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Top 10 Weird Sexual Things The Ancient Greeks Did
Films like 300 and Troy depict awesome Greek warriors slashing their enemies in battle, but did you know Leonidas and Achillies had a freaky side? Sexuality was everywhere in the ancient world, from pornography on pottery to sex with satyrs. The Greek view on sex is much different from our own today, with many seemingly bizarre practices from our modern perspective. Greek openness on sex, homosexuality, and relationships created a much different culture than our own here are 10 weird, or weird to us, sexual things the ancient greeks did:
The Education System in Ancient Greece
Sparta was one society in ancient Greece that believed in educating its girls.
(Image: John Steeple Davis/Public domain)
There is no clear evidence of any schools in the ancient Greek world before the fifth century B.C. It is believed that prior to this, education in Greece was provided mainly through private tutors. And only a handful of Greeks could afford to educate their sons even during the fifth century. The natives of Athens started their education around the age of seven. There is not much information about what type of people were teachers at that time. However, it looks like they didn’t enjoy much status and in all probability most of them were slaves.
The syllabus included learning to read and write, physical training, and learning some musical instruments. For learning to write, students used a pen called a stylus with which they wrote on a wax tablet. Learning to memorize was a very important part of education in Greece. The Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon’s work called Symposium, has a character who says that his father made him learn the complete the Iliad and the Odyssey by heart. Both of them contained a total of 27,000 lines.Learning how to play musical instruments was an important part of boys’ education in ancient Greece. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)
The lyre or kithara was one of the most liked musical instruments. It looked similar to a guitar. It is highly improbable that students were taught mathematics or drawing. Education in Greece was very limited. That is if we go by our standards. But still, they managed to learn enough to get by. In fact, the Athenian education system gave us such brilliant individuals as Pluto, Socrates, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles who were really exceptional considering all the circumstances. Although it may be contended that their success might have been more because of the city in which they lived and less with the then education system.
This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
Education of Boys in Ancient Greece
Boys of rich families in ancient Greece used to attend informal drinking parties.
It was an important part of growing up. (Image: Anselm Feuerbach / Public domain)
When boys of rich families attained the age of 16, they were sent for what can be called tertiary education. They were mainly taught rhetoric and philosophy. Whosoever wanted to make a name for himself in the society, learning these subjects was necessary for him. It was essential to learn the nuances of rhetoric if they wanted to speak in political assemblies or courts or if they wanted to be noticed at informal drinking parties which were called symposia.
One distasteful thing about growing up in Greece was that some Greeks accepted pederasty. The elite societies accepted the friendship between an older man and a young boy as perfectly fine, and some even appreciated it and more so if there was some teaching involved in it. Zeus himself was a pederast and this might have given more legitimacy to it. In fact, Zeus had abducted a young man named Ganymede as he wanted him to be his cupbearer on Mount Olympus. However, with time, the hostile attitude towards pederasty kept increasing. For example, in Athens, during the fifth century, pederasty was an offense for which the punishment was death.
Education of Girls in Ancient Greece
Girls were given the bare minimum education in Greece. Most of the girls were usually trained by their mothers on running the house and nothing beyond that. The thinking about educating girls at that time is aptly reflected in a line of a play by Menander which says, “He who teaches his wife to read and write does not do any good. Rather he is supplying poison to a snake.” What it meant was that it was better not to educate girls. Without education, they would cause less trouble.
Even people of Athens, who were supposed to be more knowledgeable than other Greek communities had the same thought process. Although some elite girls of Athens were kept in isolation at the sanctuary of —Artemis at Brauron—on the coast of Attica, where they performed religious rites, it can’t be said that they received education in the real sense of the word. Not much information is available regarding the education of girls in Greece, but it seems that some of them learned reading by default.
Perhaps the poetess Sappho was the only proof of girls’ education in Greece. She lived from the seventh century B.C. to sixth century B.C. She is considered to be connected with a school for young women on the island of Lesbos. Sappho was said to be attracted to some of her students but it can’t be said that she ever expressed it to them.
Education System in Ancient Sparta
Sparta was one society that educated its girls. Much of the information about Sparta has come mainly through Plutarch. A Spartan boy would leave his parents at the age of six and go under a state education system whose prime objective was to instill discipline and obedience. This system of education in Greece had all the bad qualities of a Victorian boarding school. So it resulted in turning the boys into bullies. Then at the age of 12, they were sent to barrack-like places where they were trained to steal without being caught.
