, protect and punish. The state came into existence as a necessary product of the new social order based on conflicting interests. Its direction naturally was assumed by those who had the greatest interest in its founding and who, thanks to their social power, were most influential: the propertied classes. Thus aristocracy of wealth and democracy opposed one another, even where complete equality of political rights was maintained.

During the old matriarchal system no written law existed. Conditions were simple and custom was hallowed. In the new, far more complicated order, written law became one of the urgent necessities and special officials were needed for its administration. But as the legal relations became more and more complicated, a special class of persons arose, devoted exclusively to the study of law and having a special interest in still further complicating them. The jurists, the lawyers, came into Existence, and owing to the importance of the law to the body social, they soon became one of the most influential estates. The new civic jurisprudence in the course of time found its most classic expression in the Roman state, that explains the influence exerted by Roman law down to the present time.

We see then that the state organization is the natural outcome of a society divided into a great variety of occupations and having varied, frequently opposing and contending, interests. An inevitable result was oppression of the weaker members. This truth was recognized by the Nabastaeans, an Arabian tribe, who, according to Diodorus, issued the command neither to sow nor to plant, to drink no wine, and to build no houses, but to live in tents, for if they did all these things they might be compelled to obey by a superior power (the state). Among the Rachebites, the descendants of the father-in-law of Moses, we find similar decrees.[15] In fact, Mosaic law is framed in a manner destined to prevent the Jews from developing beyond the stage of an agricultural society, because their lawmakers feared that it might bring about the downfall of their democratic, communistic organization. For the same reasons the “holy land” was selected in a territory that was bounded on the one side by a mountain range which was difficult of access, the Libanon, and on the other, especially in the East and South, by barren lands and a desert, making isolation possible. For the same reasons, moreover, the Jews were kept at a distance from the sea, which is favorable to commerce, colonization and the acquirement of wealth. For the same reasons there were strict laws forbidding mingling and intermarriage with other nations; and the poor laws, the agrarian laws, the year of jubilee, all were institutions destined to prevent the acquirement of great fortunes by individuals. The Jews were to be prevented from becoming a state-forming nation. That is why the old gentile constitution founded on tribal organization was maintained by them until their dissolution, and has left its traces among them even to-day.

Apparently the Latin tribes who participated in the foundation of Rome had already superseded the matriarchal development. As previously stated, they robbed the women who were wanting among them from the tribe of the Sabines and called themselves Quirites after these. At a much later date the Roman citizens in the popular assembly were still addressed as Quirites. “Populus Romanus” designated the free population of Rome generally; but “populus Romanus quiritium” designated Roman citizenship by descent. The Roman gens was patriarchal; the children’ inherited from their natural parent. In case there were no children the property fell to relatives on the man’s side, and if these were wanting, It fell to the gens. By marriage the woman lost all rights of inheritance to her father’s property and that of her father’s brothers. She withdrew from her gens, and thus neither she nor her children could inherit from her father or his brothers. Otherwise the hereditary portion would have been lost to the paternal gens. The division into gentes and phratries for centuries remained the foundation of military organization and the enactment of civic rights. But with the decay of the patriarchal gentes and the decline of their significance, conditions became more favorable to Roman women. They not only obtained the right of inheritance, they also obtained the right to control their own fortunes; they accordingly held a far more favorable position than their Greek sisters. This freer position gradually won by them, gave the elder Cato – born 234 B. C. – cause for the following complaint: “If the head of each family, following the example of his ancestors, would seek to maintain his wife in proper submissiveness, the entire sex would not give so much trouble publicly.” When a few tribunes in the year 195 B. C., moved to repeal a law enacted previously, for the purpose of restricting the luxury of women in dress and personal adornment, he stormed: “If each of us had maintained his manly authority with his own wife, we would have less bother here with all the women. Our power that has been shattered in the home, now is being broken and trampled upon in the forum too by the unruliness of women, and because we are incapable of resisting them individually, we fear them all together. Our ancestors decided that women should not even attend to their private affairs without the control of a guardian, that they should be subject to their fathers, brothers, husbands. But we submit to it that they take possession of the republic and interfere with the popular assembly. If you give free reign to the imperious natures of these unruly creatures, do not imagine that they will recognize any limits of their tyranny. The truth is that they desire freedom, nay, dissoluteness, in all things, and when they have begun to be our equals, they will soon be our superiors.”

At the time Cato delivered this speech the father was guardian to his daughter during his lifetime, even when she was married, unless he appointed another guardian. When the father died the nearest male relative assumed the guardianship. The guardian had the right to transfer this guardianship to whomever and whenever he pleased. Originally then the Roman woman had no will of her own before the law.

The forms of marriage ceremonies were varied and underwent many changes in the course of the centuries. The most ceremonious marriage ceremony was performed by the high priest in the presence of at least ten witnesses, whereupon the bridal pair ate a cake made of flour, salt and water as a symbol of their union. This ceremony has a strong resemblance to the eating of the sacramental wafer at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. A second form of marriage was merely by taking possession. If a woman had lived with her chosen husband under the same roof for one year, with the consent of her father or guardian, the marriage was legalized. A third form was a sort of mutual purchase. The man and woman exchanged some coins and promised to be husband and wife. At the time of Cicero[16] free divorce to both partners in the marriage contract was already established, and it was even denied that an announcement of the divorce was necessary. But the “lex Julia de adultriis” prescribed that a divorce must be solemnly announced. This law was caused by the frequent occurrence that women, having committed adultery and then having been called to account, claimed to have divorced their husbands. Justinian (The Christian)[17] prohibited divorce, except when both parties wished to enter a monastery. But his successor, Justinian II, found it necessary to introduce it again.

