Welcome to Athens, the marvel of Greece! The city which is the fountainhead
of beauty, wisdom and knowledge. Even as your ship approaches the Athenian
Harbor Piraeus, you can see the marble monuments of the Acropolis and the
Shining golden edge of the spear, which belongs to the gigantic statue of
the goddess Pallas Athene. This is one of the greatest works of the sculptor
Phidias, and symbolizes both the power and justice of the violet city as
it’s contemporaries called it.
Athenian women had virtually no political rights of any kind and were
controlled by men at nearly every stage of their lives. The most important
duties for a city dwelling woman were to bear children preferably male and
to run the household. Duties of a rural woman included some of the
agricultural work: the harvesting of olives and fruit was their
Since men spent most of their time away from their houses, women dominated
Athenian home life. The wife was in charge of raising the children,
spinning, weaving and sewing the family’s clothes. She supervised the daily
running of the household. In a totally slave based economy, plentiful
numbers of female slaves were available to cook, clean, and carry water from
the fountain. Only in the poorest homes was the wife expected to carry out
all these duties by herself. A male slave?s responsibilities were for the
most part limited to being doorkeeper and tutor to the male children.
Athenian 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, Athenian women were in
charge! Their job was to run the house and to bear children. Most Athenian
women did not do housework themselves. Most Athenian 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. . Women spent much of their time in the
courtyard of the house, the one place where they could regularly enjoy fresh
air. Athenian cooking equipment was small and light and could easily be set
up there. In sunny weather, women sat in the roofed over areas of the
courtyard, for the ideal in female beauty was a pale complexion.
Women?s clothes underwent relatively few changes in style. 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 two most commonly worn garments were the chiton or tunic and the
himation or cloak. The chiton came in two styles. Its earlier Doric version,
preferred by Athenian women until the end of the 6th century BC, was called
the peplos and was made of wool. Cut into a simple rectangle measuring half
again the height of the person wearing it, it was folded over, wrapped
around the body, and pinned at the shoulders and side. It was sleeveless,
with large arm openings. Expensive versions were decorated with elaborate
woven figures or designs. The Ionian chiton was made of linen that fell into
more elaborate vertical folds than its heavier wool counterpart. The sides
were sewn up to create a long cylinder, which was then caught, by a girdle
or cord at the waist. Short sleeves were added to the sides.
Athenian 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
men’s dining room, and perhaps a woman’s sitting area. Much of ancient
Athenian family life centered around the courtyard.
The ancient Athenians 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. 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 richer, they also grew wheat to make bread. Fish,
seafood, and homemade 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.
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.
Probably no other place has seen such a constellation of geniuses in so many
fields of human endeavor. It was the Greeks who invented politics, science,
philosophy, theater, and sports as distinct and meaningful human pursuits.
And in Athens, all of these, together with poetry, art, and music reached
their creative peaks. The cradle of democracy, Athens remains in many
respects the model of fair government