When the boys were 16 years of age, they entered a military police kind of force which was called krupteia and were made to live in a jungle in Messenia. They were expected to fend for themselves and at the same time frighten what was called the helot population. Sparta is believed to have been a very conservative and rigid society.
So, we can see how heavily education in Greece was biased toward boys. While the elite class could afford higher and better education, others had to make do with basic knowledge only.
Common Questions about Education in Greece
In ancient Greece , only boys were allowed to be educated in schools. Girls were trained in housekeeping skills by their mothers. Very few people could afford to send their boys to schools.
Rhetoric was an important part of Greek education system because boys needed the training to speak in political assemblies, courts, or informal drinking parties.
School education in Greece during ancient times consisted mainly of learning to read and write poetry, sports, and learning to play musical instruments.
The Athenians' Last Stand: How the Battle of Salamis Changed the Course of History
The Battle of Salamis pushed back Xerxes forces and save Greek civilization.
Key Point: Athenians were in no mood for sightseeing.
In the summer of BC 481, a delegation from Athens arrived at Delphi in central Greece to consult with the oracle of Apollo. The Sanctuary was always crowded with people seeking advice from the god, or perhaps a glimpse into an uncertain future. The oracle was located in the temple of Apollo, a building perched on a slope that was reached by a winding Sacred Way. The Sacred Way was lined with splendid marble buildings, including treasuries where votive offerings and other objects of value were stored.
It was a magnificent display, mute but eloquent testimony to the shrine’s fame and influence, but the Athenians were in no mood for sightseeing. King Xerxes of Persia was making preparations to invade Greece even now his forces were marshaling and a mighty armada was being assembled. Nine years earlier, the Athenians had defeated a Persian invasion force at Marathon sent by Xerxes’ father, Darius. It was a setback Xerxes was not likely to forgive, much less forget. It was clear Athens was going to be a special target of the Great King’s ire.
Apollo’s prophecies were given substance through a medium called the Pythia. Accounts differ slightly, but apparently she was seated on a tripod near the omphalos (navel), a stone that was said to mark the center of the world. Some say she chewed laurel leaves, others that she inhaled burning laudanum, or even breathed vapors issuing from a rock cleft. Whatever means were used, the Pythia fell into a trance, and while in the trance babbled incoherently. These ravings were messages from Apollo, and were duly recorded by nearby priests for translation.
A Grim Future for Greece
Aristonice the Pythia took her seat, separated from the Athenian petitioners by a veil. She soon fell into a stupor, then began raving in a voice that none could understand. The gibberish was carefully recorded, and when the message was translated it was far from comforting. “Leave your homes,” it began, “and fly to the ends of the earth.” The message continued that “all is lost,” and prophesied that “many shrines of the gods” would meet a “fiery destruction.”
The Athenians’ blood ran cold here was a dire prediction of utter ruin. Stomachs knotted with anxiety, faces downcast, they left the temple in a state of deep depression. But one, Timon, a man who lived in Delphi and probably was attached to the Temple of Apollo in some way, told the Athenians to try again. If they returned with an olive branch, a token of supplication, maybe Apollo would reconsider his harsh words.
Is There any Hope?
They did as advised, and Aristonice delivered a second prophecy. It was the last lines that gained the most attention. “Wide-seeing Zeus grants to Athena, triton-born, that the wooden walls alone remain unbreached.… O divine Salamis! You shall destroy the children of women.…”
The second prophecy offered a glimmer of hope, but as usual the words were ambiguous and subject to interpretation. What, for example, were the “wooden walls”? The salvation of Athens, and Greece itself, might well rest on the right answer.
The Athenian leader Themistocles was to become a central figure in the debate over the interpretation of the prophecy. A leading proponent of naval power, Themistocles was certain the “wooden walls” meant a powerful Athenian fleet. In fact, if Athens had a fleet at all it was due to the courage and persistence of this one man.
When Athens triumphed over the Persians in BC 490 most Athenians believed the threat was over. Persia was far away, and the bloody nose the “barbarians” had received at Marathon seemed to end the matter once and for all. But Themistocles was unconvinced the Persians were gone for good. He believed Athens’ salvation, and ultimately all of Greece’s as well, would be in sea power. But beyond the Persian threat, there are indications he dreamed of Athens as the hub of a great empire, where trade and tribute would flow into the city from every part of the Mediterranean world.
