Daily Life and Social Structure in Athens/Sparta

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Daily Life and Social Structure in Athens/Sparta
(Ancient Greece during the Heroic Age, Chapter 3)

Name:_______________________________ Date:___________________

Adapted from: http://www.ancientgreece.co.uk/dailylife/story/sto_set.html

Athenian Female

Spartan Female

When I was born, my family announced my birth by pinning some sheep’s wool to our front door. This is seen as a symbol of the female’s life of domestic work.

I was lucky that my family wanted me even though I was born a girl. Some babies are left in a public place where anyone can pick them up or adopt them as slaves.

I now have a little baby brother! My parents are thrilled! Even though I am the eldest, my brother’s needs come above mine in the household because he is a boy. When he’s older, he will go to school but I won’t.

My mother is teaching me how to be a good mother when I grow up. I help feed my baby brother and put him on his potty. Although I don’t go to school, my mother trains me in the things I will need to know as an Athenian wife and mother.

Spinning and weaving are very important to us. We weave our clothes, wall hangings, cushions and bed linen. Anything we make that we don’t need we can sell at the market. We dress simply, either in a chiton or a peplos. Both reach to the ground and are usually belted at the waist.

Our home is always full of people. My grandparents live with us, although my father is the head of the household. Although we go to the temples and join other Athenians in public worship on festival days, we also have a shrine at home. There we worship Hestia together as a family. My father usually leads the rituals.

Now I am 13 years old, my childhood is officially over. To mark this special event there is a Hestia together as a family. My father usually leads the ritual for Athenian girls. Today I took all my childhood toys to the temple of the goddess Artemis, where I gave them to her. Then I was given a special girdle to wear which is a sign that I am a grown-up. I will wear it until I marry.

I am getting married! I am 14 years old and my husband-to-be is nearly 30. This age gap is quite normal for an Athenian marriage. Father managed to arrange this marriage with a good Athenian family, so I should be well looked after. It is strange to think that I will be leaving home. My new husband will legally ‘own’ me, and I will have very little control over my life.

In preparation for my marriage, I have spent the morning bathing in water from a holy spring. My mother and sister and some female slaves have perfumed my body. They have tied my long hair back into curls and dressed it with ornaments. My eyebrows have been darkened with make-up and my skin powdered to make it pale.

Because our household is quite wealthy, we have a good number of slaves. We bought our slaves here in Athens, but most come from far away. It is my job to train the slaves. I send them on errands and they help me in the house. I still weave and spin however – even noblewomen do that! It is seen as a special honour to help with the weaving of the special clothes for the statues of our goddesses.

Women are not allowed to have any public role, so it was a great honour for our family to hear that my sister has been chosen for the office of priestess. She is employed at the shrine of Athena and is therefore central to the public worship that goes on there.

At last it’s Autumn! I love this month because it is the time for the Thesmophoria, a festival celebrated only by women. It lasts for three days and is in honour of Demeter. We try to keep many of the details a secret from the men because they have plenty of rights and special events of their own that we are not allowed to be part of.

A terrible tragedy. My father-in-law has died suddenly. This morning, the women in the household washed his body, wrapped it in cloth and decorated it with flowers and herbs.

The men then placed the body on a wooden board in the dining room with the feet facing the door. It will remain here for three days.

It was a sad sight as we followed my father-in-law’s body before dawn, to the burial ground.

The men had dug the grave and sacrificed animals in preparation. The women were weeping and wailing and most of them had cut their hair short as a sign of respect.

We will continue to mourn for thirty days and then my father-in-law’s soul can go free.

Then it will be my job to ensure that the house is ceremonially swept and the sweepings placed in the tomb.

When I was born, my mother checked me over and was pleased to see that I was healthy and sturdy. She was sure that I would grow up fit and strong and bear Sparta great sons to be proud of!

I don’t see anything of my two older brothers. They have lived away from home since they were 7 years old, brought up by the state like all Spartan boys. I don’t get lonely though. My mother is always at home, and there are slaves around to do the housework.

I saw my mother weaving today – a very rare sight! Normally the Helots do all our household chores including weaving. We wear simple clothes – I just wear a short chiton most of the time.
It seems like I spend all my life doing exercise! However I enjoy dancing the most, which is something both boys and girls do to keep fit and agile.The dance I like best is called the bibasis. You have to jump as high as you can and hit your bottom with your heels. It keeps us fit, ready to make us strong mothers.

