Title of the work
Country of the First Edition
Country/countries of popularity
First Edition Date
First Edition Details
Mattel, Princess of Ancient Greece™ Barbie® Doll, 2003.
barbie.mattel.com (accessed: August 2, 2022).
Young adults (Mattel suggest that this doll is for adult collectors, which they define as those aged 14 and up)
We are still trying to obtain permission for posting the original cover.
Author of the Entry:
Aimee Hinds, University of Roehampton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Daniel A. Nkemleke, University of Yaoundé 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Logo retrieved from Wikipedia, public domain (accessed: January 11, 2022).
Mattel, Inc. (Company)
Originally launched in 1959, Barbie was founded by businesswoman, inventor, and co-owner of Mattel, Ruth Handler as an opportunity for girls to play with dolls that allowed them a wider range of imaginative roles, in line with the range of toys available to boys at the time. From the early 1960s, Barbie has had over 200 careers to date.
barbie.mattel.com (accessed: January 27, 2020).
Prepared by Aimee Hinds, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
This collector’s edition doll depicts the ‘Princess of Ancient Greece’. Unlike many of the ancient Greece inspired dolls produced by Barbie (including three versions of Athena (here, here and here), two versions of Aphrodite (here and here), Medusa, and Flora/Chloris, all also surveyed on this database), this doll does not depict a mythical character but a representation of a real (royal) woman. The doll is dressed in a tight-fitting coppery pleated dress (identified by the box text as a chiton) with a sheer white cloak-like garment with a gold patterned border draped over the top and fixed at one shoulder. Her clothes are fixed with large golden buttons in the shape of lion heads. She wears a laurel crown around her hair, described on the website as a “classic Grecian chignon”. She also wears large golden hoop style earrings and a golden snake wrist cuff.
The box is relatively sparsely decorated: the backgrounds of box the inside and outside illustrate the same image of a colonnaded building and some countryside. The back of the box also features two images of the doll’s character in different scenes: in one she sits weaving at a loom, in the other – highly reminiscent of some of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s paintings of similar scenes – she stands next to two seated women under a tree, against the backdrop of the sea. The box text focuses on specific historical “facts”, including a description of the Greek landscape; a distinction between democratic and monarchic states; past-times for (royal) women, including weaving and its relationship to myth; and, like the other classical-adjacent doll in the series (the Princess of the Nile, also surveyed on this database), a description and explanation of her clothing and cosmetics.
Like other dolls in the Dolls of the World Princess series (including the Princess of the Nile, also surveyed on this database), the Princess of Ancient Greece is presented as being grounded in history rather than fantasy or myth. However, the box text is non-specific about her time period or geographical region, despite making certain distinctions clear (“Here flourishes a great civilization that will last over a thousand years. Democracy flourishes in many city-states, but some places are ruled by a king”). While the text also refers to a “classical age”, we cannot be sure that it is the classical period that is being referred to, given the information about the long life of ancient Greek civilisation as asserted elsewhere. Mattel recognise the limits of where the doll can be representative of – for example, she is not likely to be representative of Athens, a city famously democratic from the fifth century B.C. (although her identification with Athens is not ruled out by the specified thousand-year time period). However, it is also not likely to occur to a non-specialist that Athens might have not been democratic for the entire millennium. The idea of the doll as the ‘Princess of Ancient Greece’ has a flattening effect on the spatial and temporal framework that is set up by the history presented on the box, eliding the many Greek city-states and their various types of rule and presenting ‘ancient Greece’ as a homogenous culture across time and space (Milnor 2005: 225). There are thus even fewer clues to any definitive identity derived from real figures for this doll than its Egyptian counterpart, the Princess of the Nile, given the lack of identifying features and the many different versions of royal rule across ancient Greece through time.
As with the Princess of the Nile doll, education is apparently an important facet of this doll. The collectible dolls are not supposed to provide an education through role-playing. Instead they teach the consumer through the information on the box, a part of the product that is meant to be intricately linked with the doll; indeed, the doll is incomprehensible as a ‘Princess of Ancient Greece’ (as opposed to a goddess, mythical figure and/or from a different culture) without the box. As Milnor (2005: 218) points out, historicity is crucial to these dolls as a way of rethinking the educational potential of Barbie and marketing it to adult collectors.
The historicity itself feeds Barbie’s familiar links with stereotypical ideas of womanliness and femininity. The box text defines the difference between men’s and women’s experience in ancient Greece almost immediately: “Her palace is divided into the andron, an area for the men, and the gynaikon, an area for the women”. The princess can read and write but spends most of her time playing games. Of paramount importance is her wool-working (As the box text states, “In Greece, spinning wool and weaving it into cloth are so important even noblewomen and queens weave”), and her looks: “It is fashionable for women to look pale and delicate, so the princess wears white powder. Her beauty regime includes rubbing olive oil into her skin to soften and cleanse it.” Similar to her earlier Great Eras counterpart (Grecian Goddess), the text positions the Princess of Ancient Greece comfortably into a patriarchal world where women look and behave in particular, stereotypical ways.
The doll’s dress is clearly historically inspired, and largely accurate within the confines of Barbie’s own presentation. The chiton is, as described on the box, fixed at the shoulders as the real garment would have been, although Barbie’s version is tightly fitted like a sheath dress rather than representing the loose-fitting historical garment. The doll’s hairstyle is described as a ‘Grecian chignon’. Ancient Greek hairstyles were similar to the modern chignon, although the doll’s hair is more like contemporary hairstyles seen on popular celebrities, tying it into popular culture and making it more attractive as a consumer item by giving the doll a modern twist that can be passed off as a historically-inspired feature. The doll’s modern appearance may also attract the younger consumer by offsetting the overtly educational nature of the box.