In the BC 480s Themistocles was instrumental in developing the port of Piraeus, about four miles from Athens. Work was put in hand to build a naval arsenal and harbor facilities, but progress was slow. In November, BC 486, King Darius died and was succeeded by his son Xerxes. In the later years of his reign Darius had been preoccupied by a revolt in Egypt and other matters, but never lost the idea of wreaking vengeance on the Greeks and adding them to his empire. Now it was up to his son to carry these projects to their conclusion.
Themistocles had a clear-sighted policy of naval development—the problem was how to make it a reality. Athens was engaged in an off-again, on-again war with nearby Aegina, an island in the Saronic Gulf some 19 miles (30 km) away. The Athenian fleet was second-rate at the time, at one point mustering only 50 triremes.
Serendipity, or a Gift From the Gods?
Clearly something had to be done—but first there was the problem of finance. Ships can be expensive, and Athens lacked the resources for a full-scale building program. But in BC 483-482, in the very nick of time, there was a major silver strike in the state mines at Laurium. This was a bonanza indeed, the financial foundations of Athens’ future greatness, and produced a coinage so stable Athenian money became common throughout the Aegean.
A conservative politician named Aristides proposed that the silver profits be distributed among the citizen body, with each man getting 10 drachmas. Themistocles was aghast he wanted the money to be poured into a shipbuilding program. If Aristides’ proposal carried the day, a defenseless Athens might soon have cause to regret their shortsightedness, but then it would be too late.
The issue of the silver profits had to be decided by the ekklesia or Assembly by majority vote. The Assembly was a large, potentially fractious body, and a politician needed to be eloquent to influence it. Themistocles knew the Persians were a distant threat to most Athenians, so any arguments about a defensive/offensive fleet were bound to fall on deaf ears. However the stalled war with Aegina was on everyone’s mind—after all, Aegina was in the neighborhood, and naval actions against the recalcitrant island had been embarrassing failures. Themistocles urged a naval buildup in the context of the Aeginian war and won the day.
6000 Votes to Banish a Man
Conservative elements were still not convinced, grumbling that he had “degraded the people of Athens to the rowing pad and oar.” Aristides and his faction were bound to stir up trouble, so Themistocles decided to remove his rival. In short order an ostrakophoria or ostracism vote was arranged. If a man were ostracized he would be banished from the city for 10 years. No other penalties were imposed, and his citizenship and property remained intact. The names of candidates for ostracism were scratched on potsherds it took six thousand such votes to banish a man. In BC 482 Aristides was ostracized, thus removing a major barrier to the Themistoclean naval program.
By the spring of BC 480 the Athenian navy boasted some two hundred triremes, making it the greatest power in Hellas. The trireme was the battleship of its day, propelled by three banks of oars and armed with a powerful bronze ram in the prow to hole and sink enemy vessels. Around this time Themistocles had won election to the Board of Generals for the year BC 480-479. As a strategos(general) he would be in a position to influence events. Earlier, in BC 481, a “Hellenic League” of various Greek states had assembled at the Isthmus of Corinth. Differences were settled and at least an embryonic unity achieved. The League Congress broke up, only to reassemble in BC 480 on the eve of the Persian invasion.
By now (about mid-480) the Persians had assembled a multinational army that patriotic Greek historians such as Herodotus reckoned at two million or so. Most modern historians disagree, placing Xerxes’ army at around 180,000 to 200,000, which was still a mighty host for the period. The Great King also had a huge fleet at his command which Herodotus numbered at 1,207 warships and three thousand transport vessels. Even allowing for propaganda inflation, Xerxes possessed a formidable fleet, because even though the Persians were not seafarers, many of their subject peoples were quite at home in Mediterranean waters. Xerxes’ armada included Ionian Greek and Phoenician ships, and it was said the Egyptian squadron was also among the best ever to put to sea.
When the Athenian delegation returned from Delphi people debated the interpretation of “wooden walls.” Older, more conservative people were sure that the defense should center around the Acropolis, which had once been encircled by a wooden wall. The Acropolis (“upper city”) was the high summit were the Temple of Athena Polis (“Athenia of the City”) was located, a building that housed the sacred wooden statue of the goddess. Since Athena was the patron and protector of Athens it seemed inconceivable she would let her sanctuary be violated.
How to Learn About Ancient Greece
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Ancient Greece was a powerful nation whose empirical conquests are the thing of legend, creating in its day one of the world's largest empires stretching from Greece to the Himalayas. Its contribution to the sciences and philosophies are felt in today's society and is reckoned to have been the source of Western civilisation. This tutorial will explore how to learn about Ancient Greece as well as try some ancient Greek experiences!
