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Daily Life Ancient Greece
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Daily Life
in  
  Ancient Greece

How would you have behaved if you had lived in ancient Sparta? (Lie, cheat, steal, because that is the Sparta way!) Or in ancient Athens? Or in Corinth, Argos or Megara? Meet the Greeks! They were a riot!


The ancient Greeks were very proud of their city-state! They were also proud of being Greek. The ancient Greeks were thinkers. They loved to talk. They honored their gods and respected honor. They loved beauty, music, literature, drama, philosophy, politics and art. If you're in a hurry, use the cheat sheet to find just what you need! Welcome to ancient Greece!

Cheat Sheet
MEET THE GREEKS!
Introduction School! Greek Houses
Greek Families Toys & Pets Dance/Stories
Clothing/Hair Styles Weddings Food

  It's around 480 BCE
You are an Olympian contestant, representing your city-state at the Olympic games!
How would you behave?


 MEET YOUR FELLOW OLYMPIANS!

Sparta Athens Corinth  Argos Megara

Plus

Greek Links Other Cultures FAQs Lesson Plans

ANCIENT GREECE  
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INTRODUCTION:  The earliest Greek civilizations thrived nearly 4,000 years ago.Yet, their culture still impacts our lives today, in the arts, in philosophy, and in science, math, literature and politics. The ancient Greeks were great builders, thinkers, philosophers and military strategists.

Here are some of the gifts the ancient Greeks gave to the world:

The ancient Greeks did not have one king or queen. They lived in city-states. Each city-state was a separate political unit. Daily life was somewhat different in the Greek city-state of Athens, for example, than it was in the city-state of Sparta, or even in Corinth!

TO BE GREEK: The ancient Greeks all spoke the same language. They believed in the same gods. They shared a common heritage. They perceived themselves as Greeks.

TO BE A CITIZEN OF A CITY-STATE: The ancient Greeks referred to themselves, however, as citizens of their individual city-states. Each city-state (polis) had its own personality, goals, laws and customs. Ancient Greeks were very loyal to their city-state.

MEET THE GREEKS!

GREEK MEN:  Men ran the government, and spent a great deal of their time away from home. When not involved in politics, the men spent time in the fields, overseeing or working the crops, sailing, hunting, in manufacturing or in trade. For fun, in addition to drinking parties, the men enjoyed wrestling, horseback riding, and the famous Olympic Games. When the men entertained their male friends, at the popular drinking parties, their wives and daughters were not allowed to attend.

GREEK WOMEN: With the exception of ancient Sparta, Greek women had very limited freedom outside the home. They could attend weddings, funerals, some religious festivals, and could visit female neighbors for brief periods of time. In their home, Greek women were in charge! Their job was to run the house and to bear children. Most Greek women did not do housework themselves. Most Greek households had slaves. Female slaves cooked, cleaned, and worked in the fields. Male slaves watched the door, to make sure no one came in when the man of the house was away, except for female neighbors, and acted as tutors to the young male children. Wives and daughters were not allowed to watch the Olympic Games as the participants in the games did not wear clothes. Chariot racing was the only game women could win, and only then if they owned the horse. If that horse won, they received the prize.

GREEK BABIES: The ancient Greeks considered their children to be "youths" until they reached the age of 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).  

GREEK GIRLS:  In Athens, as in most Greek city-states, with the exception of Sparta, girls stayed at home until they were married. Like their mother, they could attend certain festivals, funerals, and visit neighbors for brief periods of time. Their job was to help their mother, and to help in the fields, if necessary.

GREEK BOYS:  In most Greek city-states, when young, the boys stayed at home, helping in the fields, sailing, and fishing. At age 6 or 7, they went to school.

SLAVES: Slaves were very important to ancient Greek daily life. Slaves cleaned and cooked, worked in the fields, factories, shops, in the mines, and on ships. Even the police force in ancient Athens was made up of slaves!  Most slaves lives were not that different from a poor Greek citizen's life.

There were things a slave could not do. They could not go to school, or enter politics, or use their own name. They were given a name by the citizen who owned them. They were the property of their owner, not citizens of ancient Greece.

People became slaves in many ways. Some people became slaves when captured in battle. Some were the children of slaves. Some were Greek infants, abandoned on a hill or at the gates of a town, left to die, or to be rescued by someone passing by. Some children were sold into slavery by poor families, and some children were kidnapped. Slaves were so important to the culture of ancient Greece, that some historians believe there were as many slaves as citizens! 

