Athenian Social Life: a summary

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Athenian Social Life: A Summary

  • Achievement Standard 2.3: Examine in essay format an aspect of the classical world
  • You must know about the social life of classical Athens, with particular reference to:
  • Social divisions (including slavery)
  • The family (including rites of passages and the role of women)
  • Daily life (including living conditions, domestic religion and festivals)
  • education and entertainment.

Essay Writing

  • Remember - to pass your essays must have:
  • A clear introduction that addresses the question
  • Paragraphs that have points backed up by accurate examples, including primary evidence – Greek words, authors, art-works or buildings
  • A conclusion that sums up your main ideas
  • Avoid first person (“I”), abbreviations and slang

An Example Question (2004)

  • ‘From his earliest childhood and for the rest of his life, there are people teaching a man …’ (Plato, Protagoras)
  • Examine the education that the son of an Athenian citizen might have received in the fifth century BC. Describe in detail the:
  • • purpose of education
  • • learning environment (school buildings, teachers, learning tools, learning methods)
  • • curriculum.
  • Then discuss how education differed for rich and poor, boy and girl.
  • Achievement Criteria
  • Achievement
  • Achievement with Merit
  • Achievement with Excellence
  • Examine, with supporting evidence, an aspect of the classical world.
  • Examine in detail, with supporting evidence, an aspect of the classical world.
  • Discuss, with supporting evidence, an aspect of the classical world. .
  • Write clearly and relevantly in essay format.
  • Write a well-organised response in essay format.
  • Write a focused and effective response in essay format.
  • Overall Level of Performance (all criteria within a column are met)

An Example Excellence Paragraph

  • The curriculum of Ancient Athenian schools was based around literacy, music and physical education. From the age of six, boys would attend school to learn to play instruments, read the works of the great poets and train to become fit and strong. Boys would also learn basic arithmetic on an abacus, for keeping accounts. First the grammatistes would teach a boy to read and write and learn the works of poets. In Plato’s Protagoras the speaker describes how boys were made to memorise works by great poets such as Homer, to learn about morality and values. The same source describes how boys were taught to play the lyre by the kitharistes and had to attend gymnastic classes to improve their fitness and coordination. These lessons in the palaestra included javelin-throwing, discus and wrestling. This curriculum was all designed to produce citizen males who were strong, confident and literate, so that they could fully participate in Athens’ military, political and social life.

Geography And Climate

  • Ancient Greece was very hot and dry, with regular droughts that could lead to starvation. Main foods were grapes and olives (which grew well with little water), honey, goat’s milk cheeses, fruit, fish and eggs, with occasional mutton and pork. Beef was normally only eaten at sacrifices.
  • People had to be hardy and resourceful to live in such a climate.
  • Large mountain ranges isolated the cities and villages, making travel and communication difficult.
  • Each main population centre therefore developed into an independent city-state (polis) with its own system of government, laws and customs. There was no national government and little unity except in language and religion.
  • Shortage of resources (e.g. fertile land, marble, metals) made these poleis very competitive.

Greece and the Mediterranean

Geography And Climate

Primary Sources 1 and 2:

  • Plato (a 4th century Greek philosopher) said Attica was like:
  • “the skeleton of a body wasted by disease, the rich soft soil has all run away leaving the land and nothing but skin and bone.”
  • How do each of these sources support the ideas discussed so far about Greece’s climate?
  • Attic Black Figure amphora depicting men harvesting olives, attributed to the Antimenes Painter, 520-510BC
  • 1
  • 2

Geography of Athens

  • Athens had an advantage over other city-states/poleis
  • It was surrounded by the fertile plains of Attica, had a sheltered sea-port (the Piraeus) and dominated the isthmus (the narrow strip of land joining mainland Greece and the Peloponnese – an important trade route)
  • Athens also quarried marble and mined silver and lead
  • The polis became wealthy from trading in these natural mineral resources, allowing the building of a large navy

Government of Athens

  • Archons
  • Did day to day business of government, collected taxes, judged court cases, organised religious festivals
  • Most elected by lot (by chance) for 1 year.
  • 10 strategoi (generals)
  • Elected by the Ekklesia
  • Commanded army/navy
  • Almost always wealthy or aristocratic men
  • Boule (Council of 500)
  • Met in Bouleterion in Agora
  • 50 men from each tribe, chosen randomly (men had to be 30+ years old)
  • Each tribe governed for 1 month
  • Proposed laws to be put before Ekklesia before voting
  • Ekklesia (Assembly – like our Parliament)
  • Met in open area on Pnyx, 3 or 4 times each month
  • Any Athenian citizen over 18 could attend
  • Held more than 6,000 at a time
  • Passed laws, made declarations of war or peace, elected the generals, conducted trials in certain circumstances

Athenian Democracy – Power to the People?

