Classical Greece

  • Period of 200 years (the 5th and 4th century BC)
    • Starts with the Athenian revolution in 508 BC
    • The golden age of Athens
    • Ends with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC

Important cities

Tragedy and Comedy

  • Not just entertainment, very important for political, culture and civic life (especially in Athens)
  • Always somehow connected to the god Dionysus
  • Seems to have evolved from choral competitions
  • During the golden age of Athens
    • Two great festivals
      • Lenaia
        • In late winter
        • Primarily for comedy
      • Dionysia
        • In spring
        • Primarily for tragedy
    • Each year, the eponymous Archon would choose 3 poets who were assigned to compete in the tragic festivals
      • He would then select 3 wealthy citizens (choregoi) that would act as a sort of producers to defray the expenses
  • Ampitheaters
    • Plan
    • Its capacity was about 15,000
    • Great acoustics
    • All actors were male
    • Actors had masks
      • So that they could be identifiable at long distance
    • All chorus members were male
  • Comedy
    • The surviving body of 5th century BC Greek comedy is very small
    • The only comedies that have survived are written by Aristophanes
    • In comparison to tragedy, they used contemporary life rather than myth as their theme
      • Moreover, the comic hero is an ordinary person
    • Standard comedy structure
      • The hero gets an idea
      • Thriumps over opposition to it
      • Enjoys the fruits of his wonderful idea


  • It means “drinking together”
  • Ritualized event for citizens - Invited guests reclined on couches around the edge of the room
  • In the center there was a great mixing bowl called krater in which water and wine were mixed together and served to participants
  • There was symposiarch
    • He was in charge of keeping things, progressing, orderly, etc.
    • Usually the host of the event
    • Music was played during the event
  • Because there was food and drink, god Dionysus was the presiding divinity there

Women in ancient Greece

  • Most of our sources come from Athens
  • The law was that a woman of any age had to have an adult male guardian (Kyrios)
    • For a girl, that would be her father, for young woman, that would be her husband and if either father or husban died, she would pass to any number of her male relatives
  • They could testify at trials, but, they could not, for example, own property (as women could not be citizens)
  • Marriage
    • They got married in their early teens to a man very much older (in his late 20s, early 30s)
    • Marriages were arrange by the Kyrios who came to an agreement with the groom
    • Wedding processions generally took place at night
    • Divorce was possible
  • Women were responsible for managing the household
    • Taking care of children and slaves
    • Taking care of goods, particularly cloth
  • There was a courtesan class of women (hetaire)
  • Women were very important in religion
    • Many goddesses in myths
    • The priestess at athens, the prophet of Apollo at Delphi
    • Women’s only religious festivals
      • The most famous one was called the Thesmophoria

Foreigners and Slaves in Athens

  • Population estimates for Athens
    • 480 BC432 BC
      Total125–150K215K – 300K
  • Ancient Greeks had a rather ambivalent attitude toward work
  • Foreigners

    • Some terms
      • Metic
        • From met-oikos - “one who has changed his home”
        • Resident foreigner
      • Metoikon
        • A special tax paid by a metic
      • Prostates
        • Citizen sponsor for a metic
    • If they were there only for a short time, they were just visitors, but longer they gained the metic status and had to pay metoikon
    • Rights
      • They had some legal protection
      • They had to perform military service when called on
      • They had no political rights
      • They could not own land in Attica
      • They could not intermarry
    • They were mostly drawn to Athens because of money and opportunities
    • Metics could be and were very important and wealthy
  • Slaves

    • There’s a variety of unfree labor
      • Helots
      • Serfs
        • Peasant farmers
      • Chattel slavery
        • One person owns another
        • Present in all greek communities
          • The primary source of slaves
      • Debt bondage
    • After Solon’s reforms, slaves were necessarily foreigners
      • So they were atomized and had no “slave consciousness”
        • So they never revolted
    • They worked in agriculture and in workshops too
      • They were a part of the household, they could even serve as tutors for the young
    • But they were still property
      • They could be sold, loaned out, etc.
      • They could be subject to abuse of any kind except for murder
    • A slave, if freed, would become a metic
      • With his former owner as his sponsor
      • See the extraordinary story of Pasion

Important Events

Important People