TOYS:  Ancient Greek 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.  

PETS:  Birds, dogs, goats, tortoises, and mice were all popular pets! Cats, however, were not!

GREEK HOUSES: Greek houses, in the 6th and 5th century BCE, 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 men's dining room, and perhaps a woman's sitting area. 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. 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 ancient Greeks believed a pale complexion was a sign of beauty.

FOOD:  Along the coastline, the soil was not very fertile, but the ancient Greeks used systems of irrigation and crop rotation to help solve that problem. They grew olives, grapes, and figs. They kept goats, for milk and cheese. In the plains, where the soil was more rich, they also grew wheat to make bread. Fish, seafood, and home-made wine were very popular food items. In some of the larger Greek city-states, meat could be purchased in cook shops. Meat was rarely eaten, and was used mostly for religious sacrifices.

CLOTHING: Greek clothing was very simple. Men and women wore linen in the summer and wool in the winter. The ancient Greeks could buy cloth and clothes in the agora, the marketplace, but that was expensive.

Most families made their own clothes, which were simple tunics and warm cloaks, made of linen or wool, dyed a bright color, or bleached white. Clothes were made by the mother, her daughters, and female slaves. They were often decorated to represent the city-state in which they lived. The ancient Greeks were very proud of their home city-state. Now and then, they might buy jewelry from a traveling peddler, hairpins, rings, and earrings, but only the rich could afford much jewelry. Both men and women in ancient Athens, and in most of the other city-states, used perfume, made by boiling flowers and herbs.

The first real hat, the broad-brimmed petasos, was invented by the ancient Greeks! It was worn only for traveling. A chin strap held it on, so when it was not needed, as protection from the weather, it could hang down ones back.  

HAIR STYLES: Both men and women enjoyed using mirrors and hairbrushes.  Hair was curled, arranged in interesting and carefully designed styles, and held in place with scented waxes and lotions. Women kept their hair long, in braids, arranged on top of their head, or wore their hair in ponytails. Headbands, made of ribbon or metal, were very popular. Blond hair was rare. Greek admired the blonde look and many tried bleaching their hair. Men cut their hair short and, unless they were soldiers, wore beards.

Barber shops first became popular in ancient Greece, and were an important part of the social life of many ancient Greek males. In the barber shop, the men exchanged political and sports news, philosophy, and gossip!

DANCE:  Dance was very important to the ancient Greeks. They believed that dance improved both physical and emotional health. Rarely did men and women dance together. Some dances were danced by men and others by women. There were more than 200 ancient Greek dances; comic dances, warlike dances, dances for athletes and for religious worship, plus dances for weddings, funerals, and celebrations. Dance was accompanied by music played on lyres, flutes, and a wide variety of percussion instruments such as tambourines, cymbals and castanets.

STORIES: The ancient Greeks loved stories. They created many marvelous stories, myths, and fables that we enjoy today, like "Odysseus and the Terrible Sea" and "Circe", a beautiful but evil enchantress. Aesop's Fables, written by Aesop, an ancient Greek, are still read and enjoyed all over the world! To read some great fables, myths and stories, go here!

EDUCATION:  Both daily life and education were very different in Sparta, than in Athens or in the other ancient Greek city-states. With the exception of the Athenians (who thought Athens was the best!), Greeks from other city-states had a grudging admiration for the Spartans. They wouldn't want to be Spartans, but in times of war, they most certainly wanted Sparta to be on their side. The Spartans were tough, and the ancient Greeks admired strength.

ATHENS: In ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained in the arts, to prepare citizens for both peace and war. Girls were not educated at school, but many learned to read and write at home, in the comfort of their courtyard. Until age 6 or 7, boys were taught at home by their mother or by a male slave. From age 6 to 14, they went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school. Books were very expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud, and the boys had to memorize everything. To help them learn, they used writing tablets and rulers. 

In primary school, they had to learn two important things - the words of Homer, a famous Greek epic poet, and how to play the lyre, a musical instrument. Their teacher, who was always a man, could choose what additional subjects he wanted to teach. He might choose to teach drama, public speaking, government, art, reading, writing, math, and another favorite ancient Greek instrument - the flute.

Following that, boys attended a higher school for four more years. When they turned 18, they entered military school for two additional years. At age 20, they graduated.  

