Ancient Greek Family has always been the most important primary institution since the beginning of human society. Patriarchy was a fact whereas matriarchy was only an option in ancient Greece. Although patriarchy as a distinct system had not evolved in those days, the fact that male superiority prevailed in ancient Greek society is undisputed.

Ancient Greek Family

Importance of Family in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greeks attached great importance to family. Men got married when they were about twenty-five or thirty. But as far as women were concerned, age at marriage was as low as fifteen or sixteen. Women had little say in their marriage. Girls in wealthy families were married at a younger age than the poor families. Unlike modern days, marriage ceremony did not prevail.

Ancient Greek Family

Ancient Greek Family: Marriages

Marriages were largely arranged by the parents or other elder male members of the family. There was a party, giving of dowry and then the girl moved to the man’s house. The boy’s parents and unmarried sisters also lived in the same household. We also have instances of slaves living in the same house. Divorce was not uncommon in ancient Greece. Divorce was followed by the returning of dowry by the man to the woman.

Men were superior in all spheres of life. Men engaged in administration, trade, agriculture etc. Men also enjoyed leisure activities like hunting, wrestling, horse riding, drinking etc. Wives and daughters were not allowed to attend drinking parties of men.

Ancient Greek Family

Ancient Greek woman

Ancient Greek woman was supposed to do the housekeeping and rear children. They managed household chores and every household had slaves to assist them. They also engaged intuitions of young children. The women were allowed to attend religious festivals, weddings, and funerals. They could also visit their female neighbors and friends. But restrictions were imposed upon their freedom, though the city-state of Sparta was an exception.

It is said that ancient Greek women were controlled by their father until their marriage and thereafter by their spouse! The women could not even watch the Olympic Games! Wives and daughters were prohibited from attending them. Chariot racing was the only item the women were allowed to participate and win.

Ancient Greek Family

It is surprising to note that Greeks considered their children to be youths until they reached the age of 30 years. The birth of a child was a happy occasion. The house was decorated and friends and relatives sent gifts. If a woolen strip was hung over the front, it indicated that the baby born was a female. An olive branch indicated the birth of a baby boy. As a custom, the naked father, on the birth of a child, carried his child around the household!

Boys enjoyed more freedom than the girls. The young girls helped their mother in household work as they grew up. They also learned singing and dancing to participate in religious festivals. Boys were sent to school at the age of six whereas education was denied for a woman. Boys were made to participate in gymnastics. At the age of 16, they began to be trained for their future jobs.

Life in Family

Family setting

Ancient Greek Family Life, Most homes in ancient Greece had a courtyard, which was the center of activity. Children could safely play outside in the warm climate. Homes were divided into areas for the men and areas for the women. The andron was a room reserved for males to entertain male guests. The room had a separate entrance to the street so male guests did not have to cross paths with any of the ladies of the house.

Houses were made out of sun-dried brick on a foundation of stones. Sun-dried brick was not a dependable material and often crumbled. Burglars were termed wall piercers because they broke through the walls to gain entry into homes. Roofs were made of overlapping clay tiles. Andron room floors were sometimes tiled, but the flooring of the rest of the rooms was packed dirt.

The Greeks had a very limited amount of furniture in their Greek houses. The rooms were relatively bare by today’s standards. Wooden chairs, couches, and stools were typical. Food was cooked outside during most of the year. When the weather was not conducive to cooking outside, a hearth or brazier was used in the kitchen. Kitchens were built with a hole in the roof so that smoke could escape.

Houses had one or two private rooms. Bathrooms consisted of a chamber pot, which was dumped into a gutter or into the street. The head of each household was the husband. It was the woman’s role to complete the daily chores and raise children. Often large families included the parents and children, grandparents, unwed female relatives, and slaves all under the same roof.

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.

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.

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.