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GCSE Class civ revision  

Classical Civilisation Revision Notes 


i)   Athenian Society 

ii)  Greek Athletics and Theatre

iii) Ovid Metamorphosis - books seven and eight

iv)  Pliny letters 1 - 19



Class. Civ. Athenian society revision Summary

The city was an amazing place, the largest in Greece . Athens controlled the land around it, a large region called Attika. Between the many mountains were fertile valleys, where farmers grew olives, grain, fruit and grapes. Athens became rich and powerful, helped by Attika’s valuable sources of silver, lead and marble. In 510BC a new way of government was invented in Athens . ‘Demokratia’, from which we get our word ‘democracy’, means ‘rule by the people’. Any man with full citizen rights could go to the assembly, where they could speak and vote freely.  

Public debates like this decided how the city was run. Athens had law courts with trial by jury. Juries were much larger than today, with several hundred members. After listening to the evidence jurors voted by placing metal discs into one of two jars - one for guilty, one for not guilty. Punishments were decided by the court, and included the death penalty. We still have surviving records of ancient court cases. Women did not have citizen rights. They could not take part in the assembly, or vote, or serve on juries.  

In wealthy families girls were educated to run the household of servants and slaves, and were usually married by the age of 13. In poorer families women worked alongside men, farming in the fields or running the family business. Between a quarter and a third of Athens 300,000 population were slaves. These were men and women captured in wars or born into slavery.

Many slaves had special skills, such as nurses and teachers, while others had the hardest and most unpleasant work to do. It was common for a rich household to have many slaves. Some slaves were owned by the state. For example archers from Scythia were used as a kind of police force by the Athenian government.  

Modern world ( U.K. )
No civic rights
18+ full civic rights
Seen as chattels
Productive, make up 51% of the population
All money remained in the hands of the males
Can own personal wealth/business etc.
No inheritance
Lawfully allowed equal shares with males
Could divorce – looked down on


-          There were freeborn and slave women; citizens and metics; upper class and lower class

-          Whichever group they belonged to, they were all under the control of the men

-          Freeborn Greek women began their lives as daughters under the control of the kyrios or head of the household, usually the father. The kyrios had the power of life and death of the child and if they were too deformed or just one too many mouths to feed, he could decided to let it die.

-          Sons were expected to work at occupations that would bring profit to the household. Daughters on the other hand, were taught by their mothers how to become desirable brides for her husband-to-be. In her teens she was married off by her father in an arranged marriage by a much older man who was attracted not only by her youthfulness but also the dowry that went with her. The daughter had no say in this or any other matters in her life. She was regarded as property of her father then her husband until she died.

-            Not getting married was seen as failure as it brought dishonour to the family and incurred continued expense to her father.

-          Women had no political or social rights and their husbands were very paternalistic towards their wives.

-          Woman's status was determined by her class and in 5th century seclusion in the home was an indicator of an upper class female.

-          Priestesses were held in the greatest respect while the hetairai had the greatest social freedom and influence with men.

-          The hetairai were not just prostitutes but intelligent, educated women (and seem to have been mainly foreign) who mixed freely with men discussing philosophy, drama and politics.

-          Upper class women would lose status if she was captured in war and became a slave.

Duties of Athenian Women

-          One of the most important duties of a wife was to provide healthy male children and be faithful to the husband. Passiveness was desirable in a woman.

-          Household duties included managing the home by providing meals and clothing for the family, experienced in the arts of spinning, weaving, making clothes, cooking, preserving food, supervising children, servants, and slaves.

-          Athenian women were barred from public life and not allowed to attend athletic games.

-          They were Athenian citizens but had few political rights & legally were under the control of men (kyrios a guardian) all their lives.

-          Athenian women could not own land & property except their personal possessions of clothes, jewellery and slaves. Some evidence suggests than working class women could own & operate small businesses but could take part only in legal transactions that involved less than the value of one medimnos of barley. In legal disputes men would act for them.

Property right

-          The Athenian property law was that women never had property to manage, inherit, or pass down; it was considered inappropriate.  

-          In Sparta, women could own land and daughters could inherit. 