SPARTA: In ancient Sparta, the purpose of education was to produce a well-drilled, well-disciplined marching army. Spartans believed in a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. They were very loyal to the state of Sparta. Every Spartan, male or female, was required to have a perfect body. When babies were born in ancient Sparta, Spartan soldiers would come by the house and check the baby. If the baby did not appear healthy and strong, the infant was taken away, and left to die on a hillside, or taken away to be trained as a slave (a helot). Babies who passed this examination were assigned membership in a brotherhood or sisterhood, usually the same one to which their father or mother belonged.

Spartan Boys: Spartan boys were sent to military school at age 6 or 7. They lived, trained and slept in their the barracks of their brotherhood. At school, they were taught survival skills and other skills necessary to be a great soldier. School courses were very hard and often painful. Although students were taught to read and write, those skills were not very important to the ancient Spartans. Only warfare mattered. The boys were not fed well, and were told that it was fine to steal food as long as they did not get caught stealing. If they were caught, they were beaten. They boys marched without shoes to make them strong. It was a brutal training period.

Legend has it that a young Sparta boy once stole a live fox, planning to kill it and eat it. He noticed some Spartan soldiers approaching, and hid the fox beneath his shirt. When confronted, to avoid the punishment he would receive if caught stealing, he allowed the fox to chew into his stomach rather than confess he had stolen a fox, and did not allow his face or body to express his pain.

Somewhere between the age of 18-20, Spartan males had to pass a difficult test of fitness, military ability, and leadership skills.  Any Spartan male who did not pass these examinations became a perioikos. (The perioikos, or the middle class, were allowed to own property, have business dealings, but had no political rights and were not citizens.) If they passed, they became a full citizen and a Spartan soldier. Spartan citizens were not allowed to touch money. That was the job of the middle class. Spartan soldiers spent most of their lives with their fellow soldiers. They ate, slept, and continued to train in their brotherhood barracks. Even if they were married, they did not live with their wives and families. They lived in the barracks. Military service did not end until a Spartan male reached the age of 60. At age 60, a Spartan soldier could retire and live in their home with their family.

Spartan Girls: In Sparta, girls also went to school at age 6 or 7. They lived, slept and trained in their sisterhood's barracks. No one knows if their school was as cruel or as rugged as the boys school, but the girls were taught wrestling, gymnastics and combat skills. Some historians believe the two schools were very similar, and that an attempt was made to train the girls as thoroughly as they trained the boys. In any case, the Spartans believed that strong young women would produce strong babies.

At age 18, if a Sparta girl passed her skills and fitness test, she would be assigned a husband and allowed to return home. If she failed, she would lose her rights as a citizen, and became a perioikos, a member of the middle class. In most of the other Greek city-states, women were required to stay inside their homes most of their lives. In Sparta, citizen women were free to move around, and enjoyed a great deal of freedom, as their husbands did not live at home.

No marvelous works of art or architecture came out of Sparta, but Spartan military force was regarded as terrifying. Thus, the Spartans achieved their goal.

GREEK WEDDINGS:

In ancient Athens, wedding ceremonies started after dark. The veiled bride traveled from her home to the home of the groom while standing in a chariot. Her family followed the chariot on foot, carrying the gifts. Friends of the bride and groom lit the way, carrying torches and playing music to scare away evil spirits. During the wedding ceremony, the bride would eat an apple, or another piece of fruit, to show that food and other basic needs would now come from her husband. Gifts to the new couple might include baskets, furniture, jewelry, mirrors, perfume, and vases filled with greenery.

In ancient Sparta, the ceremony was very simple. After a tussle, to prove his superior strength, the groom would toss his bride over his shoulder and carried her off.

 MEET YOUR FELLOW OLYMPIANS!

Sparta Athens Corinth  Argos Megara

It's around 480 BCE. You are an Olympian contestant, representing your city-state at the Olympic games! How would you behave?  Let's find out!  

SPARTA

YOU ARE A SPARTAN! Be proud! You have endured unbelievable pain and hardship to become a superior Spartan soldier and citizen! Taken away from your parents at age 7, you lived a harsh and often brutal life in the soldiers barracks. You were beaten by older children who started fights to help make you tough and strong. You were often were whipped in front of groups of other Spartans, including your parents, but never cried out in pain. You were given very little food, but encouraged to steal food, instead. If caught stealing, you were beaten. To avoid severe pain, you learned to be cunning, to lie, to cheat, to steal, and how to get away with it! Some of you are members of the Spartan secret police (Krypteia) and enjoy spying on slaves. If you find a slave who is showing signs of leadership, you have orders to kill them immediately. You are fierce, capable, and proud of your strength. You know you are superior and are delighted to be Spartan!

