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ROYAL WOMEN

The Persian kings, and all Persian men of the upper class, practiced polygamy. Royal wives were either family members (sisters, nieces, daughters, etc.) or the daughters of high-ranking Persian families. Royal women could own great estates and personally manage their business on the estates. Wives and concubines lived in separate quarters (a harem) guarded by eunuchs and were never seen in public. The first Persian king who allowed his principal wife to ride in an open carriage to be seen in public was Artaxerxes in the late 5th Century B.C., considerably after the period of Xerxes.

In addition the Persian king had 360 concubines. According to ancient sources, the Persian king was supposed to visit each one on a different night of the year. The number of concubines is clearly ritual in nature. Women raised male children exclusively for the first five years of their lives during which time their fathers never had anything to do with their daily lives. After five, they were raised by their fathers. There were also hundreds of women designated as concubines who were servants and entertainers in the palace.

Royal princesses may have lived more public lives outside the harem. Some of them were trained to use weapons and to ride. Indeed, women warriors were part of Persian folk lore. Aristocratic women in general were educated. Nor were high status women taught to work in wool as all Greek women were. But like royal women, they led secluded lives. Persian women of all ranks participated in religious festivals and organized their own feasts. However, a sign of their secondary status is that Persian women are only rarely portrayed in Persian art.


a rare portrayal of a Persian woman on a seal