Daily life of the Athenian
by: R. Aurelius Orcus
General view of the daily life of a Greek
The daily life of a Athenian during the 5th and 4th century bc. is different from our daily life. These 2 centuries are known as the centuries where important wars were fought. In the 5th century there were the Graeco- Persian wars as the Peloponnesian Wars. In the 4th century you had Alexander the Great defeating an empire and creating one in the process that only lasted until his death. It weren't easy times for the Hellenes back than. Constant threats of war looming over your head like the sword of Damokles. Life of an Athenian was made up of trading goods, buying- selling food and other products etc.. People who lived outside the city lived of fishing and hunting. They also worked on the fields. For an ordinary Athenian, the day was made up of waking up, possible some breakfast, hunting/ fishing or farming, eating at noon and continuing their work until late in the afternoon. Male cloths differ from female clothes. Men wore tunics, women too but the design was different. Tunic for women was worn up to their knees. Some men wore sandals but most walked around barefooted. Their cloths were made out of leather. Although the sight of sheep walking around in Athens was not so strange, it was however a familiar sight in small villages where the sheep were escorted by a shepherd or a group of children. Sheep gave wool, which was used to make clothing. Sheep were also the source of eating and drinking. Hellenes drank the milk of sheep and ate the cheese of sheep. Favorite targets for hunters were wild sheep and bor. They didn't just fished with boats but also with nets. A net was thrown out in the water made out of the same material to make clothes.
The life of a Athenian was basically the same as for any Hellene of any social status. Until the age of 6-7 they helped out at home, but when they reached this age, they were sent to school. They played with toys just like today's children do (only the toys are different). Hellenes considered their children youths until they were 30. When a child was born to ancient Greek family, a naked father carried his child, in a ritual dance, around the household. Friends and relatives sent gifts. The family decorated the doorway of their home with a wreath of olives (for a boy) or a wreath of wool (for a girl). A girl had the same rights as any other women but they had to stay at home until they married. Most Greek households had slaves.
A Athenian day started when the female servants began to sing a small hymn during sunrise. Than they ate, went to work, etc… Basically the day wasn't that different from a person who lived in the dark ages or during the Imperial times. Pets are also to be found among Hellenes and the favorite ones were dogs, birds, tortoises, goats and mice. Cats however are not on the list. Hellenic houses, in the 6th and 5th century B.C., were made up of two or three rooms, built around an open air courtyard, built of stone, wood, or clay bricks. Larger homes might also have a kitchen, a room for bathing, a man's dining room, and perhaps a woman's sitting area. Most meals were enjoyed in the courtyard. Greek cooking equipment was small and light and could easily be set up there. On bright, sunny days, the women probably sheltered under a covered area of their courtyard, as the Hellenes believed a pale complexion was a sign of beauty. Food in Hellas consisted of grains, wheat, barley, fruit, vegetables, breads, and cake. People in Hellas also ate grapes, seafood of all kinds, and drank wine. The people in Hellas ate the same food as the Asian people. For example, the Hellenes would eat domesticated animals. Hellenic children played with many toys, including rattles, little clay animals, horses on 4 wheels that could be pulled on a string, yo-yo's, and terra-cotta dolls.
Slaves were treated different from the Spartan slaves. A slave could be set free, but it didn't mean he was a citizen. Education is something not everybody could afford. There were schools where classes were thought, but most children stayed at home working with their relatives. They were needed there. Some children stayed at home and were probably tutored by a slave. There were no public schools like we know them today. Greek schools were small. They had only one teacher and about ten or twenty boys. Boys began going to school when they were about 7 years old, and went until they were about 13. In school, boys learned to read and write, and also memorized large amounts of Homer's Illiad and Odyssey. They learned to play the lyre (the kithara) and the pipes (the aulos), and to sing. Still, people who could spare the money did try to send their boys to school, because without learning to read and write and generally becoming educated, boys could not hope to participate in politics when they grew up. Even clothing was a problem for most people. Most people had to make their own clothes in order to be dressed, because the prices for clothing’s were to high for ordinary people to buy them.
Wellfare, food and drinking habits
Sheep brought the Hellenes material for clothing, food and drinking. The wool of sheep's is being used for clothing. Athenians drank the milk of sheep and ate the cheese they gave them as any meat that the sheep produces. Sheep are domesticated since 10.000 b.c. for a variety of reasons. They were on purpose kept dumb so that they wouldn't run away from the shepherds and that they would stick together. Even here religion influenced the eating habits of the Hellenes. Like the Jews couldn't eat pig, the Hellenes believed that some meat products were cleaner of dirtier. Especially with the vegetables is this the case. It didn't just had a religious meaning but also a philosophical one. Hellenes would never eat meat that wasn't sacrificed to a deity or that it came from a wild animal. They believed that it was wrong to eat a domesticated animal without sacrificing it first to the Gods.
A Pythagorean would for example never eat beans. But if you are a Pythagorean or not, the thoughts of any Hellene was with that of the deity to whom the meal or drink is devoted to, while they were consuming it. They thought of Dionysos when they were drinking wine (which happened a lot) or of Demeter and Persephone when they ate bread. Hellenes ate especially the Mediterranean triad (wheat, wine and olive oil). They also planted vegetables like beans, peas, etc… They ate also more fish than most peoples around the Mediterranean Sea, because Hellas isn't exactly a country that has great fertile plains. But through their position on sacrificed meat, they would probably eat less meat than the peoples would around Mediterranean Sea. Other food on the menu was pig's meat. Pigs were like sheep domesticated for their meat. If you have a country with a lot of mountains, few fertile plains
It was only natural that they sought their food from the seas and colonized other regions. Hellas wasn't a country that could sustain an unknown number of people. It could sustain so many peoples. The ground wasn't really good enough for agriculture, but what makes Hellas so unique are its coastlines. It's there that most Hellenes as fishermen spend their time. The source income of most Hellenic city-states wasn't that great either. Even though there was income from taxes, trade, etc.. but they weren't afraid of undertake piracy to increase their income. There are reports of Myceneans raiding villages of Asia Minor to increase their wealth. Hellenes were also known mercenaries. Anyone who had the money to pay them, could hire a Hellene to fight for them. For an ordinary Athenian, the day was made up of waking up, possible some breakfast, hunting/ fishing or farming, eating at noon and continuing their work until late in the afternoon. Sheep were also the source of eating and drinking. Hellenes drank the milk of sheep and ate the cheese of sheep. Favorite targets for hunters were wild sheep and bor. They didn't just fished with boats but also with nets. A net was thrown out in the water made out of the same material to make clothes.