  • Athens was very proud of its democratic society and the rights its male citizens held
  • Citizenship was highly prized – in many court cases, men said they would rather die than lose their citizenship rights
  • A citizen male who did not play an active part in politics was despised and called an idiotes (private man)
  • A man whose cloak was stained red because he was not quick enough to go from the Agora to the Ekklesia (Assembly) when the state slaves dragged a painted rope through the market place was fined heavily and publicly shamed, and could not do an business until he went to the Ekklesia
  • However, Athens was not as democratic as it may have first appeared…

Athenian Social Divisions – Citizen males

  • Group
  • Description
  • Rights
  • Responsibilities
  • Male citizens
  • Born to legally married citizen parents, presented to phratry at birth and deme at age 18
  • Could vote in Ekklesia (from 18-20 years old), conduct court cases, serve on juries and be paid 3 or 4 obols, own property, given pension if injured in war
  • Pay taxes
  • Compulsory military service and political participation
  • Protect oikos and support dependents
  • Provide dowries
  • Nobles
  • Very wealthy landowners
  • Could stand for election as generals, captained triremes in navy
  • Liturgy – paid for training of chorus in plays or paid for trireme
  • Knights
  • Wealthy men
  • Could serve in cavalry and stand for election as generals
  • Must supply and feed horse and have own armour
  • Hoplites
  • Moderately wealthy men
  • Fought in infantry – in the phalanx
  • Had to supply own armour and weapons
  • Thetes
  • Poorer citizens
  • Paid for military service
  • Had to row in navy

Divisions among citizen males

  • Athens had an aristocracy – men who were large-scale landowners who employed slaves to manage their estates while they spent their days in the city, participating in its political and social life. Some of these were extremely wealthy (e.g. Alcibiades). Many major politicians/generals were aristocrats.
  • Pericles, Athens’ chief politician for most of the 5th century, was from this class
  • One main social division was between country and city:
    • Countrymen were farmers, could not participate in politics as often as townsmen, often had lower incomes and poorer educations
    • City men might be landowners who employed slaves to manage their estates, craftsmen, shop-owners, etc.
  • Portrait of Perikles, Roman marble copy of Greek bronze by Kresilas, c425 BC

Primary Source 3

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about citizen males?
  • This is a later source but it outlines the laws made by Solon in the 6th Century BC:
  • Plutarch, Life of Solon (100-125 A.D)
  • Solon made an appraisement of the property of the citizens. Those who enjoyed a yearly increase of five hundred measures (wet and dry), he placed in the first class, and called them Pentakosiomedimnoi; the second class was composed of those who were able to keep a horse, or had a yearly increase of three hundred measures, [2] and they were called Hippada Telountes, since they paid a Knight's tax; the members of the third class, whose yearly increase amounted to two hundred measures (wet and dry together), were called Zeugitai [who served as hoplites]. All the rest were called Thetes, they were not allowed to hold any office, but took part in the administration only as members of the assembly and as jurors.

Primary Source 4

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about citizen males?
  • The Polity of the Athenians, c. 424 BCE (Author uncertain)
  • First of all, then, I shall say that at Athens the poor and the commons seem justly to have the advantage over the well-born and the wealthy; for it is the poor which mans the fleet and has brought the state her power, and the steersmen and the boatswains and the shipmasters and the lookout-men and the shipwrights---these have brought the state her power much rather than the hoplites and the best-born and the elite. This being so, it seems right that all should have a share in offices filled by lot or by election, and that any citizen who wishes should be allowed to speak. Then, in those offices which bring security to the whole people if they are in the hands of good citizens, but, if not, ruin, the poor desires to have no share. They do not think that they ought to have a share through the lot in the supreme commands or in the cavalry commands, for the poor realize that they reap greater benefit by not having these offices in their own hands, but by allowing men of standing to hold them. All those offices, however, whose end is pay and family benefits the poor do seek to hold.

Primary Source 5

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about citizen males?
  • From the trial of an aristocrat for revealing the secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries to non-initiates:
  • Andocides, On the Mysteries
  • I would never consent to a life abroad which cut me off from my country, whatever the advantages attached to it; and although conditions in Athens may be what my enemies allege, I would sooner be a citizen of her than of any other state which may appear to me to be just now at the height of prosperity. Those are the feelings which have led me to place my life in your hands.

