Ancient Civilizations: The Greek Way of Life

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13083

Enjoying feasts with friends, lying on a comfy couch, discussing philosophy. Watching plays at the theater. Competing in the Olympics. Ah, what a life! But for Greek men only! What about the ladies?

categories

World

subject
History
learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Can you name the different parts of an ancient Greek city?

Examine this image of LEGO Ancient Greece created by Lasse Vestergard and posted to Flickr. Can you find the houses, acropolis, temple, agora, stoas, and theater?

The ancient Greeks lived in well-planned cities and enjoyed various comforts and entertainments, but many privileges were reserved for men only!

Cities

The LEGO Ancient Greece model is a good example of how Greek cities were laid out. Most were built around a hill or high place, where a fortress was built for defense.

This was called the acropolis. Temples and other buildings were built on top of it.

acropolis

Every city also had an agora. This was the meeting place and marketplace of the city.

agora

The agora would have a stoa or two. These were open-air buildings that could contain meeting places and shops. This ancient stoa in Athens was rebuilt in the 1950's and made into a museum.

The cities would have theaters and stadiums as well.

But only free men could enjoy the theater and stadium events. Why? Because of the social structure of Greece.

Social Classes

The main social structure in ancient Greece was: men, women, free laborers, and slaves.

If you completed the previous Related Lesson, found in the right-hand sidebar, you know that ancient Greece was not a united country, but a collection of over 1,000 city-states that ruled themselves. Because of that, the social structure might be a little different from one city-state to another.

For example, in Athens and many other city-states, women did not have any rights. Girls did not go to school like boys did. They were considered to be adults at age 12 or 13 and were given in marriage shortly afterward. They were expected to keep the home, manage the slaves, and raise the children.

In Sparta, women had a little more freedom. They could own property and go about the town as they liked. They could drink wine and compete in athletics. Girls could go to school and could wait a few more years before being married (around age 18).

But in most Greek city-states, women could not even go out of the house without their husband's permission. They were not allowed to attend the theater or even join their husbands at dinner parties inside their own homes!

The free laborers depended on the people for whom they worked. They were not slaves, so they could not be bought or sold. They were servants who lived with the families they served.

Slaves, of course, had no rights. There were many slaves in ancient Greece, making up maybe a third of the population. Some were treated well, but most probably were not. However, some could eventually buy their freedom; and some were set free by their owners.

Homes

Similar to the division between men and women in Greek society, Greek homes also had separate spaces for men and women. The husband had a room called the andrion (from the word andro meaning "man" in Greek), where he would entertain his guests. This room would have the most comfortable furniture, such as couches with cushions and pillows. Men would gather here to discuss philosophy and politics, to eat and drink, to share poetry, jokes, and riddles, and to be entertained.

andrion

Women were not allowed to enter the andrion except for entertainers and servers. The woman of the house had a room called the gynaikon (from--you guessed it--the Greek word for "woman" gynaika). In the gynaikon, women would work at their spinning and weaving of cloth and spend time with their children. They could also entertain female friends and family members there. The gynaikon was usually upstairs, while the andrion was downstairs.

gynaikon

Due to the hot Mediterranean summers, houses were designed to be cool with open, airy places. They were made from sun-dried bricks with tiles on the roof and small windows high up on the walls. At the center of the home was an open courtyard. There you would find the well that supplied water and probably an altar to one of the gods. Around the courtyard were the other rooms including bedrooms, bathroom, store room, work room, and kitchen.

Watch part of the video below to take a tour of a classical Greek house made in Minecraft! (Note that the narrator has difficulty remembering the words andrion and gynaikon and in keeping zombies out of his Greek house! Other than that, it's very accurate.)

ancient greek house Historical Architecture Minecraft Inspiration by HexRegulus:

 

Clothing

Greek statue

Greek clothing was rather simple. Because of the hot weather, their clothes were made to be light and loose. Both men and women wore tunics called chitons. The men wore shorter chitons while the women wore longer ones that were belted at the waist. They either went barefoot or wore leather sandals. Wealthier women might wear jewelry and makeup such as face powder and lipstick. Greek women also loved to experiment with fancy hairstyles using braids, curls, ribbons, and headbands.

Theater

ancient Greek theater

  • Did you know that the Greeks invented theater?

Theater began as a way to honor the gods. Ceremonies were held to honor the gods with songs. One day, a singer began to act out the songs rather than just sing them. His name was Thespis, and that is why actors today are sometimes called thespians. Thespis began to wear masks as well. Eventually, putting on plays became a major part of Greek culture, and each city would have its own theater.

Watch a clip from Thespis, Athens, and The Origins of Greek Drama: Crash Course Theater #2 to learn about the Theater of Dionysus:

Athletics

The Greeks loved athletic contests. Of course, you know they invented the Olympic games, which started in 776 BC. As with the theater, the Olympics started as a way to honor the gods.

There were strict rules about the athletes who could participate:

  1. They had to swear to Zeus that they had trained for 10 months.
  2. They had to swear to follow the rules and compete with honor.
  3. They had to be free men.
  4. They had to speak Greek.

Watch part of The ancient origins of the Olympics - Armand D'Angour from TED-Ed to learn how the Olympics started:

 

The prize for winning was only a crown of olive leaves, but it was a great honor to the Greeks!

  • Would you do all that work for a crown of olive leaves?

When they got home from the games, many Olympic champions would be honored by their hometowns with parades, banquets, and even cash prizes; so many men did find it worth their time to compete for those honors!

Now that you've learned about the Greek way of life, run over to the Got It? section, where you'll write a letter in favor of more rights for women in ancient Greece and research Greek foods to prepare a feast!

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