SPARTAN GOALS AND BEHAVIOR AT THE OLYMPICS: Win at all costs. Lie, cheat, do whatever it takes. If you can't win, at least beat your archrival, those silly citizens of Athens. You are the proud and fierce Spartans! Dress alike with matching arm bands or buttons. Be loud but polite to your teacher who is your superior officer. Be on time. Be disciplined. Keep records. Make up a chant for Sparta, and chant it, while marching in unison, wherever you go. Make up a secret salute, and salute your fellow Spartans. Plot secretly with other Greek city-states to sabotage any Athenian chance at victory. Cheer only for your fellow Spartans at each event. Lie, cheat, steal, but do not get caught, because that is the Spartan way. Good luck at the games.

ATHENS

YOU ARE AN ATHENIAN!  Be courteous. You have been superbly educated in the arts and the sciences, and trained to be extremely productive and capable in times of peace or war. You are an achiever. Until age 6 or 7, you were taught at home by your mother, or by a male slave. From age 7-14, you attended a day school in the neighborhood where you memorized Homeric poetry and learned to play that magnificent instrument, the lyre. You learned drama, public speaking, reading, writing, math, and perhaps even how to play the flute. You attended four years of higher school, and learned more about math and science and government. At 18, you attended military school for two additional years! You are proud to be an Athenian! Famed for its literature, poetry, drama, theatre, schools, buildings, government, and intellectual superiority, you have no doubt that your polis, Athens, is clearly the shining star of all the Greek city-states.

ATHENIAN GOALS AND BEHAVIOR AT THE OLYMPICS: You know your archrival, those horrible Spartans, will do anything to win, even lie and cheat, but you are Athenians - you would never stoop to such boorish behavior. Cooperate with your fellow Athenians to defeat those brutish Spartans, and do your personal best! Say witty things to impress representatives from other city-states. Be courteous to all Greeks, no matter what inferior city they represent. Make up a clever chant for Athens, and sing or say it each time an Athenian wins an event or a makes a witty comment. Shake hands with your fellow Athenians, whenever you greet them. You are Athenians, the clever, creative, courteous representatives of that shining example of all that is fine and noble, the polis of Athens. Good luck in the games!

CORINTH

YOU ARE A CORINTHIAN! As a coastal city-state, you have a glorious history as a cultural and trade center. Although your schools are not as fine, perhaps, as those of Athens, you have been educated in the arts and the sciences. As a child, you were taught at home by your mother, or by a male slave. From age 7-14, you attended a day school near your home where you memorized poetry and studied drama, public speaking, reading, writing, math, and the flute. You attended a higher school, if your parents could afford it. You also went to military school for at least two years. Your polis is famous for its bronze statues, pottery, and vase painters. You are creative problem-solvers. To solve the problem of foreign money pouring into your coastal polis, your city-state created it's own coinage, forcing traders to convert their coin at your banks. (For a fee!) To solve your problem of unemployment, you created a huge and successful public works program. Literature, culture, art, and businesses thrive in your city-state. You are proud to be a practical, productive Corinthian!

CORINTHIAN GOALS AND BEHAVIOR AT THE OLYMPICS:   If you can't win, help Argos and Megara to defeat those vain Athenians, and those animals, the Spartans. Do what it takes, but be honest about it. You cheer the winner of each event, whoever that might be, and greet your fellow Corinthians with warmth and good fellowship, whenever you see them. You do not need the nonsense of secret handshakes or salutes. You roll your eyes each time you see one. You are Corinthians! You are proud of your abilities, your achievements, your honesty, and your obviously superior city-state. Good luck in the games!

ARGOS

YOU ARE AN ARGIVE! You have been educated in the arts and the sciences, and trained to be productive and capable in times of peace or war. You have much of which to be proud. Although your close neighbor, Corinth, is on the coastline, your polis is located on a plain, where the weather tends to be hot and dry in the summer, and cold and wet in the winter. Your soil is not especially fertile, and you must fight the elements to grow food. In spite of this hardship, your magnificent stone sculptures of athletes, rippling with muscle, are the envy of many a Greek city-state. You are famous for your wonderful musicians and poets. Drama reached new heights in your polis. Plays are performed in open-air theatres, drawing crowds of 20,000 or more Argive citizens! Unfortunately, you have a problem. When Athens and Sparta asked your polis to send supplies and troops to fight the Persians, after the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE, you refused. For this decision, you are held in disgrace by the other Greek city-states.