Athenian Social Divisions Continued – Below the Citizen Males

  • Group
  • Description
  • Rights
  • Responsibilities
  • Female citizens
  • Born to legally married citizen parents
  • Could bear citizen children and take part in certain religious festivals (e.g. Thesmophoria). Could divorce husband under certain circumstances. Entitled to pension if husband killed in war. Could not vote, represent self in court, etc. Always subject to a kurios (male relative)
  • Obey husband, stay faithful, maintain house and raise children.
  • Metics
  • (Metoikoi)
  • Resident foreigners
  • Could live in Athens
  • Could run businesses, etc
  • Could not own land (except in Piraeus)
  • Could not vote or represent self in court
  • Must pay metic tax and have citizen sponsor
  • Must serve in military (males only)
  • Wealthy must pay liturgies
  • Slaves
  • Servants owned by masters
  • Could seek refuge in temples, otherwise no rights. Could only testify in court if tortured first. Sometimes paid a small wage.
  • Must obey master, work hard.


  • Metics (metoikoi) were foreigners who lived permanently in Athens. They had to have a citizen sponsor and pay a large annual tax of 12 drachmae. Wealthy metics also had to pay liturgies.
  • Metics had more status, rights and duties than other foreigners (xenoi) who didn’t live permanently in Athens
  • Metics were attracted to Athens mainly for jobs – working as merchants/traders, craftsmen (e.g. potters, sculptors, painters), musicians, speech-writers, teachers/lecturers
  • Lysias and Isaeus were metics who wrote hundreds of court speeches for citizen men
  • Most were poor but some (especially lecturers or speech-writers for aristocrats) became very wealthy
  • Many were good friends with citizen males
  • Female metics might run businesses such as tailoring or brothels and could work as hetairai (courtesans). They had much more freedom than citizen women.
  • Some female metics became pallakai – concubines who were kept and supported by citizen males and had some legal status (but not as much as a citizen wife)
  • The most famous famous metic woman was Aspasia, pallaka to Pericles
  • Metics could worship their own gods BUT also had to worship Athens’ gods and take part in Athens’ religious festivals
  • Metics could not have citizen children or legally marry citizens


  • Slavery was a normal and accepted part of life
  • People could become slaves by being captured in war, kidnapped by pirates/slave traders, if one of their parents was a slave or as a punishment for a crime or non-payment of debts
  • Slaves came from all over the Mediterranean -Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East, etc
  • There were state slaves who were used as police, to clean the city streets, etc
  • Many slaves were worth a lot to families and were well cared for, especially if they had skills such as reading/writing, being able to keep accounts
  • Household slaves were generally treated better than slaves in the country
  • A household slave’s duties might include cleaning the house, making food, shopping, fetching water, nursing children and accompanying them to school (e.g. the paidagogos)
  • A slave in the countryside might have to plant and harvest crops, work in silver and lead mines, quarry stone, etc.
  • Female slaves might end up being pornai (prostitutes) in brothels or being hired out as aulos (flute) players for parties
  • This heavy and dangerous physical labour meant shorter life expectancy (especially among slaves in mines)
  • Most households owned some slaves. Wealthy households might own 50-60.
  • Some people made a fortune by renting out slaves – e.g. Nicias owned and rented out thousands of slaves
  • It was very rare for slaves in Athens to be freed. If they were freed, they became metics.
  • There was one famous exception – after the Battle of Arginusae in 415BC, the slaves who had served as rowers in the navy were freed and made into citizens

The Cost of Slaves

  • Athenian Money:
  • 6 obols = 1 drachma, 100 drachmae = 1 mina, 6 minae = 1 talent
  • Greek rates of pay (end 5th century BC):
  • Hoplite on campaign 1 drachma per day
  • Rowers in navy 4 obols – 1 drachma per day
  • Jury service 3 obols per day
  • Greek Prices:
  • Bare minimum to live on 3 obols per person per day
  • 1 sheep 10-20 drachmae
  • 1 ox 50-100 drachmae
  • 1 year’s wheat for one person 15 drachmae
  • Price of slaves
  • Prices varied if a slave was beautiful or had particular skills. Adults were worth more than children.
  • Price of female slaves: 100-220 drachmae
  • Average: 160 drachmae
  • Price of male slaves: 100-300 drachmae
  • Average: 170 drachmae
  • Question:
  • How many days’ work would it take before a juror could buy an average female slave (ignoring his living costs)?