-          In other parts of the Greek world, women are known to have owned land, houses, slaves and even negotiated loans and mortgages. They act with a kyrios (husband, son, father) in this transaction

-          As women grew older, sons became very important to them.  Adult sons of widows acted as their mother's kyrios and managed their dowries, which they would eventually inherit.  A son provided his mother with a public voice for the protection of her property and rights.  A son was also required to protect his widowed mother.

Weddings and wives

-          Amid a series of wedding songs and ritual designed to bring the blessings of the gods, the bride was led from her father’s house to her husbands. She was passed from the authority of one man to another.

-          The first part of the wedding ceremony was the betrothal

-          It was witnessed by both members of the family by law and the dowry was agreed

-          This was very important as it was a symbol of who possessed the women, the father or the husband. If a divorce took place then the dowry was returned. This meant that women had some protection against casual divorce. Although rare, a woman could divorce her husband.

-          The wife did all the spinning, weaving, cooking, cleaning and managing of the slaves, in the house and would adapt her life to suit her husband.

-          She was expected to produce male babies that would grow up and inherit the family property.

-          Wealth was inherited equally amongst all the sons (if none then the daughter would get it although this was then given to the husband)

-          Women faced many problems if she was divorced for unfaithfulness; she would be excluded from public ceremonies, forbidden to wear jewellery and regarded by others as social outcasts. They were unlikely to find another husband.   


-          Not much is known about Greek education other than the subjects taught. We do know that only boys were generally educated, not girls, and that the sons of wealthy Athenians began school earlier and stayed longer than the sons of not-quite-so-wealthy parents. These latter boys usually left school around the age of fourteen.

-          Little children were taught at home by their parents or by a slave, called a paedagogus. At the age of six or seven the boys were sent to primary school which was usually within the neighbourhood.

-          Elementary school teachers were always men, never women. Because of the low pay, and the Athenian aversion to taking a job, these men were themselves little educated and had little social standing. The money these teachers made came from the tuition fees the child's parents sent monthly. The costs of tuition and the topic of study were the choice of the teacher.

-          In school, the boys sat on plain benches while their teacher sat in an armchair, called a cathedra, and dictated, or read to the boys, their lessons from a book. At this time, books were very expensive. Therefore, the boys did not own copies of the books they were studying. Instead, while the teacher was reading out loud, the students would write down on tablets of wax what he was saying. Later they would memorize what they had written. In this way, entire books were memorized by Athenian students!

-          Interestingly enough, Greeks never read silently to themselves – always out loud. Proper enunciation of sound and diction were essential and voice training was constant. Classes were taught and information was learned almost entirely from the spoken word. This is why the Greeks had a love of drama, recitations, public recitals, and contests. Paintings the Athenians put on their vases show us pictures of the school rooms. They had writing tablets, rulers, baskets full of manuscripts, and, for music, lyres and flutes. Playing the lyre, an instrument resembling a small hand-held harp, was considered so important, that if a boy couldn't play the lyre well enough, it was thought to be a sign of bad breeding.

-          In the better and larger schools reading, writing, and mathematics would be taught by a special teacher, called the grammatistes, lessons in music and poetry were given by teachers called the kitharistes, and physical training was directed by the trainer, or paidotribes."

-          Education in ancient Greece was far different from education today. The Athenian boy in school had a study program far easier than boys (and girls) have today. The Athenian boy could concentrate only on the Greek language and literature because no other languages were taught. Mathematics was basic and simple. There was little scientific knowledge in the fifth and fourth centuries (499 -300) B.C. The readings were mainly the works of Homer, Hesiod, Theognis and the lyric poets and probably, towards the end of the fifth century (499-400) B.C. the tragic plays of various authors. Especially emphasized were the poems of Homer. These poems were the very backbone of the school course.

-          Primary education for Athenian boys lasted usually from the ages of six to fourteen. Secondary education, for boys from the wealthier families, was from the ages of fourteen to eighteen. Then, finally, the boys entered a military training camp for two years, until the age of twenty, when they were called ephebes. Gradually this military training was decreased to only one year.