- Before 800BCE is a period often referred to as the Greek Dark Ages and the subsequent era is often called the archaic era. This was where the great cities, philosophies and sciences, theatre, classical art, law and the Greek language being written down were starting to set seed. This era had many rulers known as tyrants - a word we still use today - whose gradual overthrow paved the way towards Greek Democracy and the Athenian model of government. This era artistically had influences from Egypt and what we call today as the Middle East and is often called the orienteIization of Greece.
- After the last tyrant overthrow in 510 BCE, this heralded the start of the Classical period that is perhaps the most famous. Its bedrock moment arrived because of the Athenians successfully defending Greece from a Persian invasion and this period continues to the Hellenistic civilisation starting in 323BCE. This era is where the empire becomes dominant with Alexander the Great rising to power and expanding the empire through to India where he eventually turned back. This era ends with his death in 323BCE, which leads to the Hellenistic era.
- The Hellenistic era focuses more on maintaining the empire but ends in 146BCE when the divided Greek empire falls under Roman conquest and becomes part of the Roman empire.
- Greece in many ways was more democratic than its ancient neighbour Rome as social status did not give additional rights. Democracy itself is a Greek word.
- There was four main social classes in Athens, yet if one earned more money and chattels they themselves could climb the social ladder.
- Education was an important factor for climbing the social ladder as most rights were awarded once the education was completed, but education was an expensive and private engagement with the family employing a tutor. Only Sparta seems to have had publicly funded and obligatory education. Only wealthy families could afford a teacher. Boys learned how to read, write and quote literature. They also learned to sing and play one musical instrument and were trained as athletes for military service. They studied not for a job but to become an effective citizen. Girls also learned to read, write and do simple arithmetic so they could manage the household. They almost never received education after childhood.
- Slavery was common in Greece however there were differences between Greece and Rome. The Greeks generally treated slaves far better than the Romans with beating and killing them as forbidden and many slaves were offered their freedom as an agreement to work better. The population of slaves however varies by accounts of being the majority of the populace, but it is still clear they were a significant part of the population and many held roles in public service. Unlike the Romans, slaves were not accorded the rights of citizen after freedom and they were part of their own social group known as a 'metic'. In Sparta however, things were far harsher for slaves and a group of slaves from conquered armies were often killed in a rite of passage for Spartans.
- Serving in the army was often compulsory for men, as it was not only a way to maintain and defend the empire, but also to give skills in engineering and management.
- One of the central dynamics of the religion focused on the epic conflict between the Gods on Mt Olympus and the Titans. The Gods & Titans feature within the same creation myth but were divided between them and frequently at war. The Gods and Goddesses are biographical and personalised than Roman Gods and these deities and legends had a complex relationship between themselves and humans.
- The cult-like worship of heroes such as Heracles (also known as Hercules), Perseus, Achilles and their stories was important to Greek society as they served as role models and sources of national pride. The "anti-hero" was also important, which is not the villain of the story, but are bland or non-heroic characters that are least likely to be heroes but become or act heroically.
- Indian and other religions were also known to the Ancient Greeks, with one King who is commonly referred to Menander I Soter (or Melinda in the Indo-Greek world), who had embraced Buddhism and reigned around 150BCE ruling a significant eastern part of the empire. This region had influenced Greek architecture, which in turn strongly influenced the Roman models, yet heading the other way, the influence spread as far as Japan.
- The Greeks also set great store in Oracles and prophecies, such as the famous Oracle of Delphi. Oracles would often fall into a trance and priests for those who had paid for the prophecy translated their expressions.
- After the Roman conquest, many of the Greek gods with synthesized were Roman equivalents within Rome, this functioned in a way so a Roman citizen could worship in Greece but the synthesis also boosted the power of the Roman gods. Most of the planets, excepting Earth, Mars, and Venus were named after Greek Gods & Goddesses,
- Visit Know the Twelve Olympians of Greek Mythology to get some more background information on the heroes of Greece.
- Learn about some of the famous Greek philosophers and scientists such as Thales, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicures, Pythagoras, Zeno, Euclid, Archimedes and more.
- Early philosophers were more interested in science rather than wisdom, but in the classical period, wisdom, ethics, good governance and other virtues became equally important. Greece was often at war with various nations within Greece (such as Athens and Sparta), but also outside of Greece with the Persian world and other nations so philosophy was an important science.
- The Greek language has contributed much to our modern language as many of our modern names for sciences come from Ancient Greece. Some examples are physics, philosophy, astronomy, geography, mathematics, and cartography.
