As ancient Greek history has played such a pivotal role in subsequent cultures throughout time, that to learn about women in this society enhances our understanding of western civilization. Ancient Greece was not a united nation, but a collection of individual sovereign communities with a common language, and similar religious rituals and beliefs. Communication was difficult due to the numerous islands and mountainous terrain that bisected the communities of people. Democracy, classical art and architecture, philosophy, and drama all can trace their lineage to ancient Greece. Antique vases and statues abound with figures of women, some carrying over to modern times. The Statue of Liberty in New York harbor is based on the Greek style of depicting a female goddess. In front of the United States Supreme Court building sits justice, portrayed as a Greco-Roman female goddess. The state seal of Virginia shows a man fighting ancient female amazons, and classical Greek women such as liberty appeared on America dimes, quarters and dollars. While classical Greek culture, which flourished between 500-330 b.c.e., contributed the most to our knowledge of Greece, earlier and later periods are also worthy of attention. .
Numerous problems present themselves in reconstructing the life of women in ancient Greece. Many of the historical sources have been lost, and histories preserved from the past were written by upper class men for their own edification. A few fragments of women's writing exist, including lines from Sappho's poetry. Controversy surrounds the interpretation of these and other artifactual evidence, and thus how women were viewed. For instance, many of the Greek vases depicting women show them handing warriors their helmets as they prepare for battle, and so some scholars point to the passive role of women. Reading the plays of the classical playwrights give us evidence of women as strong, central characters in Greek tragedies and epics.