As Rome grew in wealth and power, vice and licentiousness of the worst kind replaced the moral austerity of its early days. Rome became the center from which lewdness, debauchery and sensual finesse spread over the entire civilized world of that period. Especially during the time of the emperors, and frequently encouraged by the emperors themselves, the debauchery assumed forms that could only have been inspired by insanity. Men and women vied with each other in immorality. The number of public brothels increased rapidly, and besides the “Greek love” (sodomy) was practised more and more by the men. At one time the number of male prostitutes in Rome was greater than the number of female prostitutes.

The courtesans appeared in great pomp, surrounded by their admirers, on the streets and the promenade, in the circus and theater, sometimes reclining on couches carried by Negroes, holding a mirror in their hand, decked with jewels, partly nude, fanned by slaves, surrounded by a swarm of boys, eunuchs and flute-players, with grotesque dwarfs bringing up the rear.

These debaucheries assumed such dimensions in the Roman empire, that they threatened its very existence. The bad example set by men, was followed by women. There were women, so Seneca[18] reports, who did not count years by the consuls, as was customary, but by the number of their husbands. Adultery was general, and in order to escape the severe penalties attached to it, women had themselves registered as prostitutes. Even some of the most aristocratic ladies of Rome were among these.

Besides these debaucheries, civil wars and the system of the latifundia caused such a marked decline of the marriage and birth-rate, that the number of Roman citizens and patricians was greatly diminished. In the year 16 B. C. Augustus enacted the so-called Julian law;[19] that placed a penalty upon the unmarried state of Roman citizens and patricians, and rewarded them for having children. Whoever had children was deemed of higher station than childless or unmarried persons. Unmarried persons could not inherit property from anyone except their nearest relatives. People who had no children could only claim half of an inheritance, the other half was turned over to the state. Women who had been convicted of adultery, were compelled to give a part of their dowery to their deceived husbands. This provision caused some men to marry with a desire for adultery on the part of their wives. That caused Plutarch to remark: “Romans do not marry to have heirs, but to become heirs.” Later on the Julian law was still increased in severity. Tiberius issued an edict that no woman whose grandfather, father or husband had been or was a Roman knight, might prostitute herself. Married women, who had their names entered in the lists of prostitutes, should be banished from Italy. For the men, of course, no such punishments existed. As Juvenal reports, husband-murder by poison was a frequent occurrence in Rome of his day.


1. In the oldest quarter of Prague is an old synagogue, built during the sixth century, the oldest synagogue in Germany. Upon descending about seven steps into the dusky chamber, the visitor beholds a row of small loop-holes on the opposite wall leading into an utterly dark room. Upon inquiry we are told by the guide that this is the woman’s room, where the women attended services. Modern synagogues are less gloomy, but the separation of men and women is still maintained.

2. Backofen: “The Matriarchate.”

3. “Homer’s “Odyssee.”

4. Homer’s “Odyssee.”

5. “Comedies by Aristophanes.”

6. The theatre, to which Greek women were not admitted.

7. “German History of Manners and Civilization,” by Johann Scherr. Sudermann deals with the same subject in his drama, “Honor.”

8. Plato: “The State.”

9. Backofen: “The Matriarchate.”

10. K. Kautsky: “Origin of Marriage and the Family.” Kosmos, 1883.

11. Mantagazza: “Love in Human Society.”

12. Similar conditions are still met with in Camerun and in other parts of Western Africa. A German naval surgeon who studied the land and people from his own observations sends us the following information: “Among a great many tribes the right of inheritance is founded on maternity. Paternity is a matter of indifference, only children of the same mother consider one another brothers and sisters. A man does not will his property to his own children, but to his sisters' children, his nephews and nieces, who can be shown to be his nearest blood relations. A chief of the Way tribe explained to me in broken English: ‘My sister and I surely are blood relations, for we are children of the same mother. My sister again surely is the blood relation of her son. So her son is my heir, and when I die he will be king of my town.’ ‘And your father?’ I asked. I do not know what that is, my father,’ he replied. When I then went on to ask him whether he had no children of his own, he was convulsed with laughter and replied that with them not men but only women had children. I can assure you,” our informant goes on to say, “that even the heir of King Bell in Camerun is not his son, but his nephew. The children of Bell, many of whom are being trained in German cities, are but the children of his wives, while their fathers are unknown. One of them I might lay claim to myself.” – How are the people who deny the existence of maternal law impressed by this description of present-day conditions?! Our informant is a keen observer who goes to the bottom of things. But few who live among these savages do so. Therefore we are given such false descriptions of the alleged “immorality” of the natives.

13. H. v. Weislocky: “Sketches of the Life of the Transylvanian Gypsies.”

14. Tarnowsky: “Pathological Phenomena of Sexual Desire.”

15. “Mosaic Law,” by John David Michaelis.

16. Born 106 B. C.

17. From 527 to 565 A. D.

18. Seneca lived from 2 to 65 A. D.

19. Augustus, the adopted son of Caesar, was by adoption a member of the Gens Julia, from which the Julian law derived its name.