I’m so excited because today is my thirteenth birthday and the best present of all has been the honour of competing in the Heraia festival at Elis. The Heraia is the most important athletic event women can compete in and is held to honour Hera. You never see an Athenian girl there though – they’re too busy with their silly spinning and weaving! I came first in a running race! The gods were smiling on me.

Now I am 18 and ready to marry. My husband Damonon will not live with me until he leaves the army barracks when he’s 30 years old. In the meantime, our marriage is kept quiet and my husband sneaks away from the barracks at night so that he can see me for a few hours.

I’m pregnant! Our marriage is no longer a secret – although my husband still has to stay in the barracks until he is 30 years old. I pray to the goddess Eileithyia that this child will be a strong citizen who will make Sparta proud.

It’s a girl! I have given birth to a fine daughter, strong and healthy like her mother. I feel very proud. I’m finally doing my duty as a true Spartan woman – being a mother.

We don’t have money in Sparta, but the state looks after us and ‘pays’ us with food. We certainly never go hungry. We get plenty of barley and men and women get about the same, generous amount. Good food makes us grow fit and strong.

Another baby – and this time, a son. I shall only take care of him at home until he is 7 years old – then it’s the state’s job to train him as a soldier.

I want him to be brave and strong. My biggest worry is that my son may show fear on the battlefield…

It is strange having my husband live at home with my daughter and me after 10 years of living apart. He is finding it strange too living away from his army friends – but I think he’s enjoying getting more food at home!

My son has gone to war! I am so proud of him.

Before he left I told him it was better for him to die victoriously in battle, than to return home alive with the shame of a coward.

I am now the proud mother of three strong sons and a daughter.

My husband can hold his head high in public, as well as enjoy the very real benefits - with three sons he doesn’t have to do garrison duty.

Athenian Male

Spartan Male

When I was born, my family announced the birth by pinning olive leaves to our front door.

For us, olive leaves represent success and victory. Olive leaves are a good symbol for the birth of a son because boys are expected to achieve more than girls. As a newborn baby I was introduced to my family and the community by my father. When I was 10 days old, an occasion called the dekate, I was officially given my name of Aristophon.

Part of these early ceremonies to mark my birth included being presented to my father’s deme. All male Athenian citizens are members of a deme, the local village group that they are born into.

It is the time of spring, the first fruits of the year’s harvest and the month of the Anthesteria festival. There was a special event today for all boys who are 3 years old. This day is supposed to mark our symbolic move into the world of men – although there’s a long time to go before we can act as men in politics! I was very proud because I was given a miniature jug called a chous. I drank wine from it to prove that I was on my way to being a real man!

I’m really excited! Today there is a public festival which means we all get to eat meat!

Although we are not badly off, meat is very expensive, so I look forward to the meat offerings to the gods because all Athenians get to have a share. I never go hungry though. Our food is simple but healthy – and I get the lion’s share over my sisters because I am a boy.

Now that I am 6 years old, I begin my schooling. There are only 10 other boys in my school. My parents are responsible for paying for my education. To be a good citizen when I am older, I have to be able to read and write. As well as lessons in reading and writing, I have to memorize the works of Homer.

I really like my music lessons when I am taught how to sing and play the lyre. I also like all sorts of physical activity which we practice at the gymnasium.

Although I still have lessons to learn at school, my father is beginning to teach me his trade too. He is a farmer and because it is autumn, there is a lot of work to do preparing the soil and sowing the seeds. He is glad of my help – although we do have a number of slaves who do the back-breaking work.

I finally feel like an Athenian citizen because now I can vote – much to my sisters’ envy. Women (and children) can’t vote of course. Before I could vote, I had to be registered in my father’s deme. Now at last I have full rights as a citizen. First however, I must train for two years in the military service.

Had a great day hunting today! My family will be very pleased because meat is so expensive to buy. I caught two hares which I managed to drive into nets that I had prepared yesterday.

Next week I am joining a bigger hunt where the aim is to kill larger animals such as deer and wild boar. We’ll use pack dogs for that hunt.

Today was my wedding day. At nightfall, I went to my bride’s family dressed in my best cloak and wearing a garland on my head. Having collected my veiled bride, we travelled in a horse-drawn wagon to my home, followed by our friends and relations holding torches and singing hymns. My family welcomed my bride and we were showered with nuts and fruit, and then ate some wedding cake made of sesame and honey.

It wasn’t until after the wedding that, I lifted her veil and saw her face for the first time.

Oh what a headache I have this morning!