- Other interesting technologies and inventions include - cranes for lifting, road building, the antikythera - reckoned to be a complex astronomical calendar, calipers, astrolabes, lighthouses, showers, waterwheels and many more including steam and water powered machinery.
- Visit for How to Live Like Socrates, Argue Using the Socratic Method, Do the Philosophy of Happiness (Diogenes, Epicurus) & Understand Stoicism for more ideas and insights about Greek philosophy.
- Theatre really came into its own during the classical period, after much of Athens was destroyed by Persian invasions. This revival and rebuilding led a great re-invention and revival of Greek literature and the word Thespian has its origins in Greece. The Greeks attended plays in vast audiences, as it was a major source of entertainment.
- Masks were a key costume part of Greek theatre and some even had brass instruments fitted to act as a megaphone to amplify actors voices. The famous duo of the two masks of comedy and tragedy as a symbol of the theatre has their roots in Greek theatre.
- Some of the most famous plays and playwrights were Sophocles, who counted among his works the story of Oedipus, Aristophanes who had many comedies but who also wrote "The Clouds" a fictional spoof based on Socrates, which was later used to falsely implicate the philosopher as being immoral and consequently executed by drinking hemlock poison.
- Music in Classic Greece traditionally was an expression of philosophy, as a metaphor of the harmonics of the universe with everything vibrating in harmony. It was also an expression of ethos, with certain pieces played at certain times according to their inherent qualities. Later music became more of an entertainment.
- Ancient Greek music was arguably more varied than modern music as while we have tones and half tones, Greek tones went to quarter and even finer subtleties to be able to make perfect balance.
- Greek instruments include string, wind and percussion instruments, including pan pipes (named after the Greek God Pan), lyres and harps as well as a complex zither like instrument known as a kithara, drums, trumpets, conch shells and a hydraulic organ known as a hydraulis, these instruments later became absorbed into Ancient Roman music.
- Visit Write an Epic Poem to learn how to create your own epic adventure in the Greek style!
Learn about the cuisine of ancient Greece. Greece had essentially a Mediterranean diet, but it was not entirely as varied or rich as the modern cuisine of Greece.
The Ancient Origins of Beer Geeks and Wine Snobs
If you’re into wine or beer, you’ve likely come across a few “wine snobs” or “beer geeks.” While they might seem like a modern phenomenon, millennia of evidence proves otherwise. But like everything in history, it depends on where you look.
Take Pliny the Elder, a 1st-century general and author during the Roman Empire. During his military campaigns, he recorded what soldiers from different regions drank the night before battle. It was often beer, according to Travis Rupp, a beer archaeologist who teaches courses on Greek and Roman history at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus.
“Pliny the Elder writes about beer more than really any other Roman did,” he says. “Though he doesn’t seem to necessarily care for the beverage.”
For instance, Pliny wrote, “From them [that is, cereals] they also make beverages, zythum [beer] in Egypt, caelia [beer] and cerea [beer] in Hispania, cervesia [beer] and many [other] types in Gaul and other provinces… But as for what concerns the drink itself, it is preferable to pass on to a discussion of wine…”
There was no Latin word for “beer,” which is why Pliny used a different term for it depending on where in the world he was seeing it. Many Roman authors also wrote about beer, like Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Tacitus and Dioscorides, who wrote quite a bit on various cuisines and medical doctrines.
Timeline by Eric DeFreitas / Getty
“So, these individuals will mention beer, but they often mentioned it in a very similar frame that Pliny the Elder does, that it’s something that the ‘other’ [drinks],” he says. “True Romans consumed wine, but the ‘other’ consumes beer.”
As Romans conquered different parts of the world, they brought that ideology with them. Pliny wasn’t the first wine snob in antiquity. That Romans looked down upon beer and its drinkers is a concept they got from the Greeks, says Rupp.
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Homer, arguably the most famed poet of ancient Greece, demonstrated these attitudes in his epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. There is no agreed upon date as to when Homer lived, but many historians believe he wrote his epic poems in the late eighth century to seventh century B.C.E.
In The Iliad, wine is used to convey privilege. Those who ranked higher in society drank better wine. In The Odyssey, Odysseus uses wine as a tool to escape monsters and other beings not privy to Greece’s drinking culture and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
Homer’s work provides an important look at culinary culture in ancient Greece, but Rupp argues that he can’t be the only source we look toward as he’s writing from a “very narrow lens…And so, we have to be careful and taking everything at face value that comes that comes from those kind of sources.”