Primary Sources 6-7

  • How do these sources support the ideas discussed so far about metics and slaves?
  • Xenophon, Ways and Means
  • “We who are interested in such matters have heard long ago that Nicias son of Niceratus once owned a thousand labourers in his silver mines, and he hired them out to Sosias of Thrace, on condition that he paid a net fee of 15 cents (1 obol) per day and kept up the number to the full thousand. Hipponicus also had 600 slaves out on hire in the same way, and they brought him a clear $100 (1 mina) per day…”
  • Aristotle, Constitution of Athens
  • “There are also ten City Commissioners (Astynomi), of whom five hold office in Piraeus and five in the city. Their duty is to see that female flute-and harp-and lute-players are not hired at more than two drachmas, and if more than one person is anxious to hire the same girl, they cast lots and hire her out to the person to whom the lot falls. They also provide that no collector of sewage shall dump any of his sewage within ten stradia of the walls; they prevent people from blocking up the streets by building, or stretching barriers across them, or making drain-pipes in mid-air with a discharge into the street, or having doors which open outwards; they also remove the corpses of those who die in the streets, for which purpose they have a body of state slaves assigned to them.” N.B. a commissioner is a type of archon
  • 6
  • 7

Primary Sources 8-9

  • How do these sources support the ideas discussed so far about metics and slaves?
  • Xenophon, Memoirs
  • Socrates:
  • “What if I point out to you that in households where nearly all the slaves are kept chained up they are forever trying to run away, whereas in households where they are not kept tied up they work willingly and stay where they are? ...It is just as important for a farmer to give frequent encouragement to his labourers as it is for a general to encourage his soldiers; and slaves need good hope just as much as, indeed even more than, free men to induce them to stay where they are.”
  • Constitution of Athens (author uncertain)
  • “In Athens, slaves and metics are largely immune from punishment; you are not permitted to strike them, and a slave will not step aside to let you Athens the slaves and metics are just as well dressed as the citizens, and this makes it difficult to tell them apart. You may be surprised to discover that some slaves in Athens are very well off, and some live lives of great luxury…”
  • 8
  • 9

Primary Sources 10-11

  • How do these sources differ from the previous ones?
  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
  • “The Athenians suffered enormous losses. They lost the whole of their territory. More than 20,00 slaves, mostly skilled craftsmen, ran away.”
  • 10
  • Attic Red-Figure Vase
  • Scene from comedy with a slave being beaten by his master
  • 11

Athenian Population 431BC (before the plague)

  • 100,000 slaves
  • 25,000 metics
  • 50,000
  • citizens
  • NB – it is difficult to estimate the female population as they were not presented to their phratry at birth

Athenian Families

  • The most important unit in Athens was the oikos or household/family. It was the basis of all of Athens’ political organisation.
  • An Athenian household was an oikos.
  • The oikos included the family members, slaves, livestock and land.
  • Each oikos had a kurios (an adult male) in charge.
  • It was the kurios’ responsibility to maintain the household, provide support for his male dependents, dowries for his female dependents and protect his sons’ inheritance
  • An unmarried woman was an epikleros and always had a male relative in charge of her
  • If a man died and had no sons or grandsons, his daughter would become his heir. However, since women could not own property, she and her father’s wealth or debts would go to her nearest male relative (her kurios) – usually an uncle or cousin. He would be forced by law to marry her. If he was already married he would have to divorce his wife.
  • Men with no sons sometimes adopted a son (who must be a citizen).
  • When sons were born they had to be presented to their phratry to be legitimate heirs. At age 18 the son had to be registered with his deme.
  • Each oikos belonged to a phratry (a group of families).
  • Each phratry belonged to a deme (a neighbourhood).
  • Each deme belonged to a trittys.
  • Groups of three trittyes made a tribe.
  • There were 10 tribes in Athens. Each tribe would govern Athens in the Boule for 1 month of the year (the year only had 10 months)

Athenian Families – A Woman’s Role

  • The purpose of a citizen wife (gyne) in an Athenian oikos was to bear legitimate children and maintain the oikos in her husband’s absence
  • If there was any reason to believe her children were not truly her husband’s, they could lose their citizenship
  • For this reason, Athenian men went to great lengths to make sure their wives had minimal contact with other men
  • Citizen women rarely left the house – if they could afford enough slaves, the slaves would do all outdoor work (e.g. shopping in Agora)
  • Citizen wives and daughters were confined to the gunaikeion (women’s quarters) when men other than their husbands were around
  • They usually only left the house for special occasions such as weddings, funerals and certain religious festivals
  • Since Athenian men spent most of their day out at work/in politics/shopping/socialising, their wives were left to raise the children, make sure the slaves did their work, keep the household accounts, etc.