Women couldn't vote. Their duties were to raise the children and take care of the household. A wealthier family could afford slaves to do this, but poorer families had to do it themselves. We know that some men prefer men over women because back than women were deemed sexually inadequate, but women ruled in the household. Unlike Sparta, Athenian women didn't possess any kind of rights. Spartan women didn't have many rights but they had some. Some men preferred men over women. In Athens, women didn't poses any rights, but she was however the dominant figure in the household. The relationship between men and women wasn't that different of most other cultures. There were women who were respected and those who were feared. Sometimes even both. Medea, Circe are among mythological figures who were feared and respected. Most men agreed upon that women couldn't be given an leadership role, but it were women who influenced some of the best politicians. Men however, had it better. So long if they didn't break any laws, they could do what they pleased. Divorce isn't a modern invention. It was quit common in Athens. But you had to give back the dowry. Children stayed with their father to learn about the family business.
Women from the upper class didn't do that much. They had slaves to do the household, raise the children. In fact, the woman of the house must drop everything upon arriving of the husband. It were the kind of household we have seen until 10-20 years ago where the man was more or less the center of the woman's life. However, there were men who hated woman and it was generally believed that women were inferior to men in every way. I don't agree with this , like most men of our times. For the women of the lower class, it was different. They played a more active role in the household and lives of the children and her husband. Outside, the man was in control, but inside she was in control. This is still so in Italy and Greece.
Although the Greek women were allowed to leave their homes for only short periods of time, they could enjoy the open air, in the privacy of their courtyard. Much of ancient Greek family life centered around the courtyard. The ancient Greeks loved stories and fables. One favorite family activity was to gather in the courtyard to hear these stories, told by the mother or father. In their courtyard, Greek women might relax, chat, and sew. Many people had slaves living in the house with them too. Some people had their unmarried sisters or widowed sisters living with them. Wealthy Greek women hardly ever went out of the house alone. Mostly when they went out it was to go to weddings and funerals and religious ceremonies, or to visit other women. Poorer women, who didn't have slaves, did go out to get water from the fountain, and sometimes to work in the field or to sell vegetables or flowers in the marketplace. There was no marriage ceremony as we know it today. Your parents arranged it, and then there was a party, and the girl's parents paid a dowry to the man, and then the girl moved into the man's house. If they were both citizens, and she lived in his house, then they were legally married. If she moved out of his house, then they were divorced. Usually there were other people living in the house as well. Sometimes his parents would be there, if they were still alive and if they weren't living with another brother. Many people had slaves living in the house with them too. Some people had their unmarried sisters or widowed sisters living with them. It was common for a married couple to have two children. More than 2 children were probably seen as unwanted children, but I’m not so sure about that last one.
In contrary of our current culture, there were little or no taboos when it came down to sexuality. Homosexuality was considered normal, but between women and men there kind of taboos like sex with animals. It wasn’t talked about it nor discussed and it wasn’t tolerated as swell. In fact on the terrain of sexuality women weren’t really appreciated. Some men chose men over women. It was commonly accepted that young boys were under the care of a older man. They were close friends and sometimes even lovers. It was this relationship that learned boys to learn how to behave and this period occurred when they were not allowed to mingle with girls. In cities like Athens, Athens ad most Athens related cities, this transpired.
When a boy was about fifteen, he might notice that the young men of his town, in their twenties, were starting to take an interest in him and trying to make friends with him. An older boy might talk to him after school, or show him a wrestling trick in the gymnasium, or invite him to a party, or take him hunting. If the younger boy also liked the older one, the two of them might become friends. Some boys never did have a special friend like this, just as some girls today never have a high school boyfriend, and may not ever want one. Other boys had many friends (though this would make people talk about you and say mean things). Some boys did form very close friendships, though, which sometimes lasted for the rest of their lives. Usually the boys' parents encouraged these friendships, if the other boy seemed like a good person, just as most people's parents today are happy if their kids have close friends, whether they are boys or girls. But sometimes the older boy might want to go further; he might want to make this into a sexual relationship. Then most parents thought that was not right, just as today most parents think dating is okay, but not sex.
After a while, the boys would grow up. The older one would get to be about thirty, and he would get married. By now the younger one would be in his twenties, and so he would find a new friend among the younger boys, the teenagers. And then after more time passed, he would get to be about thirty too, and he would get married. Sometimes the boys would stop being friends when they grew up, but often they stayed good friends, and helped each other out in politics or in business, as college roommates often do today. Most Greeks, like most other people throughout history, lived in families with a mother and a father and their children. Usually men got married when they were about twenty-five or thirty years old (as they do today), but women got married much younger, between about twelve and sixteen years old. Probably girls from rich families got married younger, and girls from poor families got married a little older. Because the girls were so young, they did not have much choice about who they were going to marry. Their fathers or uncles or brothers chose for them. Often girls had not even met the man they married before the wedding.
R. Aurelius Orcus