Shakeel Ahmed; Samantha Fisher; and Allison Glazebrook

The concept of the household, its organization, and management are central to ancient Greek economy and society. The common Greek term is oikos. While the word can refer to the actual physical structure of the house, its meaning is much broader. It includes the members living there, both free and enslaved, and all its property, that is, the house, household, and wealth. The oikos was also the basic unit of a community or polis in the classical period (479- 323 BCE) and community participation was tied to its membership. Stewardship and the preservation of the oikos for future generations was thus important to the concept as well.

Philosophical texts and law court speeches project an ideal image of the household as a nuclear family with an adult citizen male at the head. But how much do such images correspond to the everyday reality of living in an ancient Greek house in a polis? This book attempts to answer this question. Each contribution incorporates textual, visual, and archaeological evidence and considers this evidence from the perspectives of gender, status, and wealth. On account of the surviving evidence, Athens and Olynthus, a city in northern Greece, dominate, but other areas of Greece also feature.

By including material on socially and legally marginalized groups, this book reveals a complex image of the Greek household that varies from one neighbourhood and city to another. Most importantly, this study highlights the active participation and contributions of low-status groups in the household’s organization and management.


Three sets of women interacting with each other. The first weaving, the second trading items, and the third carrying a box full of items to another woman. The space is divided by a column and an open door.
Women (free and enslaved?) interact while they work or enjoy some leisure time in the home. Attic red-figure pyxis attributed to Douris, 500-470 BCE, British Museum, London, 1873,01111.7 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Greek household that emerges is a complex network that challenges Greek ideals concerning family, home, household organization, and management. The ancient authors’ elite and privileged perspective is the primary reason for any conflict between narrative and material evidence. But by examining a variety of source material from diverse perspectives, this book attempts to discover the social and economic reality of the household for members of every strata of ancient Greek society.

Overview of Chapters

In “Looking for a family”, Danielle Szymezko-Singer examines the composition of the Greek family. She asks what activities occupied women and children’s time in the house. In “From the Ground up”, Ethan Luckasavitch seeks to understand domestic architecture and its construction. Alex Hoffer, in “Organization of Space”, shines a light on the flexibility of space in terms of functions and gender. On the other hand, in “The Andron”, Ashley Ryzsdik examines the social reality in a much-touted, male-only quarter in the household. She concludes that in most Greek houses, spaces were flexible, and their function varied from time to time. In “Storage”, Emily Laffin is keen to find out how ancient Greeks organized the household space for storage and what sorts of equipment were involved in the process. Allison Glazebrook’s aim in “Security and Locking up” is to highlight the features that provided a sense of security. She shows how doors and locks were also used to segregate members within the household.

The oikos was key to the ancient economy. In “Household Production”, John-Michael Bout exposes the myth of self-sufficiency in the Greek household. He emphasizes the interconnectedness and interdependency of households across the polis. In “Diet and Food Production”, Kaylee Janzen tackles food-making activities and examines the relationship between tools and users. Since the recent pandemic has forced many people to work from home, Jessie Simpson illustrates, in “Working from Home”, that the concept of a workplace, a distinct space apart from domestic activities and living space, did not exist in the ancient Greek world. Greek households were abuzz with industrial activities ranging from textile production and agriculture to dusty and heavy scale marble work. Julia Minato in “Water Supply and Waste Management” deals with the sticky but fundamental issues of hygiene and water. She shows how managing the water supply also provided women, both citizens and non-citizens, free and non-free, with an opportunity for female community.

The last two chapters deal with less-discussed topics: the lived realities of underprivileged citizens and non-citizens. In “At the Margins”, Shakeel Ahmed examines the roles and functions of enslaved men and women in the Greek household. Athenian society socially and politically disenfranchised these people despite their essential contributions. In “Poverty and Homelessness”, Sam Fisher zooms in on ancient sources to examine less-privileged, low-income households, often lacking the central figure of a citizen male.



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Houses and Households in Ancient Greece Copyright © 2022 by Shakeel Ahmed; Samantha Fisher; and Allison Glazebrook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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