Primary Source 12

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about the duties of the kurios?
  • From a court speech made by a citizen male:
  • Lysias 16 (a) 10-12
  • In the first place, although but little property had been bequeathed to me, owing to disasters that had befallen both my father and the city, I bestowed two sisters in marriage, with a dowry of 30 minae apiece, to my brother I allotted such a portion as made him acknowledge that he had got a larger share of our patrimony than I had; and towards everyone else my behaviour has been such that never to this day has a single person shown any grievance against me. So much for the tenor of my private life…

Primary Source 13

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about the duties of the kurios and gyne?
  • Part of a conversation between Isomachus and Socrates. Isomachus is reciting what he said to his wife.
  • Xenophon, Economics, c370BC
  • “God from the first adapted the woman's nature, I think, to the indoor and man's to the outdoor tasks and cares. For he made the man’s body and mind more capable of enduring cold and heat, and journeys and campaigns; and therefore imposed on him the outdoor tasks. To the woman, since he has made her body less capable of such endurance, I take it that God has assigned the indoor tasks. And knowing that he had created in the woman and had imposed on her the nourishment of the infants, he meted out to her a larger portion of affection for new-born babes than to the man. And since he imposed on the woman the protection of the stores also, knowing that for protection a fearful disposition is no disadvantage, God meted out a larger share of fear to the woman than to the man; and knowing that he who deals with the outdoor tasks will have to be their defender against any wrong-doer, he meted out to him again a larger share of courage…. Thus your duty will be to remain indoors and send out those servants whose work is outside, and superintend those who are to work indoors, and watch over so much as is to be kept in store, and take care that the sum laid by for a year be not spent in a month. And when wool is brought to you, you must see that cloaks are made for those that want them. You must see too that the dry corn is in good condition for making food.”

Rites of Passage

  • Citizen men and women underwent certain rites of passage to mark out their birth, adolescence, adulthood and old age

Rites of Passage for Males - Childhood

  • Birth – when a citizen boy was born the door of the house was decorated with an olive-wreath
  • The father had 5 days to decide whether to keep him.
  • If he accepted the child between the 5th and 10th day after birth there was an Amphidromia ceremony, where the parents carried the baby around the household several times then presented it to Hestia, goddess of the hearth-fire.
  • Poor children were given their names on this day. Wealthier boys might have a separate Naming-Day ceremony, where guests brought gifts.
  • After this the boy was part of the oikos and must be protected
  • He was also presented to his phratry to confirm his citizen status and his father had to swear an oath that he was a citizen born from a properly married citizen mother
  • At age 3 to 4 he would have his first sip of wine at the Anthesteria (flower festival). This day was called the Choes (after the chous jug the child drank from).
  • If the boy died before his Choes ceremony a chous would be buried with him

Rites of Passage for Males - Adulthood

  • At age 18 a young man would be presented to his deme and acknowledged as a citizen.
  • After military training (age 18-20) he could vote in the Ekklesia
  • He might get engaged at about age 25. This would involve a ceremony where he made a sacrifice and the girl’s father pledged to pay him a specified dowry.
  • He could not hold office (e.g. archon) or serve on the Boule until age 30
  • He would probably not marry until age 30
  • The marriage ceremony:
    • He (the groom) sacrificed to Hera, Artemis and the Fates
    • He bathed in spring water
    • He and one of his friends escorted his bride in a chariot at night to their new house while people sung hymns and threw nuts and fruit and carried wedding torches
    • After a wedding feast, he took his bride into their bedroom to consummate the marriage while one of his friends guarded the door
    • The next day friends and family brought presents
  • He could be called up for military service until age 60
  • He would be considered an old man after age 63. His family would be expected to support him – there were no old-age pensions except for men injured in war

Rites of Passage for Females - Childhood

  • When a citizen girl was born the door of the house was decorated with wool to show her future domestic role
  • The father had 5 days to decide whether to keep her – girl babies were often exposed (ekthesis) as their dowries were expensive.
  • If she was accepted into the oikos she had an Amphidromia and naming ceremony (the same as a boy)
  • After this she was part of the oikos and must be protected
  • At age 3 to 4 she would also have her first sip of wine at the Anthesteria (flower festival)
  • She might become engaged as young as 10 years old, to a man chosen by her father. She would be presented to the groom’s family, her status as a citizen confirmed by witnesses, and her future husband would be promised a dowry
  • When she hit puberty she would participate in a ceremony called the Arkteia, sacred to Artemis. The rite was a way of appeasing Artemis. Girls stripped and either ran naked or dressed in saffron robes to imitate bearskin, and pretended to be bears. This showed the girl was ready for marriage.

