Greek women have played an essential role in shaping the history and culture not just of Greece, but of the world. Throughout the ages, Greek women have made significant contributions to society, politics, arts, literature, and sciences.
As a tribute to International Women’s Day, held globally on the 8 March each year in celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, we honour just some of these Greek women who have left a lasting impact on history through their achievements.
Great Greek Women of the Past
In ancient Greece, women were not considered equal to men and were restricted to certain roles, such as taking care of the home and children. However, there were still exceptional Greek women who defied social norms and achieved great things.
Sappho (c. 620-570 BCE)
Sappho was a lyric poet who lived on the island of Lesbos. She is considered one of the greatest poets of all time, and her work has influenced generations of writers. Her poems, which celebrated love and beauty, were known for their emotional intensity and musical quality.
Aspasia (c. 470-400 BCE)
Another remarkable Greek woman was Aspasia (c. 470-400 BCE) Aspasia was a philosopher and stateswoman who was the companion to the Athenian statesman Pericles. She was a noted intellectual who ran a school for young women and was renowned for her intelligence, eloquence and wisdom. As the trusted political advisor to Pericles, her influence was widely felt in Athenian politics.
Hypatia (c. 370-415 CE)
Hypatia was a philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who lived in Alexandria. She was the daughter of the philosopher Theon, and she studied under his guidance. Hypatia was a renowned teacher who attracted students from all over the world. She was also a feminist who advocated for women's rights and education.
Cleopatra VII (69 BCE - 30 BCE)
While Cleopatra was born in Egypt she traced her family origins to Macedonian Greece and Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Ptolemy reigned Egypt after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. and he launched a dynasty of Greek-speaking rulers that lasted for almost three centuries. Cleopatra was the last queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. She is remembered for her beauty, intelligence, and political savvy, as well as her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Olympias (c. 375-316 BCE)
Olympias was the mother of Alexander the Great and a powerful figure in Macedonian politics. She was known for her intelligence and her strong will, and she played a crucial role in Alexander's upbringing. Olympias was also a devout follower of the cult of Dionysus, and she used her influence to advance the interests of the cult.
Agnodice (4th century BCE)
Agnodice was a physician who lived in Athens. She cut off her hair and disguised herself as a man in order to attend medical school, as women were not allowed to study medicine at the time. Agnodice became a skilled physician and was beloved by her patients. She was eventually discovered to be a woman, but her patients rallied to her defense, and the law banning women from studying medicine was repealed. Agnodice was the first female midwife in ancient Athens.
Laskarina Bouboulina (1771-1825)
Laskarina Bouboulina was a naval commander who played a crucial role in the Greek War of Independence. She commanded a fleet of ships that played a key role in the battles against the Ottoman Empire, and she was instrumental in the liberation of many Greek islands. Bouboulina is a national hero in Greece, and her legacy is celebrated to this day.
Eleni Gatzoyiannis (1913-1943)
Eleni Gatzoyiannis was a resistance fighter who fought against the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II. When the Germans invaded Greece in 1941, Gatzoyiannis immediately joined the resistance. In 1943, Gatzoyiannis was captured by the Germans and was tortured for information. Despite the torture, she refused to betray her fellow resistance fighters. She was executed by firing squad on April 9, 1943, at the age of 30. Gatzoyiannis is remembered as a hero in Greece for her bravery and sacrifice and posthumously awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of the Phoenix, one of Greece's highest honours, in recognition of her service to her country.
Melina Mercouri (1920 - 1994)
Moving into more modern times, Greek women have continued to make significant contributions. For example, Melina Mercouri, an actress, and politician, was a prominent figure in Greece during the 20th century. She was an advocate for cultural preservation and worked tirelessly to promote Greek culture and art both within Greece and abroad.
Great Greek Women of the Present
There are many influential Greek women who are making significant contributions in various fields today. Here are just a few examples of the many influential Greek women who are currently making a difference in the world.
Helen Papagiannis (present day)
Greek women have also made strides in the sciences. One such noteworthy woman is Dr. Helen Papagiannis, an augmented reality expert, and author. She is considered a leading authority in the field of AR and has worked with companies such as Google, Zoom, Adobe, PepsiCo, Louis Vuitton, Microsoft and Marvel to develop AR experiences.
Angeliki Frangou (present day)
Angeliki Frangou is a prominent businesswoman who has had a significant impact on the shipping industry and is considered one of the most powerful women in Greece. She is the chairman, chief executive officer and Director of Navios Maritime Holdings, of Navios Maritime Partners L.P., of Navios Tankers Management Inc. and Navios Maritime Acquisition Corporation. In 2014 Frangou was listed 11th in the Lloyd's List Top 100 Most Influential People in Shipping list. In 2013, Frangou was mentioned on CNN's International Leading Women. In 2011, she was named the 50th most powerful businesswoman in Fortune Magazine. Also, she was named as Connecticut Maritime Association's Commodore for the year 2011.
Marianna Vardinoyannis (present day)
Marianna Vardinoyannis is a philanthropist and human rights activist who has dedicated her life to fighting for children's rights and humanitarian causes. Married to Greek shipping magnate Vardis Vardinogiannis, Marianna is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She founded the "Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation", which focuses on issues such as child health, education, and protection against child sexual abuse..
Sofia Bekatorou (present day)
Sofia Bekatorou is a former Olympic sailing champion and a prominent advocate for women's rights. She has participated in over hundreds of main class events including 2004 Summer Olympics sailing competition where she won the gold medal in the women’s double-handed dinghy event with her partner Emilia Tsoulfa. Bekatorou was the first female flag bearer for Greece in the history of Summer Olympics at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Bekatorou started the Hellenic #MeToo movement (#MeTinSofia). In January 2021, she publicly accused a high-ranking member of the Greek Sailing Federation of sexually assaulting her when she was a young athlete, triggering a wave of resignations across the Hellenic Sailing Club (HSC) and inspiring a number of other high profile Greek women to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
Lina Mendoni (present day)
Lina Mendoni is the Minister of Culture and Sports in Greece and a prominent archaeologist. She has played a key role in the preservation of Greece's cultural heritage, including the Acropolis.
Nana Mouskouri (present day)
Nana Mouskouri is a famous Greek singer and politician who has sold over 300 million records worldwide in at least 12 languages including Greek, French, English, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Hebrew, Welsh, Mandarin Chinese and Corsican. She was also a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999.
Maria Spiropulu (present day)
Maria Spiropulu is a particle physicist who currently works at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the United States. She has made significant contributions to the study of the Higgs boson and is considered one of the most influential physicists of our time. In 2008, Spiropulu was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for her leadership in experimental high-energy physics, in particular for her pioneering efforts in the experimental search for supersymmetry and extra dimensions. In 2014, she was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Throughout history, Greek women have contributed significantly to society, culture, the arts and much more. Their intelligence, creativity, and perseverance have made an indelible mark on the world, and they continue to inspire future generations of women to achieve greatness.
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