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The building Z3 of the Kerameikos in Athens offers a very good example of the questions arising when studying women at work in the iv th century BC and outside the private context of the household. The disposition of the rooms and the material excavated lead to the identification of building Z3 as a textile fabric and, perhaps, a place for prostitution.
Without offering answers to all questions about the organization of labor in the well-known Athenian workshops area, the document highlights some important features: the systematic use of slave-labor, the confusion between housing and working place, the versatility of activities, including sexual tasks. Situated near the Dipylon Gate and the Sacred Gate, just within the internal boundaries of the city, it lies in what ancient authors call the Kerameikos district, a neighborhood on the periphery where pottery workshops grew up on both sides of the walls the classical necropolis being situated outside them.
Excavations conducted by Greek archeologists beginning in the s, and since by a German team led by Ursula Knigge, allow us to retrace the history of the building, today identified as Building Z, and interpreted simultaneously as a textile factory and a brothel. It was succeeded by a second building Z2 which, this time, did not survive the destruction of the city walls by the Spartans, after their victory over the Athenians in BCE.
In the aftermath of that defeat, workshops and shops very gradually revived their business, especially from the middle of the fourth century, south of the Sacred Way, the principal axis of Athens that passes through the walls at precisely the spot that interests us here. This was the context in which the building Z3 was rebuilt and would remain in use down to the end of the fourth century when an earthquake completely destroyed it.
Figure 1. Figure 2. The sloping tiled roof channeled rainwater into three large, subterranean cisterns that were connected to one another by an underground network. The main entrance was from the northeast and opened onto a large courtyard furnished with a well. Most of the rooms were arranged along the western side of the large courtyard, and coated with red stucco — the floor of the largest one to the north being decorated with colored mosaics.
A second entrance, at the southeast, opened onto a smaller courtyard and group of smaller sized rooms — one of which had a decorated floor.
A considerable of loom weights Fig. Lastly, goddess statuettes and depictions on amulets suggest a predominantly erotic and feminine register. The medal illustrated here, a little over 8 cm in diameter, is the most beautiful and famous example: we see a female figure, generally identified as Aphrodite, seated sidesaddle on a goat crossing the starry night sky. Phosphoros, the morning star, holds a light and precedes the mounted figure, while a vertical ladder separates them.
An Eros and a dove? Figure 3. Figure 4. The high of loom weights, often in pyramidal shape as illustrated here essentially demonstrates the existence of a weaving workshop in each room. This fact, taken into consideration with the presence of cisterns and close proximity to a waterway, the Eridanos, is sufficient evidence for the archeologists to assert that it was a textile factory. In light of its size and the importance of wool-working, the building appears to have been much more than a simple dwelling.
The Attic orators of the same period inform us of the existence of shield, knife, and furniture factories that employed between 20 and workers each. Yet not a single textile factory is documented in the texts. We should thus stress the importance of the supplemental information furnished by archeology: the workshops for producing ceramics, very prevalent throughout this zone, are similarly attested primarily by the excavations conducted on site.
Slave labor, in contrast, was characterized by service for only one employer the master or boss to whom the master rented out his slaveby the monotony of repetitive work performed at one location, and by the lack of any future prospects.
That does not necessarily mean that only women were obliged to perform it. The term for wool-workers, talasiourgoicould grammatically be applied to either sex. That said, though, the term appears frequently in inscriptions documenting the dedication of bowls, phialai exeleutherikaiwhich attest to about slave manumissions in Athens in the last twenty years of the fourth century, and is always used to deate women. These inscriptions mention the price paid for manumission — a silver cup worth drachmas — and sometimes give the name and occupation of the person manumitted.
A man is never associated with this activity. The building was probably open to all who, in this quarter of diverse activities shops, dwellings, necropolis located at the intersection of important thoroughfares, had some money to spend on entertainment where social interaction mattered. Fragments of fourth-century comic authors, moreover, also cited by Athenaeus, mention these public brothels, where the girls were shown half-naked to clients. Placed under the authority of a brothel-keeper, the pornoboskoswho could be male or female, they were made available to their clients on site or rented out.
Such work would enable them, they claim, to make enough money — or relationships — to escape their miserable state:. That is what one worker, Nikarete, argues, if we believe an epigram attributed to a certain Nikarchos:. Put differently, wool work and sex work are occupations that are associated explicitly in the votive dedications and implicitly in the records of manumission.
Unfortunately, the isolated nature of the medal and the polysemy of its iconography prevent us from proposing any one unequivocal interpretation. The motif of women riding a mount — often a goat, billy or nanny — in a field of stars, and accompanied by a ladder or doves, suggests several webs of meaning.
Is it an invocation of Heavenly Aphrodite Uraniawhose cult is attested in Athens? Does the ladder ify the desire for communication between that divinity and the earthly world of mortals? Or should it be understood as symbolic of a wall that must be scaled for secret, prenuptial, or illicit meetings, for instance on festivals in honor of Aphrodite and Adonis? Or is it rather a symbol of the transition to adult sexuality, especially for young males? Nothing can be said for certain. For them, prostitution, even under duress, could have represented the hope of winning their freedom.
Today on the site of the ancient factory, visitors can see the foundations of the exterior and interior walls of Building Z, as well as the remains of a peristyle house built in the first century BCE — the only trace that remains of the women who worked there. C ohenEdward E. Free and unfree sexual work: an economic analysis of Athenian prostitution.
In Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient Worlded. Christopher A. F araone and Laura K. M cClure Chicago: University of Wisconsin Press. D avidsonJames N. Courtesans and Fishcakes: the consuming passions of Classical Athens. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. K niggeUrsula. The Athenian Kerameikos: history, monuments, excavations. Der Bau Z. Kerameikos: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen L educClaudine, and Pauline S chmitt Pantel.
Autour des ouvrages de James Davidson Courtesans and Fishcakes. M onacoMaria Chiara. Arianna Esposito and Giorgos M. Sanidas Lille: Presses universitaires du Septentrion. P irenne-DelforgeVinciane.
T oddStephen C. Status and Gender in Athenian Public Records. W renhavenKelly L. Hesperia Sebillotte univ-paris1. Site map — Contact — Website credits — Syndication. OpenEdition member — Published with Lodel — Administration only. Skip to — Site map. Clio Women, Gender, History. Contents - Next document. Violaine Sebillotte Cuchet. Keywords: Athensclassical periodarchaeologyeconomyworkertextilesprostitution. Full text PDF k Send by e-mail. Zoom Original png, 82k. Zoom Original jpeg, k.
Zoom Original png, k. Zoom Original png, 3. Bibliography C ohenEdward E. Notes 1 Knigge Top of. List of illustrations Title Figure 1. Translator John Dillon Top of .
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