jenn neff

A day in the life of an ancient Athenian

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 was called by his contemporaries.

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,