Rites of Passage for Females -Adulthood

  • At age 15 a girl would marry
  • The marriage ceremony:
    • She dedicated a lock of hair to Hera, Artemis and the Fates
    • She bathed in spring water
    • She wore a special headband and veil
    • Ivy and bay leaves were hung at her parents’ house
    • The groom and a friend collected her at night from her house and drove her in a chariot to her new home, where the groom’s mother would meet and welcome her
    • She was given symbols of fertility (e.g. pomegranates or a sesame seed and honey cake) to eat
    • There was a feast where men and women sat separately, then the marriage was consummated, then presents the next day
  • When she became pregnant, she would make sacrifices to Artemis to appease the goddess and visited shrines to local nymphs, etc
  • During the birth she was attended by a midwife (maia) who would pray and make offerings to Artemis to appease the goddess’ anger
  • After the birth she was considered polluted, and was confined to the house for several days
  • After menopause, a woman was considered old and useless. However, she also had more freedom as she could not get pregnant. Some older women became midwives.


  • Funerals were much the same for males and females. Great care was usually taken to honour and appease the dead.
  • Burials took place outside the city walls/ along roadsides as death was seen as a pollutant.
  • The body was washed, rubbed with oils and dressed in white robes by the women in the family, then laid out on a high bed in the house for friends/relatives to visit and mourn. Women dressed in black, cut their hair and sang.
  • It was then taken by cart to the tomb/grave site, with some personal possessions (e.g. clothing pins, armour) and cakes and oil as offerings to the gods
  • Music (usually flutes) was played along the way while mourners followed, weeping and wailing
  • The body might be buried or cremated, then buried in a jar
  • Before departing, mourners left food and drink on the grave/tomb
  • On returning home, they held a funeral dinner then remained in mourning for about a month
  • Sacrifices were offered at the tomb on the 3rd, 10th and 30th days after death and annually on day of the person’s death
  • Stele (stone grave markers) were erected by those who could afford them. Alternatively, large vases could be used as grave markers, or a statue might be erected of the deceased.
  • Libations (offerings of wine, milk and food) were placed into vases with pierced bottoms to let the offering run into the earth.
  • Statues of the dead were kept by an altar in the house, twice a month fresh laurel wreaths were made and used to crown statue.
  • By 5th century each citizen family in Athens had their own tomb – could be used as proof of citizenship. State provided a common tomb for soldiers killed in action.

Primary Sources 14-15

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about rites and rituals of passage?
  • Part of a court case where a man was trying to prove a woman’s true citizenship:
  • Isaeus, Speech 3: On the Estate of Pyrrhus
  • “These same uncles have deposed that they were present by invitation of their nephew at the tenth-day ceremony in honour of the child who was declared to be his daughter.”
  • Attic Red Figure Chous ca. 450-440 BC Dog under a hanging bunch of grapes, perhaps illustrating a fable. From a child’s grave
  • 14
  • 15

Daily Life for Citizen Males

  • A wealthy aristocratic man’s typical day might go as follows:
  • He would get up, go for a ride to inspect his estates, eat lunch, then spend the afternoon in the Agora engaged in politics or business.
  • He might visit the palaestra or gymnasium. Exercise was done naked (gymnos). Wrestling, boxing, javelin and discus-throwing were popular sports. The gymnasium was also a popular place for socialising.
  • After exercising he would oil his skin then scrape away the sweat with a strigil.
  • In the evenings he would often attend a symposium (dinner party)
  • A poorer man would spend most of his day in business – perhaps selling wares in the Agora or working on his farm.

Primary Source 16

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about a man’s daily life?
  • Aristophanes, Acharnians
    • But never since I first began to wash with soap have I cried such tears as I cry now, whenever the Assembly holds a meeting and all the seats are empty, just like now, while everybody's gossiping in the market and trying to avoid the summoner.

Primary Source 17

  • How do these sources support the ideas discussed so far about a man’s daily life?
  • Attic Red Figure Kylix ca. 460-450 BC by the Penthesilea Painter A pair of athletes leave a palaestra. One carries a bagged discus and raises his bronze strigil or scraper. The other carries his cloak. On the wall hangs an aryballos or container in which athletes kept oil to clean their bodies.

Daily Life for Citizen Females

  • A woman would rise early to tend to her children, organise the slaves and prepare her husband’s lunch
  • While her husband was out during the day she would educate her sons until they were old enough to go to school and teach her daughters how to run a household.
  • If she was poor she might do household tasks such as weaving or fetching water. However, most women would have slaves to perform these tasks.
  • Except for weddings, funerals and certain festivals she could not leave the house, not even to visit friends, and could only communicate by sending a slave.
  • In the evening, if her husband came home alone, she would dine with him. If he brought friends for a symposium, she would be confined with her daughters to the gunaikeion. Otherwise, he might be out at a friend’s symposium and not arrive home until very late.
  • Her day was most likely very repetitive and boring.