-          In ancient Sparta , the purpose of education was to produce a well-drilled, well-disciplined marching army. Spartans believed in a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. They were very loyal to the state of Sparta . Every Spartan, male or female, was required to have a perfect body. When babies were born in ancient Sparta , Spartan soldiers would come by the house and check the baby. If the baby did not appear healthy and strong, the infant was taken away, and left to die on a hillside, or taken away to be trained as a slave (a helot). Babies who passed this examination were assigned membership in a brotherhood or sisterhood, usually the same one to which their father or mother belonged.


-          When a baby was born, it was presented, at the very least, to the relatives.
This took place between two – ten days after the birth.

-          It was held as a big celebration.  The father would commonly name the child at this time, but the father might also decide not to raise the baby as part of the oikos.  It was better to feed the children already existing as part of this oikos
rather than making them all suffer by raising one more and having them all go hungry.

-          Many babies died soon after being born.  It might seem that the baby was not likely to live. The baby might be exposed. But if the family made the decision to raise the infant, then most important for this event, would be that the father would declare this child his own. This was a public display that this child was indeed a citizen and belonged to the oikos.

-          It was this major reason for which women were watched so closely for improper behaviour. Girls very young were immersed in the idea of growing up only to get married and to have children.

-          It was the desire of the family to find husbands for all its girls.  Once the son had taken over the role of his father, it was his duty to marry off his sisters.  The best situation would have been for the sister(s) to marry one of the friends of the oikos, or a cousin.

-          The mother was trusted by the father of the family to raise the children. This was an ingredient in the Greek culture for many families; that the fathers would separate themselves from their children. Although, the father did involve himself in the life of his son, but not until he was about 7 years old.  The father certainly involved himself when his children reached a marriageable age. At this time the fathers took a great deal of interest in making very good matches for his children.

-          It was common for the mothers to leave their babies with a wet nurse (often a slave), or another mother who could watch the children during the day. This was necessary so that the mother could go to work in the fields for her family. But it was generally thought that most mothers would rather stay with their babies, if it were possible

-          The father got very involved in his child's life when a child reached a marriageable age.  If a father never had a son born to him, it was then equally important to get his daughter(s) married off properly, because then the husband of his daughter would become the father's heir to govern the oikos.  This was considered adoption and it was freely and frequently practiced as well as this being the simplest method of passing on property once a father passed on and he had no sons to whom he could leave an inheritance. There was a flurry of activity during the time of marrying off the children of an oikos. It certainly lasted long enough for a suitable mate to be found for either a son or a daughter, but the relationship after this point between parents and their children is only known between father and son.


-          In the evening the richer men would meet for a drinking party known as a symposium. There would be between 7 and 15 guests. They would lie down on couches. Often they decorated their heads with flowers.

-          For food there might be fish and meat, vegetables, and bread made from wheat. This was much better than the normal diet of barley bread and olive oil. Wine was always drunk mixed with water. The finest Greek pottery was used at the symposium.

-          Later in the evening there would be music and dancing. The guests would compete with each other in singing or playing the lyre. They might also recite poetry. One game, called kottabos, involved flicking wine from a cup at a target.


Greeks enjoyed good conversation. The symposium was a good place to meet new and interesting people or keep up with old friends.


Dancers were usually foreigners or slaves. No Athenian woman would be allowed to appear in public like this.



Slaves served the food and wine. Slaves also provided music on pipes.


A hetaira was a girl companion provided at the symposium. Many were very well educated, able to read and play music




Modern world ( U.K. )

Male only – females were objects of entertainment


Posh; mixed couples

Common occurrence/daily routine


Special occasions (generally)

Fairly informal



Quiet varies; main meals; 3 courses


Varies; three course meal

Family House

Greek 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, a men's dining room, and perhaps a woman's sitting area. Although the Greek women were allowed to leave their homes for only short periods of time, they could enjoy the open air, in the privacy of their courtyard. Much of ancient Greek family life centred around the courtyard. 

The ancient Greeks loved stories and fables. One favourite family activity was to gather in the courtyard to hear these stories, told by the mother or father. In their courtyard, Greek women might relax, chat, and sew. Most meals were enjoyed in the courtyard. Greek cooking equipment was small and light and could easily be set up there. On bright, sunny days, the woman probably sheltered under a covered area of their courtyard, as the ancient Greeks believed a pale complexion was a sign of beauty.