In the fifth century B.C.E., Athens entered a golden age of scientific exploration, philosophy and art. Historians often reference this period to measure the importance of beer versus wine in ancient Greek society, Aristophanes, a comic playwright, being one important source.
There was no Greek word for beer and “they don’t talk much about it,” says Rupp. “It’s one of the reasons why there are sweeping generalizations that have been made that the Greeks simply didn’t drink beer. And it’s because these highfalutin individuals who are writing all this literature aren’t talking about it.”
Erotian wrote about beer extensively in reference to medicinal treatments.
“When you look at Erotian, in his philosophical anecdotes on Hippocratic philosophy, he actually does mention things that we might consider beer,” says Rupp. “He talks about barley wines and barley juices and things like that, that are being consumed for medicinal purposes.”
Greece fell to Rome in 146 B.C.E., one of several regions it conquered from the end of the third century into the second century B.C.E.
During Rome’s conquest of Spain, Pliny described the “natives prior to Roman influence as being beer drinkers, that they consumed a beer that was very similar to what the Gauls were drinking, which was kind of a hazy wheat beer,” says Rupp.
After the Romans arrived, Spain’s drinking culture changed.
“We think of Spain today, and we think of a wine culture,” says Rupp. “You’ve got the Rioja region and all these wonderful wines that come from Spain. It seems, according to the archaeobotanical record, that grapes were not widely cultivated in Spain until the Romans arrived.”
Wine came to have strong religious ties in ancient Rome. Constantine I defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312 C.E.), he then later became the ruler of Rome in 324 C.E. He began to transform Rome into a monotheistic institution. With that came greater emphasis on wine.
“Think about Christian religion,” says Rupp. “There’s taking communion and drinking the blood of Christ, and wine started to be equated with that. Where drinking beer was a symbol that you had not converted, and therefore you were the barbarian ‘other.’”
This made its way to ancient Egypt (3100 B.C.E.–332 B.C.E.), which had a thriving beer culture and land not well suited for wine production. Affluent individuals in ancient Egypt’s Oxyrhynchus region tried their hand anyway.
“They were growing grapes for wine production, but a lot of that comes in the late period, we’re talking sixth or seventh century [C.E.], maybe as a reaction what the Romans had already done in the area,” says Rupp.
Eusebius, author of Constantine’s religious biography, wrote about how Egyptians drank beer “before the Lord lived among them,’” says Rupp. “So that beer was a marker of a distant past and of pagan institutions.”
It’s tempting to read ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian authors, and surmise that beer was not an important part of their culture. But “most of the material is being channeled to us through the lens of the uber elite,” says Rupp.
“So, you have these people that live in the upper echelons of Greek society who are literate, and the vast majority of the population was not,” he says. “In both Greece and ancient Rome, it’s likely that only 1% of the population was literate. And they’re obviously going to be the people that are wealthy and aristocratic. And so that’s the lens that we’re getting this history through.”
It’s important to take many different sources into consideration, like medical texts, dramas, art and modern-day science.
“Imagine if we left it up to the upper 1% of our population to write all of our history and everything regarding culinary or alcohol culture,” says Rupp. “It would not be the truth, right?”
The lyre was an early form of the harp that was borrowed from the Greeks. It was built out of wood or tortoise shell with a number of strings that stretched from across the bar to the surrounding body. The strings would usually be four, seven, or ten in number. The lyre would be held in one hand and plucked with the other using a plectrum. Barbitos or barbiton was a variant of the lyre and had longer strings. This Greek instrument derived from Persia, is said to have gone out of use during the time of Artistotle and appeared again during the Roman era.
The modern-day harp is a much more sophisticated and polished-looking instrument than its predecessor, the lyre. The strings in this device are placed perpendicular to the base which makes it easier to be placed being flat bottomed, and can be made in variable sizes to suit the occasion. The grand weddings or events then, had huge harps which were usually a piece of attraction for the visitors.
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Larger than the lyre, the kithara, originally a Greek instrument, continued to be one of the most widely used ones. It was highly regarded by the Romans for its loud, shrill but sweet sound and the precision with which it could be tuned. It was believed that the God of Music blessed the kithara players.
Ease of use and convenience to carry it around made it a popular instrument, although not as much as the kithara or the lyre. It had a small body, a long neck and three strings. The lute is considered to be the forerunner of the guitar.