Primary Sources 18-19

  • How do these sources support the ideas discussed so far about a woman’s daily life?
  • Attic Red Figure Cup, c.480-470 BC, Scene from a gynaikeion. Women talk while sitting on chairs. Two play the aulos (double reed instrument) and krotala (rattle). A standing woman holds a mirror.
  • White ground lekythos by the Achilles Painter, ca. 440 BC – A woman mourning at grave.
  • 18
  • 19

Living Conditions

  • Athenian houses were small and not fancy because Athenian society was male dominated and men didn’t spend much time at home. Men were highly praised for donating large sums of money for public buildings, therefore more time and money was put into public buildings than houses.
  • Houses were small, dark and unsanitary. The poor lived in lean-to shacks.
  • Ordinary citizens lived in houses made of sun dried mud-brick with stone foundations, clay roof tiles and dirt floors (stone floors for the wealthy).
  • The rich had modest 2 storey houses based around a court yard. Bathrooms and kitchens were rare. People cooked outside and collected water from public fountains. Wealthier people had their own well.
  • The walls were so soft burglars could dig through them, hence burglars were called toichorychoi which means “wall diggers”.
  • The wall facing the street was bare with perhaps a small window high up. Why? – privacy, keep out smells from street drains, kept out dust (no rain in the hot months).
  • A courtyard in the centre allowed fresh air.
  • Often there was a shop at the front opening onto the street.
  • The andron was the main room of the house (men only). Here they lived, entertained and slept. Usually the most lavishly decorated room. May have a mosaic floor, couches (which doubled as beds), friezes or tapestries on the walls.
  • Women’s quarters were a place to sleep, live and work.
  • Light came from oil lamps
  • Rich houses had rooms for slaves or they slept on the floor.
  • All houses had very little furniture.
  • All houses had a small altar for sacrifices to gods.
  • Walls were painted or white washed with maybe some decorative lines at waist height.

Living Conditions

Primary Source 20

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about housing?
  • Xenophon, Economics
  • Isomachus on his house: “‘Why, I decided first to show her the possibilities of our house. For it contains few elaborate decorations, Socrates; but the rooms are designed simply with the object of providing as convenient receptacles as possible for the things that are to fill them, and thus each room invited just what was suited to it.  Thus the store-room by the security of its position called for the most valuable blankets and utensils, the dry covered rooms for the corn, the cool for the wine, the well-lit for those works of art and vessels that need light. I showed her decorated living-rooms for the family that are cool in summer and warm in winter. I showed her that the whole house fronts south, so that it was obvious that it is sunny in winter and shady in summer.  I showed her the women's quarters too, separated by a bolted door from the men's, so that nothing which ought not to be moved may be taken out, and that the servants may not breed without our leave. For honest servants generally prove more loyal if they have a family; but rogues, if they live in wedlock, become all the more prone to mischief”

Education – Early Years

  • The aim of education was to produce a good Athenian male – strong, fit, polite, well versed in poetry and music, and honourable.
  • Schools existed in Athens from about 500BC and were usually held at the home of the teacher.
  • Boys and girls spent the first 6 years of their life in the gunaikeion being educated by their mother and slaves/servants.
  • Girls remained here until marriage. They could usually play music, count and read and write but their education was centred around household management.
  • At about age 6 to 12 or 14, a boy went to primary school
  • He was taught by grammatistes (teacher of writing). His education based around learning to read, write and count.
  • Boys wrote on a wooden tablet covered in wax with a stylus and later they may use ink and papyrus. An abacus was used for counting.
  • Learning was done by rote (memorising). Boys were taught to recite the Iliad and Odyssey.
  • A rich family often hired a slave called a paidagogos to supervise their son’s schooling. He escorted the boy to school, carried his equipment, and stayed during lessons to keep an eye on his behaviour.
  • A kitharistes (music teacher) taught a boy to play the lyre (kithara) and the words of poetic songs. Singing and playing musical instruments was very highly valued. It was believed these activities had a civilising effect on a man’s character and gave a better sense of rhythm for fighting.

Education – Secondary and Tertiary

  • From age 12 or 14 to about age 18 a boy would attend secondary school
  • This school was mainly based on physical training at the palaestra – wrestling, running, boxing, long jump, discuss, javelin.
  • Other subjects included music, choral singing, dancing and literary education.
  • All boys started military training at 18.
  • Children of poor citizens had a basic education in crafts and trades.
  • Wealthy boys might go to Sophists for a tertiary education.
  • Teachers from all over the Greek world gathered in Athens because it was a “free and democratic” city. They charged high fees. They taught young men to think, debate, argue, and challenge old beliefs.
  • Sophists lectured on subjects such as biology, astronomy, maths, ethics, law and politics.
  • They taught the very important skill of oratory and public speaking to “convert” others. Sophists were very unpopular with traditionalists because they were seen as morally corrupt.