I went to a rather rowdy symposium last night. My friends and I ate and drank far too much! We played kottabos, a game where you try to flick the dregs of your wine cup into a target.

I am going to a trial today as a member of the jury. Now that I’m an old man at 40 years old, the payment of about half a day’s wages comes in useful! Juries in Athens are large. Each man’s vote is worth the same as another’s, and there are over 300 of us due to vote in this particular case. I wonder what the outcome will be. The votes of the jury have been counted, and the defendant has been found guilty and will be executed!

It was a very easy case to decide because the defendant was an adulterer, one of the worst offences imaginable in Athens. The family unit, called the oikos, is sacred in Athens, and must be protected at all costs.

Today is a sad day. Our third son, only 2 years old, has died. We left his favourite toys in his grave; a small terracotta pig rattle, his chous, a baby feeder and some knucklebones. He was too young to play knucklebones, but he used to enjoy watching his mother play. A third of all new babies here die in their first year.

Now I am 42 years old, I am an old man! Although we have great doctors in Athens, when plague or infection strikes, we have very little hope of survival. I am gravely ill, and only hope that with the help of the god Asklepios, I will pull through to see another day dawn on our marvellous city.

When I was born, my father took me straight to the meeting hall, where a group of elders inspected me. They tested me for health and strength and decided that I was a healthy baby.

My father was then ordered to raise me well and was given a plot of land.

If I hadn’t passed the test at birth, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale! Weak or misshapen babies are rejected in Sparta. They are left to die at the Apothetae, a chasm by Mount Taygetus. After all, what use is a feeble child in a strong state like Sparta?

Now I have turned 7 years old, I no longer live at home with my mother. It’s time for me to join the agoge, the state’s education programme. I now live in barracks with all the other Spartan boys, and we will remain here until we are 30 years old.

Our life here is very organized. Until I am 12 years old, I will have lessons in reading, writing, music and dancing, but what our teachers are most concerned with is our physical improvement. Life is hard here. To make us tough our daily physical training includes having to go barefoot, and whatever the weather, we only have one piece of clothing to wear!

My older brother said you get used to being uncomfortable at night – and you do! We don’t have mattresses to sleep on, but instead, we have to cut reeds from the river to sleep on.

I’m so hungry! We never get enough food here, but the teachers encourage us to steal food where we can. It makes us learn how to survive in difficult situations, such as war. But I was caught red-handed today stealing some grain from the kitchens. That means punishment – not for stealing, but for being careless enough to get caught!

Now I’ve turned 12 years old, life at the agoge is increasingly difficult. We really are being trained military style now and our punishment is harsh if we fail or show weakness in any way.

I’m so proud of myself! At 18 years old, I have been selected to join the elite of the agoge. Although still training for the army, I train in a special ‘Secret Service Brigade.’

To make us especially tough and brutal, we live in the wild, totally dependent on our wits.

At night we are told to kill any Helots we come across, so that killing becomes second nature to us, and not a surprise on the battlefield.

I have been voted into one of the best men’s messes in Sparta! Turning 20 years old means I really am a man now, a fully-fledged soldier. The mess is a close group of trained Spartan soldiers, who eat together. Our loyalty to each other means that in war, we will fight viciously as one.

One particular Spartan girl has always caught my eye. Although we live apart, girls and boys do see each other exercise at sporting practice and events. Kyniska and I plan to marry in secret, because I have to live at the barracks until I am 30 years old. She will bear me strong children because she has a good figure and is very fit and healthy.

I’m very nervous. I am to meet my wife-to-be tonight in a secret hideaway. There I will find her dressed as a man with her hair cut short.

From now on, I will only be able to see her if I can sneak out of the barracks and not get caught!

Now that I have turned 30 years old, I am finally free to live at home with my wife and the two children she has borne.

It is very strange being away from all the men I have spent my whole life living alongside – but at least now I don’t have to sneak out to see my wife!

When I am old, I can become an Elder to advise the Kings, help create laws, or act as judges.

Questions (Answer on a separate sheet of loose-leaf):

  1. Which character would you most like to be? Why?

  2. Which character would you least like to be? Why?

  3. How do you think government structures influences the lives and priorities of Spartans? Of Athenians?

  4. Draw a Venn Diagram which compares either:

    1. An Athenian Female and a Spartan Female?

    2. An Athenian Male and a Spartan Male?

  5. Explore the following site. Write down one fact for each of the eight categories

(Education, Children, Death, Agriculture, Music and Entertainment, Religion, Slavery, Spinning and Weaving)


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