The system of the family in ancient Greece was well-developed. Families had a hierarchical system. What we see now in modern Greece is quite different from what it was thousands of years ago.

Throughout Greek literary works the importance of family is clearly demonstrated. A clear example of this is Medea by Euripides and Antigone by Sophocles. So the family has been a very important part of Greek culture.

An ancient Greek family consisted of an older male who was supposed to be the head of the family, a matured male, his wife, two to three children, concubines, slaves for household work and sometimes even sisters and brothers of the male.

Family Concept of Ancient Greece

Women were supposed to get married between the age of 12 and 16 to men who were generally two to even three times her age. The women mostly didn’t have any say in the marriages and were fixed by a father or a brother.

Many city-states had their elaborate wedding ceremonies while many didn’t. Dowry was an important custom in marriage that had to be paid by the father of the bride.

Although there was equality among the sexes, men had a better standard of life and liberty in ancient Greece. Men were considered the true citizens of the land. Even important decisions were made by men.

Ancient Greece Family Concept

The role of men in Ancient Greek society

Greece was a male bastion. Women had respect, but no power. Their role in ancient Greece is still unclear, but it is no different from what their role is in some countries of the modern world. Each family in ancient Greece was headed by a male. They dictated the course of the family. The same thing applied to the larger society as well. They were supposed to be the bread winner and provide for the family.

Men, especially wealthy ones, would most of their time away from their families dealing with political issues, fighting in the army, engaging in debates, art, philosophy, etc.
The concept of love was also not associated with marriage in ancient Greece. Men were in many times associated with extramarital relationships, which have been greatly romanticized in Greek literature. Apart from their wives, they had many concubines whom they had relations with. Those included prostitutes or sometimes slaves captured in war.

The role of women in ancient Greece society

The women from wealthy families were not supposed to go out and whenever they did they had to be accompanied by a male as a female traveling alone could be accused of affairs with other males. But poor women had to go out fpor work and income

Women never fought in wars, took part in sports or met in public. They led a private life. But ancient Greek manuscripts have indicated that Spartan women were literate. They were also taught to be self-reliant. Spartan women knew the use of arms and weapons, to protect themselves during the war.

Ancient Greece Family Concept

But records suggest that most women in ancient Greece were homemakers. This has led historians to believe that human beings were for thousands of years conservative. The virtues of parity-play and difference of sexes were fully known that time.

Women were expected to rear children, run the home, and look after aging parents of the males.  They were also supposed to look after agricultural estates when the males were not present and also supervising the work of the slaves in coking and other household chores. Cloth making was another duty of the women where they needed o be expert in the art of spinning and weaving. It is quite surprising how from such a conservative outlook, Greece has evolved into what it is now today.

Religion was an important sphere for women where they expected to perform rituals for the Successful return of their husbands and the success of their children. They participated prominently and in certain cults like the cult of Athena in Athens, the priestess exerted great power.

The use of slaves in ancient Greece:

Only poor families did not employ slaves. Nearly all families in ancient Egypt used the help of slaves to assist in homemaking activities. Every family in ancient Greece employed an average of two slaves. There were male slaves too, apart from female slaves.

While female slaves helped in cooking and cleaning, male slaves helped in protecting the house and looking after the welfare of the children in the house.

The children

A baby was indoctrinated into the family when became 5 years old and the father performed a ritual by carrying him around the house. But if the child was weak or sickly, he was most likely weak or sickly, he was in most probability left outside the city to die.

The boys were sent to school to study and learn the art of war while the girls were trained to learn the arts required in homemaking like weaving, cooking, etc.

Ancient Greece Family Concept

Ancient Greek Schools:

It is interesting to note that only boys went to school. Greek schools were small, accommodating only a dozen to twenty students at a time. School education was expensive, and only the rich could afford it. There were only handful school teachers. The ratio was one or two teachers per school. The concept of school was not fully developed in ancient Greece.

Ancient Greece Family Concept

Only the rich educated their women. Tutors would visit their homes and teach the women. Guards or male slaves kept a watch as teachers taught the women in the house. Ancient Greece was a highly conservative society.

The boys were made to study Greek epics, literature, philosophy, art, and architecture. They were also trained to become warriors for fighting in wars and battles. After completing their education by the age of 16, they would be indoctrinated in family trades, business, arts, farming, etc.

While the girls learned the arts of weaving, spinning, cooking, and other things to make them good homemakers.

Yet they were highly aware of certain things that still remain unchanged even to this day in modern times. The Ancient Greek Family Concept still exists in many parts of the world to this day.

Spartan family

The spartan families were different than in other city-states. The men were always engaged in the army and the barracks.

While the female had a lot more freedom than anywhere else. They went to schools along with the boys and were even supposed to be trained as warriors. They had to look after the family estates and the slaves. Agriculture were completely a sphere of women and slaves in Ancient Sparta. They even had a voice in the assemblies and the political issues.


The provision of divorce was prevalent in ancient Greece. The women could take divorce but had to register it with the archon. After the divorce, the dowry could be asked to be returned to the woman.

The husband could divorce on the grounds of adultery and by simply sending his wife back to her home but in that case, had to give a certain amount as reparation.

While the woman did not become independent after divorce and returned under the protection of her male family members who could decide to Marry her back to someone else and if no suitable candidate was found she could even be married to a family member.