ARGIVE GOALS AND BEHAVIOR AT THE OLYMPICS:  Your goal is to reverse the negative reputation you currently hold in the ancient Greek world. You will have to work hard to convince other city-states that your athletes, soldiers, scholars, orators, architects, poets, dancers, and artists are as fine, if not superior, to the other city-states. You cheer Argive victories, and win as many events as you can. Your goal is to make sure that Athens and Sparta don't win at all. (Your plan is to throw your support to Corinth or Megara toward the end of the competition, if it appears you can not win.) You are Argives, hard-working, honest, loyal, clever, creative, courteous representatives of Argos, and of her glorious past. Good luck in the games!

MEGARA

YOU ARE A MEGARIAN!   Be proud that you are a Greek and come from such a respected city-state as Megara. As a coastal city-state, your history is similar to Corinth's, your neighbor. You believe your schools are as fine as those of Athens, although you have no doubt that any Athenian would disagree. You have been trained in the arts and the sciences. As a child, you were taught at home by your mother, or by a male slave. From age 7-14, you attended a day school near your home where you memorized poetry and studied drama, public speaking, reading, writing, science, poetry, the flute, the lyre, and a great deal of mathematics. Like most Megarians, you love money and have been trained to be an excellent accountant. You attended a higher school, and went to military school. Your polis is famous for its glorious textiles, which are the envy of other Greek city-states. You have, of course, your own coinage, an idea you copied from Corinth. Literature, culture, art, and businesses thrive in your city-state. You believe you offer your citizens even more freedom than Athens. (After the Peloponnesian War, Athen's famous philosopher, Plato, moved to Megara, where he remained for 10 years, so perhaps you are right! You also founded the city of Byzantium, also called Constantinople, now called Istanbul, way back in 630 BCE.) You are proud of your city-state's past and present achievements, and proud to be a Megarian!

MEGARIAN GOALS AND BEHAVIOR AT THE OLYMPICS:  If you can't win, help Argos and Corinth to defeat those boastful Athenians and those militant fanatics, the Spartans. If it comes down to Athens or Sparta, cheer for Sparta, loudly. (They might be militant, but those are good friends to have in time of war! Besides, you are tired of hearing about wonderful Athens.) You are Megarians, proud of your history, your flourishing businesses, your world famous textiles, your freedoms, your schools, your coastal advantage - your rich and vibrant city-state, Megara. Good luck in the games!





Here are some great sites about ancient Greece!

Ancient Greece Sites for Kids

Aesop's Fables - Over 650 fables

The Ancient City of Athens - A photographic archive of the archaeological and architectural remains of ancient Athens.

Ancient Greece for Kids - Geography, Government, People and more

Ancient Greece Unplugged - Join Mr Smith's 6th-graders as they explore ancient Greek architecture, Mythology, Culture, Theatre, Letters, Olympics, Peloponnesian Wars.

Citizens of Athens & Citizens of Sparta  Daily life, people, war, a delightful site

City of Athens for Kids  & City of Corinth for Kids  From the BBC!  Outstanding!

The Ancient Greek World - from the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Topics are: Land and Time, Daily Life, Economics, Religion

Ancient Olympics - Were the ancient games run more fairly than ours are today? Read all about it - The real story of the ancient Olympic Games.

The Ancient Olympics - This site compares the ancient and modern Olympics via essays about the history of the Olympics and stories about ancient Olympic athletes.

Characters of Greek Mythology - This site provides a description of the gods, goddesses, nymphs, and creatures of Greek Mythology, as well as fun stuff like planets, constellations, word origins, and mythical clipart.

Culture in Classical Greece - Daily life, art, religion, scientific thought, literature

Greek Mythology - Encyclopedia Mythica, the Greek gods and goddesses, family tree

Greek Mythology Today - Read the myth of the month and discover the major Olympians, minor Greek gods, and Greek heroes with the Myth Man.

Greek Political History - Presented in easy to read, outline form, created by Tony Stephenso, a teacher at Republic High School.

Hercules- The Early Years - The Twelve Labors of Hercules written and illustrated by Eastchester Middle School 7th-graders.

Mythweb - This site shares many of the stories from ancient Greek mythology - heroes, gods and monsters. Cartoon illustrations.


For Teachers

Mr Donn's Ancient Greek Olympics in the Classroom (Mini-Unit)
Mr Donn's Early & Classical Ancient Greece Units
Mrs Donn's Ancient Greece Lesson Ideas
Mr Donn's Ancient History Page: Ancient Greece Lesson Plans


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