Primary Source 21

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about education?
  • Plato, Protagoras
  • Protagoras, a Sophist, is discussing with Socrates, a philosopher, how boys are educated in Athens:
  • Education and admonition commence in the first years of childhood, and last to the very end of life. Mother and nurse and father and tutor are vying with one another about the improvement of the child as soon as ever he is able to understand what is being said to him… And if he obeys, well and good; if not, he is straightened by threats and blows, like a piece of bent or warped wood. At a later stage they send him to teachers, and enjoin them to see to his manners even more than to his reading and music; and the teachers do as they are desired. And when the boy has learned his letters and is beginning to understand what is written, as before he understood only what was spoken, they put into his hands the works of great poets, which he reads sitting on a bench at school; in these are contained many admonitions, and many tales, and praises, and encomia of ancient famous men, which he is required to learn by heart, in order that he may imitate or emulate them and desire to become like them.

Primary Source 21

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about education?
  • Plato, Protagoras - continued
    • Then, again, the teachers of the lyre take similar care that their young disciple is temperate and gets into no mischief; and when they have taught him the use of the lyre, they introduce him to the poems of other excellent poets, who are the lyric poets; and these they set to music, and make their harmonies and rhythms quite familiar to the children's souls, in order that they may learn to be more gentle, and harmonious, and rhythmical, and so more fitted for speech and action; for the life of man in every part has need of harmony and rhythm. Then they send them to the master of gymnastic, in order that their bodies may better minister to the virtuous mind, and that they may not be compelled through bodily weakness to play the coward in war or on any other occasion. This is what is done by those who have the means, and those who have the means are the rich; their children begin to go to school soonest and leave off latest.

Primary Source 22

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about education?
  • Attic Red Figure Kalyx Krater, 440 B.C.
  • Woman with attendants reading from a scroll.

Entertainment - Theatre

  • The main forms of entertainment in ancient Athens for citizen males were the theatre and symposia.
  • Plays were performed during festivals to Dionysus (the Greater Dionysia and the Lenaia)
  • There were competitions – 3 tragic playwrights and 5 comedic playwrights would compete for prizes
  • The tragic playwrights would each write 3 tragedies (themed around myths, men’s relationship with the gods, etc) and one satyr play – a work with slapstick as light relief after all the serious plays. Tragic playwrights included Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus.
  • The comic playwrights wrote one play each. They addressed serious issues such as war, but in a slap-stick or humorous way. The most famous was Aristophanes.
  • Actors wore large painted masks so their expressions could be seen from a distance. Comedic masks could be very grotesque.
  • Comedic actors might have padded “fat suits’ or large phalloi
  • There were only 3 or 4 actors in each play
  • There was also a chorus that performed in the orchestra of the theatre. This was a trained group of singers and dancers.

Entertainment - Symposia

  • Symposia were an extremely popular form of entertainment for citizen males
  • Guests reclined on 3 couches in the andron. Those with the highest status sat on the summus, the next group on the medius and those of lowest status sat on the imus.
  • Food was served first. It was set out on 3-legged tables. A typical menu might include sea urchins with olives, garlic and radishes, tuna with herb stuffing, meat with cheese and aniseed, fruit and dandelion salad and assorted cakes – poppy, linseed, sesame, honey etc.
  • Then the food was taken away, guests prayed and made libations to the gods and wore garlands of flowers.
  • They chose a symposiarch to enforce the rules. He decided how much each person could drink.
  • Wine was mixed with water (normally 1 to 3).
  • Guests would play games such as the capping game (when each man had to come up with a better line of poetry than the previous man) or kottabos (where they flicked the dregs of their wine at a target).
  • If drunk enough they might dance the kordax, which involved dancing in a circle, hoping on one leg, and punching oneself in the stomach.
  • Entertainment could include flute girls or boys, hetairai and even hired acrobats or jugglers

Primary Source 23

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about symposia?
  • Attic Red Figure Drinking Cup attributed to the Triptolemos Painter, c490 BC

Primary Source 24

  • How does this source support the ideas discussed so far about symposia?
  • Xenophon, Symposium
  • The tables were taken away, and they poured a libation and sang a hymn. In came a man from Syracuse to entertain them, bringing with him a girl who was an expert flute-player, a dancing-girl who could perform acrobatic feats, and a very charming boy who played the lyre extremely well and could also dance. The man made a living by exhibiting these remarkable performers…
  • And then a hoop was brought in with sharp knives stuck through it all round. The dancing girl turned somersaults in and out of this, blades and all; the audience were afraid she would hurt herself, but she went through her routine with panache and completed it without a scratch.

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