Ancient Greece’s Army of Lovers
In June, 1818, during a visit to central Greece, a young English architect named George Ledwell Taylor went out riding with some friends in order to explore the ruins of an ancient town called Chaeronea. As Taylor’s party neared its destination, his horse took a “fearful stumble,” as he later recalled, on a stone in the roadway on further inspection, he saw that the stone was, in fact, part of a sculpture. Energetic digging eventually revealed an animal head nearly six feet high—or, as Taylor put it, a “colossal head of the Lion.”
That definite article and the capital “L” are crucial. Taylor realized that he had uncovered a famous monument, mentioned in some historical sources but since lost, known as the Lion of Chaeronea. The Englishman had been studying a work called “The Description of Greece,” by Pausanias, a geographer of the second century A.D., which states that the gigantic figure of the sitting animal had been erected to commemorate a remarkable military unit that had perished there. The lion, Pausanias surmised, represented “the spirit of the men.”
The unit to which those men belonged was known as the Sacred Band. Comprising three hundred warriors from the city of Thebes, it was among the most fearsome fighting forces in Greece, undefeated until it was wiped out at the Battle of Chaeronea, in 338 B.C.—an engagement during which Philip of Macedon and his son, the future Alexander the Great, crushed a coalition of Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes. Scholars see Chaeronea as the death knell of the Classical Era of Greek history.
Others might find the story interesting for different reasons. Not the least of these is that the Band was composed entirely of lovers: precisely a hundred and fifty couples, whose valor, so the Greeks thought, was due to the fact that no man would ever exhibit cowardice or act dishonorably in front of his beloved. In Plato’s Symposium, a dialogue about love, a character remarks that an army made up of such lovers would “conquer all mankind.”
Sixty years after George Taylor’s horse stumbled, further excavations revealed a large rectangular burial site near the Lion. Drawings that were made at the site show seven rows of skeletons, two hundred and fifty-four in all. For “The Sacred Band” (Scribner), a forthcoming book by the classicist James Romm, the illustrator Markley Boyer collated those nineteenth-century drawings to produce a reconstruction of the entire mass grave. Black marks indicate wounds. A number of warriors were buried with arms linked if you look closely, you can see that some were holding hands. ♦
The credit for the illustration above has been updated to include Markley Boyer.
Dig at Epidaurus’ Asclepion Uncovers Layers of Ancient Greek History
The Asclepion at Epidaurus. Credit: Sharon Mollerus/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-2.0
Recent excavations at the Asclepion of Epidaurus have revealed the remains of an even older temple building found at the shrine, in the vicinity of the Tholos.
The partially-excavated building, which is dated to about 600 B.C., consists of a ground floor with a primitive colonnade and an underground basement chipped out of the rock beneath.
The stone walls of the basement are covered in a deep-red-colored plaster and the floor is an intact pebble mosaic, which is one of the best-preserved examples of this rare type of flooring to survive from this era.
The find is considered significant because it predates the impressive Tholos building in the same location, whose own basement served as the chthonic residence of Asclepius, and which replaced the newly-discovered structure after the 4th century B.C.
This shows that the worship of Asclepius at Epidaurus began much earlier than previously thought and had the same chthonic features, while altering what is known about the history of the region in general.
Credit: Greek Culture Ministry
Asclepion at Epidaurus is older than once thought
University of Athens Professor Vassilis Lamprinoudakis, head of the excavations in ancient Epidaurus, explained to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency when the building was first uncovered in January of 2020: “This means the worship of Asclepius appears to have begun earlier in the Asclepieion of Epidaurus.
Until now, it was believed to have begun around 550 BC, i.e., in the middle of the sixth century BC.
“Now it is evident that the structures are earlier, and this is particularly important for the history of the sanctuary and for the history of Asclepius himself,” the archaeologist noted.
“At the place where the Tholos was later built, a part of a building, a ‘double’ building, with basement and ground floor has been found.
Since there is a basement, like in the Tholos, we consider it to be a forerunner of this ‘mysterious’ building called the Tholos,” Lamprinoudakis stated.
“When it was decided to build the Tholos, this building was demolished. The empty space created by its basement was filled with relics from the old building, but also from other parts of the sanctuary.
That is because (when) the great program of the 4th century BC began, some other buildings were also demolished, the material of which was buried with respect in the place,” he added.
Patients were treated at the site
The archaeologist explained that the name Tholos “was only given to the structure by the ancient traveler Pausanias in the second century AD.
Its original name, as we know from the inscriptions of the 4th century BC, was ‘Thymeli.’ Thymeli was a kind of altar (used in sacrifice), in which offerings were made without blood.”
Lamprinoudakis continued, saying “Research tells us that the Tholos was a kind of underground house of Asclepius, where patients were treated by injection.”