This is the house of a rich Greek family. It was built of mud bricks with small windows and a tiled roof. There was only one door. The furniture was very simple although some floors might have mosaics. Grain, oil, and wine from the owner’s farm were stored in the house.

In Athens , the women spent most of their lives in the home. There would be an open courtyard in the centre where they would work at their spinning and carry out other household jobs. They would also cook with the help of slave girls.

Men spent most of their time outside the house. In the evenings they might bring men friends home for a meal but their wives and daughters were not allowed to join them.


Hestia, the goddess of the home and family, watched over this room. Here mothers would play with their children around a fire lit in Hestias honour.


Cooking was done over an open fire in earthenware pots, often by slaves.


Every house would have its own altar in the courtyard. Sacrifices were made to favourite gods.


Beds were covered with brightly coloured blankets. Clothes were stored in chests.


Men would lie on couches to eat. Their food would be served by slave girls.


The Greeks had board games where a dice was thrown and counters moved. Children also played 'heads or tails' with pieces of painted pottery


The ancient Greeks built their houses out of mud bricks.  The bricks were made from a mixture of mud and straw, which was shaped into bricks and left in the sun to dry.

    Most of the rooms opened onto an open courtyard, which was designed so that it was not seen from the street.  Even small houses had a courtyard, larger homes had two.  The houses had small windows on the outside.  Most of the air and sunlight came in through the courtyard. 

    The biggest room in the house was called the andron.  This was where the men ate and had parties.  Next to the andron was the kitchen, which had a large fire in the middle of the room for cooking.


         Slaves were seen as a kitchen appliance and were bought to show off.

         Slaves didn’t have any identity but were vital for the functioning of the economy.

         A faithful slave Black slaves (usually from Africa ) were seen as different and unusual as well as being skilled in crafts etc.

         They could cost from 4,000 to 10,000.

         If a slave was good at their job, they could be ‘promoted’ They could also save some money either to free themselves or buy a woman and start up his own family.

         Slaves were trained by women to do domestic work or pursued their interest in their specialised field.

         An unusual job of slaves was they were used as police and were owned by the state.  

         They were mostly treated in a benign manner.

         Misbehaving slaves were severely punished or sent to the mines to work.

         Pasion was an exceptionally clever and highly regarded slave who was eventually granted citizenship.

         A slave might have been born a Tracian prince, a third generation slave from some Syrian metropolis or he may have been an unfortunate POW whose family was unable to raise a ransom.

         A faithful slave was often shown to be more loyal than members of his owner’s family are. They were also dressed in better clothing than many citizens were.

         When they became old it was custom that the family they served looks after them for the rest of their lives.

         However they were still regarded as a piece of property.


People in the ancient world, including Greece , usually died at a young age. War often took the lives of young men, while many young women died at home giving birth to their children. Our life expectancy today is much longer. Do you have any idea why? The ancient Greeks believed in some kind of life after death. Elaborate funerals were held to help the deceased person's soul find its way to the afterlife. According to Greek mythology, the god Hermes led the soul to the River Styx, which separated the world of the living from the Underworld, sometimes called Hades after the god of the Underworld.

 A ferryman named Charon waited to take souls across the river to Hades. The trip cost one Greek coin, which the dead person's family usually placed on the corpse so that he or she would be able to pay for their journey.

In Hades the dead joined a community of souls who could be reborn in a new body. While waiting for rebirth, they depended on their living relatives to tend them in certain ways, such as offering them food and drink at special times of the year.

These responsibilities were gladly carried out by the family, who wanted to do their part in making sure that the deceased rested comfortably.

The idea of "rebirth" is found in various Greek myths. In the story of Persephone you can use your detective skills and analyze a sculpture that illustrates part of the story



Modern world ( U.K. )



Various beliefs

Cross the river styx  

good  = Elysian    

bad    = somewhere bad


 If buried without ceremony then the souls would spend eternity floating in purgatory






Heaven                     Reincarnation 


Burial only


Various (burial, cremation etc)

Statues; small engraved tombs


Headstones, tombs engraved etc.

Body washed; enshrouded by women


Dependant on religious belief

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