Ten Athenian Wives: 
The Maidens of the Parthenon East Frieze

Margaret N. Clark

Case Western Reserve University

     Although numerous studies address the iconography of the architectural sculptures of the Parthenon, most neglect the maidens of the Parthenon's east frieze and their relationship to the themes of the Parthenon program.  Specifically, ten of the 29 women on the east frieze are—characterized by their clothing, hairstyle, and ritual implements—married women.  Alone the group of ten lacks consequence, but viewed within the context of the entire sculptural program of the Parthenon, this group reveals the shifting social and political roles of contemporary women.  During the mid-fifth century, the role of the well-bred Athenian woman changed.  The Periclean citizenship law of 451 B.C. made Athenian women indirect participants in the Athenian political arena by designating them the sole bearers of citizen male children.  The maidens rendered on the east frieze of the Parthenon are exactly the type of refined women desired by contemporary Athenian politicians. 

     Significantly, other groups of ten found on the Parthenon frieze, including the eponymoi of the east frieze and the cavalry ranks of the south frieze, signify the ten democratic tribal divisions of democratic Athens implemented in 506 B.C. for male citizens.  The Parthenon's possible depiction of women as representatives of exclusively male political groups is not only the first of its kind from ancient Greece, but also reinforces the importance of the overarching themes of the protection of marriage and autochthony found throughout the sculptural program of the Parthenon.

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