The patient who slept in this special place would dream of the god Asclepius to reveal to him the cure for his illness.
“This former building had a function similar to that of the Tholos, that is, its basement served as the seat of Asclepius on earth,” the archaeologist explained.
Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni encouraged the archaeologists on the site in the completion of their very important work of revealing the structure in its entirety.
The Culture Minister was also briefed on projects designed to showcase the archaeological site and the surrounding park using European Community funding, including the planting of a medicinal herb garden to illustrate how the sanctuary would have functioned.
The Principles of Slavery in Ancient Greece
Slavery in ancient Greece was widespread. No one thought that slavery was inhuman and cruel, it was an accepted practice. (Image: Anastasios71/Shutterstock)
Slavery came in different forms and levels. The ideal slave was an inhuman creature with no civic or even biological personality and was treated like a piece of property. But this type of slave did not exist as no one would fit into these classifications. However, there were different levels of slavery, a kind of hierarchy, or spectrum, in which slaves were divided, which was based on their qualities and conditions. Slavery was not an either/or situation, in which you were either free or a slave it was a continuum.
How Slavery Was Viewed in Ancient Greece?
There are very limited accounts of slavery from the point of view of slaves to portray how they felt about being a slave. But we do know how they spent their days as a slave. Regardless, we have extensive knowledge of how the slave-owners felt and thought. Having slaves was a universally accepted phenomenon for Greeks, and they grew up with their slaves forming a kind of friendship with them. It was a very normal practice, and no one considered it a cruel act that had to be abolished. If someone unconsciously felt that slavery was inhumane, instead of questioning its rightness, they would try to treat the slaves humanely and kindly. Even if we read in some works of literature like that of Crates, a vision of a technologically advanced future that no one needs to work, it is not an argument for putting an end to slavery. Even the greatest thinkers could not imagine a world free of slavery since it was such an established phenomenon interwoven in the cultural heritage of the nation.Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher thought that slaves were a piece of property, a piece that could breathe. (Image: Glyptothek / CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)
In Politics Aristotle classifies slaves into two groups: slaves by nature and slaves by law. As their names suggest, the members of the first group were born into captivity while the second was captured or acquired as a result of wars or piracy. They were otherwise free human beings enslaved as a result of coincidence.
Aristotle believed that the natural-born slaves belonged to an inferior human race due to their deformed bodies. What Aristotle missed was that the slaves were not enslaved because of their misshapen bodies quite contrary, they had misshapen bodies because they were slaves and were forced to do grueling physical work.
He called them ktêma empsuchon, a piece of property that breathes. You would think that a bright mind like Aristotle is expected to have a more humane view on slavery, but it was the collective mindset in that era, and no one was able to think otherwise.
This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Number of Slaves in Greece
Clearly, there is not a formal register of the number of slaves in ancient Greece, but the historian, Paul Catledge, has estimated the number of slaves. Comparing data from modern slave societies like Brazil, the Caribbean, and the Antebellum South, he expects the number to be nearly 80,000 to 100,000. With the total population of 2,50,000 between 450 and 320 B.C.this means approximately one in four of the people in Athens were slaves.
Moses Finley was the first historian who investigated the history of slavery in ancient Greece. Embarrassed about the historical exploitations in their country, Greek historians did not study the subject. They just said that any person who was free and could afford to have slaves, would own a slave attendant to accompany him wherever he went, and a female slave for household chores. The number of slaves a person owned increased based on the wealth of that person. Basically, owning a car is the modern-day equivalent of owning a slave.
Slaves in ancient Greece had no identity of their own. They were tortured and beaten, forced to live at the mercy of their masters. (Image: Louvre Museum/CC BY 3.0/Public domain)
Slaves in ancient Greece did not have any human or civil rights. They were tortured for different reasons their owner could beat them whenever he wanted when their testimony was needed for a lawsuit, they were tortured into confessing to their own guilt or incriminate someone else. They were even forced to have sexual relationships without consent. They were just properties like a table or a chair. The only difference was that they were living things.
Common Questions about the Principles of Slavery in Ancient Greece
Slaves in ancient Greece were treated like pieces of property. For Aristotle they were ‘a piece of property that breathes’. They enjoyed different degrees of freedom and were treated kindly or cruelly depending on the personality of the owner.
The Athenian slaves belonged to two groups. They were either born into slave families or were enslaved after they were captured in wars.
People became slaves in ancient Greece after they were captured in wars. They were then sold to their owners. Other slaves were, by nature, born into slave families.